How to Be an Activist

Some people who call themselves activists simply enjoy raising a fuss. They look for something, anything, that will draw attention to themselves. My kind of activist would really be happier playing with their children, walking in a meadow, just about anything other than attending long boring public meetings and such. But, we care about our world, and have found something that really needs to be made better.

How can we make things better in our world, when more than what one person can do is needed?

Write letters. Every public figure will tell you that a personal letter from a constituent makes ten times, even a hundred times, the impression that a printed form or petition does.

Here's how to write letters that work.

One side of one sheet of paper. Long letters get stopped at low levels, or are not read at all. Winston Churchill once responded to an action memo "The minister will be interested in this", attached to a thick report, with "A kind thought, but entirely erroneous. Please abstract."

Personal letters. Form letters get stopped at low levels too. They are a waste of postage and trees.

Individual letters. Cc's rarely go anywhere except to the dustbin. If you have discussed the issue with a subordinate to the addressee, send a separate copy to the subordinate with a note, "I hope this helps you to get the job done", or something similar.

Relevant letters. What you ask must be within the addressee's powers. It's a waste of your time and the reader's to raise federal issues to a provincial civil servant, or provincial matters to a civic official. The only exception is when writing to a politician who has connections with the senior level, such as a provincial minister. Even then, it must be discussed in terms of, "I hope you will raise this with the federal minister of ...".

Positive letters. Stopping the world, especially telling everyone else to get off so you can be left with wilderness to yourself, is a non-starter. Venting your spleen or declaring your support for an anti-people ideology may be cathartic for you, but it results in future letters from you being dismissed as extremist. Politicians are people-oriented or they couldn't stand their job, and civil servants work for politicians.

Constructive letters. Be part of a solution, not part of the problem. What, precisely, can the addressee do to correct the problem you are writing about? Is your proposal practical: technologically, economically, and politically?

Ask for a response. Things are more likely to get done when someone has to draft an answer to you. "I would appreciate hearing your views on my concerns"

Send it by Canada Post. Emails are still treated as junk by many in governments.

The simplest way of getting something done by governments is to handwrite a letter to each of your elected representatives:

Dear ____,
Please help to ____. It's really important to me.
Yours sincerely,

But, if you have time, add one or two more details to focus your request.

Especially, constructive action that the addressee can take.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters