It’s quite simple, does not take a lot of time and costs virtually nothing.
In a 2010 special election, I voted for Kirsten Gillibrand for a full term for our second Senate seat. She had been in the House of Representatives and had been appointed by our then governor to take Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat when Clinton was confirmed as Obama’s Secretary of State.
Gillibrand filled a lot of my requirements to get my vote: she had a law degree, government experience, came from a political matriarchy in her New York State district and was very smart.
She’s an excellent example of why I deplore the idealist’s goal of voting for a perfect candidate, or not voting at all. Or voting as a protest against, well, whatever. Gillibrand, representing New York’s 20th Congressional district — which includes Albany and parts north — did not qualify as a full-fledged liberal. She couldn’t be an appropriate representative for her district if she had been a liberal. I thought of her as a moderate Democrat.
Practically speaking, applying any fixed ideology to every political district in the country means losing a whole lot of those districts. But New York State is more liberal than not, so I figured Gillibrand, as representing the whole of the State in the Senate, would be moving politically left.
And I’ve been correct. No applause for me there; it’s commonplace wisdom.
One thing about Gillibrand, though, that did concern me was her membership in the NRA. She let it be known she kept a rifle under her bed because (as this kind of reasoning goes in rural areas) she felt it was a necessary defense for her home and family.
Now, you all know I consider this reasoning borderline nuts. I didn’t think Gillibrand was nuts, but.
By the time she became Senator, I had become acutely and painfully aware of the awful number of guns and shootings in the country generally but in my state and area particularly. Of the two newspapers I read every day, the one which reported all or most of these shooting was the Daily News. The Times did not.
But the Times did have Bob Herbert as a columnist, and in April 2007 he wrote a stunning essay about gun violence in the U.S., and then followed up with further columns on the subject.
So I wrote a letter to Gillibrand, in which I suggested that, given her understanding of and connection with the NRA, she’d be a much better person than I would to approach senators who were 2nd Amendment advocates, about gun control. As I explained, if I started writing letters to these people I would not be calm; I would be yelling.
So, I told her, I intended now to send her newspaper clippings, probably once a week, covering all the incidents of gun violence I had read about every day. That’s all I would do; I wanted her to know what I knew about guns and the wreckage they were inflicting on my city, my civilization and my soul.
I copied Bob Herbert on the letter to Gillibrand. He responded; she did not. I didn’t need her response. I needed to do what I was doing and to share it with a person with the power to do something about it.
Back then I was reading hard copies of both the Times and News. I clipped every story about guns and wrote a cover letter to Gillibrand with a listing of the clippings chronologically, where the clippings came from, and the headline of each. I stapled all the clippings to the letter.
I copied Bob Herbert on the cover letters alone.
I did this every week or every couple of weeks for about a year.
My senator did not make a speech thanking me for changing her mind about guns. But she has changed her mind and she talks openly about it. She now has an “F” rating from the NRA.
If many of you took to your local newspapers — digital or hard copy — and kept your congresspeople informed about the gun violence beyond the daily mass shootings — the intimate acts of gun violence in your neighborhood — well, it’d be something, wouldn’t it?
And do use the US Postal Service for this. Two reasons: first, you’ll be supporting the Post Office and second, I suspect congressional staffers might decide to delete emails with digital clippings attached, rather than pass them on to their bosses. If they get physical mail, it’ll be a lot more obvious if they try to trash it.
And keep doing it, even if you get no response.
Note: If you want to inform someone of what you’re doing, you might join Twitter and copy what you’re doing to Shannon Watts @shannonrwatts; she’s a leader of @MomsDemand, an anti-gun group I find hugely impressive.
Nationally, Ms. Watts does on Twitter what I did locally with Kirsten Gillibrand years ago: reports every incident of gun violence in the United States.