What I Learned from Writing for Three Democratic Senators and the First Lady.
First let me say that while I have a pretty decent grasp on politics and policy, I am by no means an expert.
I am however an expert in writing copy that creates a bond with readers and gets them to respond. A valuable skill if you want people to follow your politics or support your policies.
I did some direct response fundraising writing for a national organization that supports electing Democrats to the Senate.
The President of the United States, standing Senators, the First Lady and other prominent Democrats are typical signers of the letters I and others write on behalf of this organization.
To date I’ve been honored and deeply privileged to have written fundraising appeals signed by Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders and the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
As this is my first real foray into the national political arena as a fundraising writer, I’ve found it to be an extremely fascinating, energizing, and fulfilling experience. And I thought I’d share with you a few of the things I’ve discovered and observed over the last year or so.
Senator Barbara Boxer
I learned that Barbara Boxer, the soon-to-retire Senator from California, will be leaving behind a twenty-four year legacy of leading and fighting for the issues that matter most to working families, and she’s been one of the strongest voices in the Senate for environmental issues.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, she discovered and exposed egregious examples of Pentagon overspending, such as the $7,600 the military paid for one coffee maker.
During the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas, Senator Boxer led a march of women in support of Anita Hill, a law professor who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment.
In the course of writing her letter, I leaned how well Senator Boxer has served California and the nation during her term in the Senate.
Senator Elizabeth Warren
I discovered that Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from my native state of Massachusetts, is even more fearless, tenacious, and razor-sharp than I previous thought… and my previous thoughts were already pretty high!
Often, my job demands writing passionately about a topic, issue or need, and clients sometimes ask me to turn down the intensity. But not Senator Warren. She is perhaps the first to turn the emotion in my draft all the way up to eleven.
Her surgical skewers of Donald Trump on Twitter have been pure 140-character gold. Like this gem: “@RealDonaldTrump, your policies are dangerous, your words are reckless, your record is embarrassing, and your free ride is over.”
Some of her Tweets are so powerful, we decided to include several throughout Senator Warren’s letter.
Watching Senator Warren deftly fillet John Stumpf during his recent Senate hearing regarding Wells Fargo’s cross-selling practices, and hearing her call for the CEO to resign and be criminally prosecuted, had me mesmerized. It also made me proud to know that she’s fighting for justice on behalf of every American; she’s fighting for you and me. And she’s fighting hard.
The experience of writing Senator Warren’s letter didn’t teach me anything new about her necessarily, but it did serve to confirm what I already held to be true… that she rocks! And she would make an outstanding President of the United States. I’m certainly not the first, nor will I be the last, to say so.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Speaking of Senators who would make a great President of the United States… Bernie had, and hopefully one day will have again, my vote. Senator Sanders has not wavered from his convictions since he first took office in 1991, when he began to serve in the House.
While he is a self-described democratic socialist, many see him (myself included) as more of a Franklin Roosevelt-New-Deal-era progressive.
The history changing legislation and executive orders Roosevelt spearheaded in the New Deal, including the establishment of Social Security, the SEC, FDIC and other Wall Street reforms, infrastructure building and many of his other economic policies, share the same kind of rule-changing, future-defining spirit as Bernie’s platform.
He said (and I wrote), “Let’s be clear. The global economy is not working for most of us. It’s an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. And we need real change. But we don’t need Donald Trump’s brand of change — change based on hate-filled rhetoric, billionaire elitism, narcissism, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes.”
Bernie’s platform, positions, and goals can be summed up in this quote I used at the beginning of his letter: “Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment, and provides health care for all?”
In writing Bernie’s letter, I learned more of the details of his platform and it further confirmed for me (along with 13.2 million others) that the time is at hand for another Roosevelt-like leader to alter the course of America and usher in another wave of progressive, New-Deal-like change.
And Bernie is the man for the job.
Grace, intellect, poise, style, and dignity. Our First Lady has displayed these qualities and more over the last eight years and, for me, writing her letter merely confirmed that she is truly worthy of the title that comes with her role.
I happened to luck out with regard to timing for writing her letter. Mrs. Obama had just delivered her incredible speech to the National Democratic Convention, and I drew heavily from it to write her letter.
In the process of writing, I came to see just how classy Mrs. Obama really is. She not only didn’t want to mention Donald Trump by name, she didn’t even want to use the word, “Republican.” This made for an interesting writing challenge on my part, but it reinforced one of the most quotable lines from her speech, “When they go low, we go high.”
It was also an additional honor for me to write what will be her last fundraising letter as our nation’s First Lady. And writing an impassioned plea to all Democrats to do their part to help elect a Democrat to every Senate seat up for election this year was not a difficult task either. Especially when you consider what’s at stake and what, heaven forbid, the world would be like with a President Trump.
As I write this, Michelle Obama recently changed her strategy to ignore Donald Trump and she just delivered one of her most powerful and moving speeches in New Hampshire, while campaigning for Hillary.
In response to the revelation of Trump’s video, where he’s bragging about sexually assaulting women, Michelle Obama said, “I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted… And to make matters worse, it now seems very clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life.”
And she sums it all up here, “But, New Hampshire, let’s be clear: This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to — Democrat, Republican, Independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.”
It’s a very powerful speech, perhaps her most powerful to date.
But here’s one of my greatest concerns… even though Trump continues to demonstrate how unfit he is to hold our nation’s highest office, millions of people, both men and, inconceivably, women still support him.
That fact alone says as much about our current political and cultural climate than any insipid comment Trump spouts. And it’s all very alarming.
Which leads to perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in writing for this client over the past year… that a Democratic majority in the Senate could be the only firewall left to prevent the advancement of the Republicans’ dangerous, self-serving agenda, should Trump win.
And when Hillary Clinton does win, a Democratic Senate majority will help to overcome the obstructionist-centric strategy that the Republicans have been diligently employing for the last couple of years.
Let’s forget about Trump for the moment and consider what was a hot topic before he was officially the Republican nominee… the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. To me, this was one of the clearest indicators of just how petty and self-serving the Republicans have become — not to mention blatantly unconstitutional!
Justice Scalia’s body was not yet cold when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his public declaration that he and his Republican colleagues in the Senate would not even consider for a moment President Obama’s exceedingly well qualified nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
This hasn’t happened since 1875!
Yet McConnell is insisting that the Senate cannot confirm a nominee to the high court in a presidential election year.
But Senator McConnell and his fellow Republicans have clearly forgotten, or simply chose to ignore, the fact that the Senate has confirmed six Supreme Court nominees in presidential election years since 1912 — including Reagan appointee, Justice Anthony Kennedy.
In order for the Democrats to gain the Senate majority, they only need to win four seats. And with the Democrats defending just ten seats to the Republicans’ twenty-four, I think the math speaks for itself. But only if we all vote.
Passion & Heroes
One of the things that drew me to writing for nonprofits nearly fifteen years ago is that unlike advertising (where I spent twenty years) fundraising communications doesn’t need me to create or somehow manufacture “passion” for a product or service.
With most nonprofits, the passion is already there; it’s inherent in the mission, whether it’s housing the homeless, feeding hungry children, funding disease research, protecting Social Security, improving education, women’s health, or our water, air, and environment. All I need to do is tell the story and ask for participation and support.
I’m proud to say that what I’ve discovered in writing for this client are some new heroes. People who genuinely and passionately care for this country and its future.
But the true heroes in my world are people like you who read these letters and donate money and time, sign petitions, and take whatever action is needed to change the world for the better.
And this, more than anything else, gives me hope.