Thursday, May 15, 2008

Making a Difference

I will have to confess, I tend to procrastinate. I work best when I have a deadline looming. I usually meet those deadlines, but it gives me a target. But I am usually finishing a project at the "last minute." Sometimes, that costs me money, because if I do things ahead I can mail at a standard rate rather than paying extra for FEDEX to get it there the next day.

A week or so ago, I blogged about the Border Wall and the Congressional field hearing. There was an excellent opportunity to provide testimony that will become part of the Congressional Record. Since I tend to do the urgent first, this letter that needed to be written stayed on the "back burner." It would have been all too easy just to let this slide by, even though I had encouraged my blog readers to write.

But the beauty of the Rio Grande as it flows through Texas is important to me. The environmental issues and the cost of the Border Wall concern me.

As I sat down to write my letter, I found some interesting threads running through my head:
1. Who am I to write this letter? I'm no expert. I don't have "credentials." Why would my letter make a difference?
2. I'm just one person . . . one letter . . . it won't matter if I don't get it done.
3. What am I going to say? This has to be worth reading. I don't know how to word this . . . How am I going to write this so that it comes off intelligent and reasonable rather than as just one more zealous environmentalist?
4. I blogged about the importance of this . . . I MUST get this off . . . yes, I WILL FEDEX this - they have to have it tomorrow . . . this IS important . . . worth spending this money to get it there tomorrow . . .
5. I must do some more research - so I know what I am talking about . . . (surf the web . . . )
6. My Word program isn't working - I don't know what is wrong with it . . . I'm not home, so I've got to email the letter to myself, get my email on Evelyn's computer and then print. The letters are brown not black . . . will that matter? Everything is taking too long . . .
7. I had a great photo, but I did not bring my thumb drive, there is not a RITZ camera in Amarillo anymore - no, I don't HAVE to have a photo to go with this (would have been better with a photo! sigh)
8. After first draft printed . . . this is not long enough . . . there are more topics that might make a difference. Think some more . . . check another website . . .
9. This is HARD.

Notice how many self defeating thoughts were there. It is very easy to ponder about the things around us that need to be changed. It is easy to complain about our politicians and the stupid things they say and do. We often feel powerless to change these things that we see happening around us that we don't agree with.

So why did I keep on until I got that letter written? Why did I look up my US Congressman and Senators and their addresses this morning?

About 10 years ago I was working on a project for my mom. She was a bondholder for the Central Arizona Irrigation and Drainage District. This district had issued bonds to pay for the construction of canals to bring water from the Colorado River to the farms around Eloy, Arizona. Desert farming was not going well and the districts could not (or would not) meet their obligations. I learned more about Arizona and western water issues than I probably wanted to know. But as part of that project, I went to Washington, DC and talked with congressmen and their aides. I learned a lot about how the process works.

I also was active on some issues with our local school board and our local city council in Hutto.

Here are some "truths."

Elected officials DO listen to their constituents. Sometimes it changes what they do . . . sometimes it doesn't. One school board member told me after a very hot issue that he believed that he was elected because people trusted him and expected him to use his best judgement. He believed his constituents expected him to vote his conscience. He also believed that just because there were a number of very vocal and upset people who came to the board meetings to protest an issue, he also had to think about the less vocal voters and what they might think. Other school board members were influenced by what the individual speakers had to say.

In Washington, there are layers. Senators and Representatives are very dependent upon their aides. When you write a letter to them, it will be screened first by the aides. They may add it to a tally to keep the statistics on what the voters are wanting. They may show it to their boss. You will get a form letter back . . . but you can't be discouraged by that form letter. What I learned is that there is a hierarchy . . . and your contact is weighed . . . lowest - email, next letter, next phone call, highest a visit to Washington to talk in person. Note that this weight is based upon the amount of effort you have put into your contact - an email is easy to send, a visit to Washington involves both time and expense. I suspect that they also have a database of who has contributed to their campaigns. I would expect that those letters carry more weight as well.

When i went to Washington, I talked with 2 Congressmen, one representatives aide, and a senator's aid. One Congressman could hardly wait to get rid of me, one listened and was very helpful. My mother's congressman's aide listened very carefully and arranged two meetings for me that were most helpful for what I was trying to do. When I left Washington, I understood the issues involved a lot more throughly than before I came.

The next thing I need to do to try to make a difference about the border wall is to write those letters to my Congressman and the two Texas Senators. I know as I get ready to compose them that those same self defeating thoughts will go through my head. But if I have not written those letters, if I don't follow up with at least a phone call, then I don't have the right to complain when that wall gets built.

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