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Have you e-mailed the White House, Congress or a bureaucracy
lately--maybe even City Hall or your State House? What happened? Was it
a waste of time; or did you get a meaningful letter back, and perhaps
even some action? Any triumphs to report? Got any illustrative anecdotes
or copies of letters, boilerplate or not? Any copies of notes you sent
that worked?
 
In other words, do you have any tips for others contacting officials via
e-mail or fax modem--about any matter of public policy, ranging from local
library funding to Somalia?
 
I'll also welcome tips for newsgroups and lists--an important part of
the book I'm doing for O'Reilly and Associates. Especially I'm
interested in rules for civilized discourse, and in the avoidance of
flaming (at least in most cases: there is a time for everything). Just
how do you get your points across most effectively?
 
At the same time, my own theory is that often people on the net spend too
much energy debating each other online and not enough effort contacting
real, live politicians and bureaucrats, along with members of important
interest groups. Both net and real-world approaches are essential.
 
Just so you'll know, the book's *main* topic is: How can people speak out
and organize online? I'm writing both for people who act individually
and for those who work through groups. This book will be for readers of all
political beliefs. I'll welcome tips of any kind, ranging from the
aforementioned to the subject of hardware and software for net activists.
 
To answer the inevitable question, yes, I'll be reviewing past writings
on these matters and I'll welcome pointers to helpful people and to the
existing files that *you* consider most useful; but I want to be
absolutely current. Some just-posted questions from one activist--on
the White House's use of the Internet to promote its policies--are a
good example of how the terrain here is rapidly changing.
 
To the White House's credit, I do hear that the WH e-mail system will be
improved. Perhaps soon, e-mailers won't have to give their snail
addresses if they want meaningful replies. Washington is trying to
promote both high-tech and confidence in government; imagine, therefore,
how a teacher feels when he or she encourages a student to write
Washington, and then nothing comes back but an all-purpose form letter.
Hooray for any changes here.
 
Needless to say:
 
1. I'll be in touch with the White House for its side of what's going
on. Maybe I can even send along a disk of messages that people feel were
ignored. At the same time, I can very much appreciate the White House's
side, given the huge volume of e-mail received; the challenge is to
strike a balance between satisfying correspondents and  keeping costs to
a resonable level.
 
2. If any state, local or federal officials are reading this and would
like to put in their two cent's worth, fire away. I'd love to hear
their views on what kind of e-mail scores points with them. The normal
wisdom is to keep everything short. I'm not certain, however, if that's
always useful; if I were an official, I'd prefer a long, thoughtful
letter--as long as it summed up its main points soon enough. If the
government officials can release reports thousands of words long, it's
only fair that citizens should be able to do. No law exists saying
that officials must read everything to the end.
 
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A suggestion on a related topic: Maybe it's time for some diligent
librarians or others to establish an easily Gopherable list of the White
House's most recent postings on various topics. Then, whenever White
House material popped up in a certain area of the net, it could be duly
noted. Both supporters and foes of the Clinton ideas would have an
opportunity to send material to the same areas. An address could be
established for people to report sightings of the Clinton material.
Obvously the Public Poster concept is a step in the right direction;
this is just another approach. If something similar is already
happening, I'd love to hear about it.
 
Incidentally I myself am highly sympathetic to many of the ideas of the
Clinton people. But in my opionion it would serve everyone's interest
--including that of the  White House--to keep the debate open.
 
Of course, if Jock Gill, the WH net maven, wants to take the initiative
and use Gopher to make available an *updated* log of WH postings, that
would be terrific. The Clinton-Gore folks would have a splendid chance
to show that the electronic highways included wide lanes for all. The
Clinton speaking schedule is more or less public; why not also the list
of postings?
 
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David H. Rothman                                  "So we beat on, boats against
[log in to unmask]                                 the current...."
805 N. Howard St., #240
Alexandria, Va. 22304
703-370-6540(o)(h)
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