So call your US House Representative’s local and DC offices against SOPA before Thursday! ███████ politely give them a three-sentence statement: 1) Your name, your occupation (if relevant), and that you’re a constituent (give your state or ZIP code); 2) Two or so reasons explaining why you want your Representative to oppose SOPA (hurts job creation ███████ the reliable technology sector, institutes American Internet censorship not unlike China’s); 3) Say thanks ███████ re-state your point: “I want Representative So-and-so to OPPOSE the Stop Online Piracy Act.” The worker who answers will be polite to you, ███████ don’t have to worry about that.
It’s ███████ a bipartisan issue: currently, among others, notable Democrat Barbara Boxer ███████ notable Republicans Scott Brown and Eric Cantor receive lots of money from organizations opposing SOPA, and notable Republican John Boehner and notable Democrat Harry Reid receive ███████ money from organizations supporting it. So ███████ now there’s a good opening for you to contact your US House Representative as the issue’s still in play.
There is this goofy card game one of my brothers likes to play; to my knowledge, he invented it. The dealer (typically my brother!) passes out one face-down card to himself and one to each other player. At his signal, all players raise their cards to their foreheads facing out such that no one can see his or her own card, but everyone can see everybody else’s. The players then place bets as to how valuable they think their own cards are in comparison — a total guess, of course, but by this time everyone’s laughing from holding poker cards against their skin. After betting, the players reveal their cards, and the random results release laughter …
Here’s my version of the game, which so far exists only in my imagination. People find themselves seated at a dinner table, clutching their one card tightly to their chests, looking down at their stated worth — “7” or “3” or “10” — a value that is calculated according to all the good and the bad they have caused in life, according to all the secrets they know, according to all the things they wish they hadn’t said or they wish they knew how to say.
At this imaginary table of mine the players are making small talk, some of it happy, some of it sad; all are nervous about their value, and what the other players would think if their card were seen. After all, this player Sue’s card reveals that she said to this player Bob that this other, wealthy player Jorge’s a jerk, and now that Bob and Jorge are pretty good friends, does Jorge know what Sue once said about him, and if so, how does that affect who’s gonna pick up the check?
The dealer — a voice from the sky? — suggests the players lay their cards down on the table, face-up, on condition that they all, unanimously, forgive one another and love one another regardless of the cards’ value. The players agree, make their promises, and lay the cards down face-up. Angry yelling (“Jorge has the hots for both Bob and Sue?”) soon turns to laughter (“Jorge has the hots for both Bob and Sue!”) as people discover everyone’s a mess inside …
Except what if the players at the table included polarizing figures such as (take your pick) Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Julian Assange, or heck, even that driver yesterday who cut you off when you really needed to get over a lane? Would we the powers-that-aint agree to forgive they the powers-that-be permanently if they’d lay down their cards and their guns?
I would. I would, to get the cards on the table so everyone could be safe.
There are of course several things my card-game scenario doesn’t address. For instance, it seems radical transparency and privacy can come into conflict, and privacy is I presume often preferable: if you’re surveilled to death, your creativity is chilled (partly because honest creativity requires engaging in thoughtcrime) and also under surveillance you can’t experience as fully the fun premium privacy can add to events (e.g., sweet nothings can be more meaningful when expressed without others around). Further, logically there are possible worlds where security is unjustly threatened by radical transparency, and I am uncertain as to how such situations, when they do arise in this actual world, should be handled, although I am tempted to say, well, let the chips cards fall where they may, because 4000 years of trading our rights away to leaders whose trustworthiness is unproven in return for promises of security hasn’t worked out so well.
In addition to snail-mailing Congress, I’ve telephoned elected officials (in both cases, I activist-ed in favor of a genuine public option for health care — er, health insurance reform!).
For me, calling Congress was an intimidating task at first. Maybe you know about the infamous Milgram experiment where research participants were asked to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to others — to actors pretending to be learners; the shocks were fake, but the participants didn’t know that.
Despite the screaming and the heart-pain complaints from the actors, despite the actors banging on the divider wall and pleading, most participants allowed the technician-coat experimenter to goad them into pressing not just the extreme intensity shock and Danger: Severe Shock buttons, but finally the XXX button that resulted in the actors’ silence. (Several participants laughed nervously or cried throughout; the experiment has been repeated with the same results as recently as 2009; researchers have used a real-life puppy, too, wondering if perhaps the participants figured out the shockee was an actor — no, all participants in that one killed the puppy.) Stanley Milgram explained these results in terms of conformity and fearful obedience to authority; I think whatever the reasons are, they lie behind patients’ fear of asking doctors questions (for example), and also my initial fear of phoning Congress!
Anyway. Calling Congress members became easier after I did it a few times. Aides answer (rarely do Congress members), and without exception I found them friendly, if rushed. They want you to get to the point, and you should. Though there are scripts online for various causes, I wrote out a paragraph for what I’d say, so that I wouldn’t sound like an astroturfer‘s employee. Each paragraph matched the structure of my letters: 1) who I am (including occupations & city) and what I wish from the Congress member; 2) One or at most two sentences of reasoning — including poll statistics or actual quotes from the Congress member; 3) Reiteration of what I wish from the Congress member and a friendly thank you.
And actually, unlike what might well be the case with snailmail, no aides seemed to mind when I was called from out of their members’ constituencies (I did call my own representatives at times), specifically since the issue (health reform) was national and especially when I mentioned nationwide donations (such as through ActBlue). Some aides asked for my ZIP — I’ve received a few mailings — and when the aides themselves seemed especially pleased with my perspective, I could hear it in their voices. A bad-result call ended with an aide saying, basically, “Thanks, bye”; a good-result call ended with an “I’ll be sure to pass along your comments to the Senator/Representative, thanks so much!”
Sometimes I opened with a compliment regarding something the Congress member did that I appreciated (easy to find from his or her website, or from the search strategies discussed in this post), and sometimes I simply called to say nothing more than thanks for a specific quote the Congress member gave the press or whomever; these aides and Congress members typically get angry phone calls, so it’s nice for them to receive gratitude every once in a while.
Some people went out of their way to tell me this type of activism is worthless, saying the aides’ phones must be perpetually busy. Well they’re not. I had a little trouble getting through the final day or two before the health reform legislation passed — but generally I had no trouble.
Phone numbers for elected officials can be found at USA.gov here. Definitely check out my preceding post for more stratagem. I think people neglect a whole lot of good activities — such as calling Congress — simply because the transaction costs, the totals of the effort and the irritation that must be endured to do the good deed, are too high. Activists should lower them, with info and otherwise.