Why I Write Letters to the Editor

By Judy Belanger, 9to5 Action Network Member
Pawtucket, RI
You can read some of Judy’s letters published in the Attelboro Sun Chronicle here and here

Everyone has opinions, and writing a letter to the editor is a great way to express them.

I write because I have convictions, but what gave those convictions the focus and credibility needed to effectively communicate them was 9 to 5. I embrace 9to5’s mission, share its vision, and respect and appreciate its values.  In a special way, it has not only engaged me in its fight to protect women’s rights, but it has given a determination to my voice in support of this issue that I feel has been felt by my community. The channel provided for that communication is Letters to the Editor.

A favorite columnist of mine once said that letters to the editor is the first section she reads.  There’s an emotion felt in letters that can inform, challenge, stir, even awaken the reader to a new way of seeing an issue. Letters can inspire. Sometimes a single letter on a certain topic can keep a debate going for weeks, even months.  I’ve written letters to the letter and gotten responses on a number of topics,  from raising the minimum wage and the Paycheck Fairness Act to how corporate greed is hurting workers and how we should balance the budget. News highlights can change quickly, so it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse and write about issues that are current.

Since most of my letters are on political issues, I like to write an occasional letter that isn’t political and easily connects with the heart of the community, such as one about a wonderful 96 year-old visitor to a local nursing home who looked no older than 70. He told me his secret was olive oil and red wine, and that he gave up smoking the day President Kennedy was assassinated. He said he still plays golf two times a day. Some personal feedback expressed how the letter charmed them, along with one about a local musician who, in the 1960’s, got kicked out of school because he refused to cut his hair!  How times have changed. “Georgy Porgy” is in his late 60’s and still making music!

Every community is different. I found it helpful to really get to know what topics matter to the community and why. It’s a form of nurturing and caring enough to listen. Through listening, I’ve gauged levels of receptivity and resistance, knowledge and lack of it, particularly on political issues, before writing about them.  It matters to me that readers grasp my message and motive, and that I have provided information that might help or challenge them. If they’re interested enough to respond, then I feel I’ve done my job.

Their responses did not always favor my opinion, but they were inspired or fired up enough to write, which is important.  Editors like to publish letters that will motivate the reader. Editors want to know what their readers are thinking. Letters are a way of finding out more about the community and topics that matter to it.

“Letters” has given me the power to reach out to my community in a most rewarding way. It’s a forum that has allowed me to correct misinformation and provide correct information. Depending upon how deeply involved we become in political letterwriting, we have to be prepared for some pretty nasty rebuttals, and some can be quite personal.  In some instances, those responses come in because they’ve hit a nerve and successfully challenged an opposing opinion, which I consider a positive thing.

If your letter isn’t published, it’s not a waste.  Editors have read it.  They’ve absorbed what you said.  I’ve even had a columnist pick up on a thought I expressed in one of my unpublished letters and expand on it in the most effective way. Sometimes your letter that is unpublished will lead to another letter that will be published, because you’re always learning.

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