#49 – Dick Bernard: "A million [tea bag fax] copies…."

Early July 4 I received a long, rambling e-mail whose focus was Tea Bags, specifically, the need to send a million Tea Bag faxes to the U.S. Congress to protest taxes.
The e-mail came with an Orange, California PO Box address and included the disclaimer that because it included a postal address, it could not be considered spam.   
Our nation could be gone by the end of the year” was its basic message.  Congress needed to be inundated with this Tea Bag fax.
It had another message too:   for only $20.09, a participant could have his/her fax sent to all 535 members of Congress (100 Senators, 435 Representatives.)  Full retail value of such a service was $57.00 so: in Minnesota parlance, the buyer was getting “a heckuva deal”.   Of course, you could sign up and pledge $25 a month to have someone else be vigilant in your behalf on the issue of the day, week or month.
“A million copies” is not a foreign concept to me.
Two years ago, I heard an elderly gentleman lead a group of us in singing Ed McCurdy’s ca 1950 song, “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream“, in which the phrase “a million copies made” is an integral phrase. 
I was so taken by the gentleman, and the song, which John Denver popularized in the 1960s and early 1970s, that I created my own website, http://www.amillioncopies.info to memorialize the initiative John Denver and the gentleman, Lynn Elling, were advancing.  (You can hear John Denver sing the song, in 1971, at the website.  It is an inspiring song, about peace.)
But that’s not the point of this post.
In 1950, “a million copies” was serious business.  Not only was the U.S. population much lower, but making and distributing “a million copies” was no small feat, for reasons which don’t need enumeration here.
Of course, today, if by some wild chance “a million copies” could be achieved, it would be a serious accomplishment too, but how serious?
“A million”, today, is .003% (one-third of one percent) of the U.S. population.  The technology is obviously accessible to send hundreds, thousands, of e-faxes which (in my opinion) simply dilutes the impact of such an initiative. 
The same goes for things like on-line petitions and the like.  They are in some ways useful, particularly for fund-raising, but were I the person receiving them, they wouldn’t have much impact on me.
Making an impact, politically, is a “contact sport”, a matter of personal engagement.  There is no passive, easy, way to make a difference.  It takes time and effort: letters to the editor; visiting with friends and neighbors, etc., etc.  It is a slow process, which means that it is frustrating.
But without engagement of others, it doesn’t work.
I would predict that the e-Fax folks will reach their goal of 1 million faxes.  Even if they don’t, it is a certainty that they will claim they did. 
Now, if their million individuals sent fresh tea bags as part of a real letter, that would make a difference….  That won’t happen.
On June 15, 2009, I did a blog-post on Lobbying, to which I received this response from Coleen Rowley: “It’s fine to write directly to elected representatives but it’s not enough – one must also publish open letters to them, or op-eds or letters to the editor.  They count for a lot more than private communications…no one has the big money to compete in that [big money] arena…so you have to try everything else available to reach the public.”
By no means am I perfect at this trade of words.  But I have learned the value of practice.   And I think most of us are better at this than we give ourselves credit for…we just talk ourselves out of trying.