Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lost in the Mail

A whole host of Catholic and Christian blogs, Facebook pages, and the like have been talking for quite a bit about what's being called the Red Envelope project. From the Red Envelope site:
Dear Friends and Intercessors:
This afternoon I was praying about a number of things, and my mind began to wander. I was deeply distressed at the symbolic actions that President Obama took as he began his presidency. Namely, that he signed executive orders releasing funds to pay for abortions, permission to fund human stem cell research, and federal funding for contraception. I have been involved in the pro-life movement for nearly 20 years, and it pained my heart to see a man and a political party committed to the shedding of innocent blood. This man, and this party lead our country, but they do not represent me or the 54% of Americans who believe that abortion is wrong and should no longer be legal.
As I was praying, I believe that God gave me an interesting idea. Out in the garage I have a box of red envelopes. Like the powerful image of the red LIFE tape, an empty red envelope will send a message to Barack Obama that there is moral outrage in this country over this issue. It will be quiet, but clear.

Here is what I would like you to do:

Get a red envelope. You can buy them at Kinkos, or at party supply stores. On the front, address it to:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington , D.C. 20500
On the back, write the following message.
This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.
Put it in the mail on March 31st, and send it. Then send this website to every one of your friends who you think would send one too. I wish we could send 50 million red envelopes, one for every child who died before having a a chance to live. Maybe it will change the heart of the president.
Warmly, Christ Otto
Now, before I go on, I just want to say that I in no way wish to hurt anyone's feelings or denigrate the sincerity of this very heartfelt and well meaning--but ultimately ineffective--attempt to send a message to our pro-abortion president.
But the clearest way for me to discuss this involves a glimpse at this news article, posted today:
Every weekday, President Obama sits behind his big desk in the Oval Office or settles into a comfortable chair in his East Wing residence and opens a purple folder containing some very important material—10 letters from the outside world. The correspondence is chosen by his staff as a sampling of the 40,000 letters he gets every day. The letters are selected to give him an idea of the public's cares, concerns, suggestions, and critiques of how he's doing.
Sometimes, Obama will read a letter or two during the day, to fill a lull in the seemingly endless series of meetings that dominate a president's schedule. Often, he will take the folder home and peruse the letters at night. He will respond to one or two with handwritten notes. Sometimes, the letters prompt him to inquire about a specific problem or to pass along an interesting idea or poignant story to his policymakers, advisers say. He recently gave senior adviser David Axelrod and other aides copies of a letter from an Arizona woman whose husband lost his job and had to take a big pay cut from his next employer, resulting in the family having serious trouble making mortgage payments. It was a heart-wrenching story that illustrated the pain that Americans are enduring during the economic downturn. "We need to help folks like these," Obama told an aide.
Ten letters. Obama gets ten of the thousands of letters sent each day, selected by his staff after they've already been processed via the White House's mail room--which routinely discards many sorts of mail (and I have a feeling empty envelopes would make the list of things to be thrown away). The odds that Obama will see even one of the Red Envelope letters is slim to none, even if millions are sent.
Now, does that mean there's no value at all to pro-life grassroots initiatives like these?
Of course not. People may be moved to pray or to join in other efforts to spread the pro-life message, to donate money to pro-life ministries, or to do other things to raise awareness about pro-life issues because of initiatives like these. Everyone should use his or her discernment about this effort as about every other effort.
But using our discernment means understanding the likely outcome of the effort. Since this Red Envelope project is targeted at sending Barack Obama a message, it must be understood by those who take part that this is not going to be the outcome. The ten letters his staff selects for him to read are going to be letters, not empty envelopes with a message on the back; it might be more possible to get a pro-life letter campaign that would eventually reach the president, though I still think his staff probably chooses only those letters which are focused on issues and matters the president is already interested in and agrees with.
So if you decide to participate in the Red Envelope project, perhaps you could commit to saying a certain number of prayers for the president's conversion on life issues, or in some other way to pro-life action. As for the envelopes themselves, we need to be realistic--this is one message Barack Obama simply isn't going to receive.


MacBeth Derham said...

Imagine if we has a "friend" in the mailroom. A photo of so many red envelopes might help, but I fear you are correct. Obama will read his carefully chosen ten letters without fear of dissent or controversy. The same with the tea bag project.

We might do better sending such things to our local reps, senators and congressmen, who, without the buffer of sycophants selectively sorting selections of letters, might see a red envelope, or a tea bag, cross a desk from time to time.

Dawn said...

MacBeth - that's a good point. It was only with this last election that my eyes were opened to the idea that it is more effective to lobby your local government than the national. However, I'm still sending envelopes. :)

baltimoremom said...

Thank you! I received several emails of this red envelope request and the first time I read it, I rolled my eyes. Your post said what I thought in a much more charitable and diplomatic way. This grass roots effort is admirable and gets and E for effort but not for effectiveness.