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When Barbara Boxer, Origami Cranes and Facebook Collide

June 29, 2012

Have any of you actually ever written to an elected official?  You might want to consider giving it a shot sometime.

As of today I am officially 4 for 4.  It all started back when I was in the 3rd grade and everyone in my class had to write a letter to someone in government.  This was back during the Persian Gulf Conflict and our class had just read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  Don’t ask me how I remember that when I can barely remember to put gas in my car.  Anyway, the book is about a girl who was dying of leukemia and attempted to fold 1,000 origami cranes while in the hospital.  According to a Japanese legend anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish and her wish was to live.  Sadly, she never finished and the Japanese gods executed her for her inefficiency and poor work ethic.  (Or something like that.  Maybe I am confusing Sadako and some anime cartoon I saw once.  Cut me some slack, I was in 3rd grade.)  Anyway, our class decided to make our own thousand paper cranes and our wish was the same thing that every elementary school student and Miss America contestant wishes for when asked in front of an audience:

world peace

Even back then I was a far better teacher than student.  Being unpopular left me with lots of time to learn random things like origami, so I volunteered to help teach my class how to make the cranes.  Of course, when it was time to actually turn some out I just goofed off with friends.

Ok, so this might be my mind playing tricks on me, but I am pretty sure that at roughly the same time our class finished the 1,000th crane (it was an ongoing project) the Gulf war ended.  So as a follow-up assignment, every person in our class picked a name from a hat and had to write a letter to whomever we chose.  I pulled Barbara Bush.  So I wrote her a letter about what our class did and enclosed one of the thousand cranes.  And to my shock and awe – I received a rather prompt hand-signed reply.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

A few months ago I read an article that disturbed me.  A growing number of employers are asking potential employees to give them their Facebook password as a condition of employment.  I’ll spare you my in-depth rant except to say that it made me so furious that I did something I hadn’t done in over two decades.  I wrote a letter to government.  Sadly Barbara Bush doesn’t have much pull anymore (I’m certain she would have remembered me though) so I went with the next best thing; Barbara Boxer.  And for good measure I sent one to her fellow California Senator Ms. Diane Feinstein and another to Congressman Howard Berman.  I didn’t know what to expect; as eloquent and insightful as my letter was no doubt it was one of thousands on the same topic.

First came a response from Congressman Berman.  I figured I would get some response, but imagine my surprise when I woke up with a voice mail from one of his aides inviting me to call him back to discuss the issue in more detail.  I gladly obliged and had a very pleasant and intelligent conversation with the man.

This left me moderately excited that I might actually get a response from the Senators as well.  But alas, weeks and then over a month passed.  I had almost forgotten about the letter when I received an email from the office of Senator Diane Feinstein.  The letter was specific and detailed with regard to the issue, but it was clearly a form letter designed for the thousands of other Californians with enough free time on their hands to write angry letters about privacy issues in social media.  I appreciated it anyway and moved on with my life, checking my spam box periodically for anything official looking.

But still, no response from Barbara.

A month passed.  Two months passed.  And then, this morning, something caught my eye just as I was about to hit “mark as spam”

         Responding to Your Message

        U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

My first instinct was to get a little excited, but I had only one thought.

“Really?  After four months?  This better be good.”

And to my chagrin, it was terrible.  Did I expect a phone call from a United States Senator?  No.  Did I expect a letter or email that she wrote herself?  No.  She is a freakin’ U.S. Senator.  She doesn’t have time for little ol’ me.  I’m ok with that. Better than ok really; any U.S. Senator with time to personally respond to every letter they receive is certainly not doing their job.  But if you’re going to respond after that long you might as well try to fake it.  Ms. Feinstein’s reply may have been a form letter, but it proved that someone important enough to read and send email on her behalf actually read my letter (or at least the first line).  Ms. Boxer’s response could have just as easily been in response to a recommendation that California succeeds from the union.  Allow me to share;

Dear Mr. Wilson:

Thank you for taking the time to write and share your views with me. Your comments will help me continue to represent you and other Californians to the best of my ability. Be assured that I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers legislation on this or similar issues.

If you would like additional information about my work in the U.S. Senate, I invite you to visit my website, http://boxer.senate.gov. From this site, you can access my statements and press releases about current events and pending legislation, request copies of legislation and government reports, and receive detailed information about the many services that I am privileged to provide for my constituents. You may also wish to visit http://thomas.loc.gov to track current and past federal legislation.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate hearing from you.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator [Blah-Blah] Boxer

Ok, the ‘blah-blah’ was not part of her original email but everything else is an accurate quote.

All this letter accomplished was to remind me that nobody in her office who earns a paycheck actually read my letter.  I would have been ok with this response if it came much sooner – clearly it is her most generic reply letter – but if you’re going to make someone wait four months for a reply you might as well take an extra two minutes and mention the actual issue they wrote about.  And if it is simply a case of a flooded mailbox that took four months to clear out, well, after that long it’s like I tell my students; “If you don’t have anything relevant to say than don’t say anything at all.”

Ok, I have never said that to my students – I just thought of it now – but you can be certain that I will be testing it out on Monday!

And seriously Barbara (may I call you Barbara?  No?  Madam Senator then) was plugging your website really necessary?  Come on, do you think that anyone who took the time to write you a page and a half letter regarding social media and privacy issues on the internet really needs to be reminded that you have a webpage?  Did you forget that the only way to email you is using the form embedded on your webpage?  Seriously, why don’t you close your email by suggesting some best practices for wiping my ass while you’re at it.

I’m tempted to write Ms. Boxer another letter about something completely different to see if I get the same response.

That was harsh, I know.  I realize that Ms. Boxer had absolutely nothing to do with the email I received from her office despite her electronic signature.  And to be fair I am sure she would love to read the thousands of pages of emails and letters she receives every day herself.  I get all kinds of giddy when someone comments on my blog.  I just enjoy a good rant now and then.  Keep up the good work, Madam Senator!  I hope you have a sense of humor!

Despite the great Boxer letdown, I am officially 4 for 4.  A generic response is still a response and that means my mediocre return rate of 75% has jumped back up to a stellar 100%.  And now the only question left is:

“Who’s next?”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 7:00 pm

    Matt:

    Great piece. Our representatives are required by law to respond in writing. I have about 1,000 letters and counting from representatives dating back over the last fifteen years. They really do write back, and now send messages by email. Typically staff members craft the letters, but the letters do relate to you the positions taken by the elected official. They also make great keepsakes. Keep writing and also call their offices regularly–I called one Congressman so much that his staff started to recognize my voice (LOL). And you would be surprised at how often you can get an actual return phone call back from the actual representative if you happen to belong to a particular constituency that said representative has been courting! GO FOR IT!!!

    • June 29, 2012 9:53 pm

      I had a feeling you’ve sent a letter or two in your day but that is impressive. Sadly you can’t save an email the same way you can a letter – I do still have my letter from Barbara Bush though. Ms. Feinstein had an option on her webpage to request a response by mail which I have not received yet, but I imagine those take a touch longer to process than an email. I really did enjoy my conversation with Rep. Berman’s office. All in all the experience was very positive. “Write a letter to congress” is one of those pieces of advice many people give, many others consider, but very few actually do.

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