Thursday, December 17, 2020

Interfaith Reflections on Chanukah and Advent

I write this post approaching the last night of Chanukah even as I contemplate the meaning of of Advent. Traditions of both holidays inspire us to light candles in winter, the darkest season of the year. This winter, facing the highest daily rates of death from COVID-19 yet, is very dark. Yet the glow of the candles brings me a centering sense of purpose.

A hanukiah lit for the 3rd night of Chanukah

The Chanukah theme of Resistance reminds me that our individual lights can beat back the darkness. We can and must lean on each other to resist the suffering, loneliness, and despair caused by the pandemic. In the words of Rabbi Brant Rosen, “True resistance can never occur as long as we expect an external human force to somehow show up to save us. In the end, the true miracle of resistance occurs when we show up for one another.”

An Advent wreath
Photo: Rev. Pamela Dolan

The Advent theme of Hope swells up in me whenever I see pictures of our elderly and
 frontline health workers receiving the first COVID-19 vaccines. Although it will be months before my family receives immunizations (and even longer for my family and friends in small countries overseas), I tearfully recognized that it has been ages since I felt a hope that seems real and urgent instead of abstract and far away.

Whether you’re bringing groceries to someone hungry, talking to someone lonely, caring for someone ill, caring for your family, or speaking out to make the world more fair than it was before the pandemic... keep resisting and don’t lose hope.

Be a light for someone. It’s dark out there, but we can be here for each other.

Chanukah Sameach!

Cindy holding a candle in the darkness

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

It's the Most Wonderful Time...for Letters to the Editor!

A mailbox for Letters to the Editor on a mantle
with Christmas stockings

I've heard it said that there are always fewer letter to the editor submissions to newspapers in December than other months. I think it must be true. It makes sense since everyone is busy at the end of the year. People prepare for the holidays, students take final exams, companies wrap up business before vacations, and everyone mentally checks out at the end of the year. It's a shame because a LOT happens at the end of an election year with a change of guard for many seats in Washington D.C. Yet YOU can make this work for you and your cause! With less competition, it makes it easier to get your letter to the editor published.

Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge

This month, my dear friend and media mentor Willie Dickerson reminded us RESULTS volunteers that editors would have a lighter load of letters while opportunities for writing about poverty issues were plentiful. He challenged our volunteer groups to a friendly "Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge" where we could strive to publish 12 letters, submit 12 letters, get 12 people to submit letters, or anything else that would encourage us to get more media published. I submitted 12 letters myself. 

On the first weekend of December, I sat down with a sample RESULTS letter to the editor template and looked for media "hooks" on newspaper websites. A hook is an article that you can connect to your issue. If you write your letter about a piece they've already printed, an editor is more likely to choose your letter because you are continuing the conversation the paper started. For instance, there are many articles out right now about the U.S. and U.K. starting to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. That's a great hook for me as an advocate working on global poverty. I can say something like, "It's great that wealthy countries are distributing a vaccine, but citizens of low-income countries will not receive it for a very long time. We should provide global assistance to protect the world's most vulnerable people as they suffer from even greater hunger and disease because of COVID-19."

That weekend, I submitted 12 letters to the editor to the following papers plus one extra one responding to a letter by my colleague Sarah Miller:

  1. Southern Illinoisan
  2. Carbondale Times
  3. Chicago Tribune
  4. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  5. Jewish Light
  6. Joplin Globe
  7. St. Louis American
  8. West Newsmagazine
  9. Kansas City Star
  10. Indianapolis Star
  11. Springfield News Leader
  12. New York Times
  13. Columbia Missourian
Banner logos for newspapers that published my letters
And what to my wondering eyes should appear? In the next week, EIGHT of my letters were published! (Dang, I would have liked to see eight tiny flying reindeer, but you can't have everything.) You can check them out by clicking the links in the list above. That is an unusually high acceptance rate for me. Usually, if I wrote ten letters, I would expect to get only 1 or 2 published. That's why I think it's true that fewer people submit at this time of year. 

Tips for Getting Published

For general tips on getting published, visit my Advocacy Made Easy post about letters to the editor. I do want to include a few extra hints about this batch of submissions...
  • Keep Going AFTER Letter #1 - What a shame if I'd never submitted 3, 6, 7, 10, and 13! Usually my first one is not my best one, so I keep writing knowing that my writing gets more concise as I spend more time with a topic. 
  • Use a Fresh Hook - When you look for an article or opinion piece to respond to, find one that has been published in the last week. You might be able to get away with ten days, but I wouldn't use one any older than that. News moves fast and you want the best chance at giving the freshest take!
  • Change Up Your Text Each Time - My letters are very similar to one another, but not exactly the same. Newspapers want to publish something unique for their readers. You don't have to start from scratch every time (in fact, your "Call to Action" is probably not going to change at all), but you do want to give some variation.  Using a unique hook every time will help with that. 
  • Support Your Colleagues - I mentioned that my 13th letter was in response to Sarah Miller's letter. A bit later, she got a letter published in response to my letter in the Joplin Globe. Just as I used her U.S. poverty COVID-19 hook to address a global issue, she used my global COVID-19 hook to write about the need for U.S. rental and nutrition assistance. It's really nice to work with a friend.
  • Write to a Variety of Papers - I wrote to papers of varying sizes in different states. I know that the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times are kind of long-shots. But if I DO land one of them, more people will see my words and they may carry more weight with influential decision makers like Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Schumer (D-NY). But I also write to smaller papers in my area, like The St. Louis American and the Southern Illinoisan, that are more likely to choose local voices to print. 
  • Use a "Yes, and..." Approach with Other Causes - There's a lot of competition for funding right now, especially in the realm of COVID-19 relief. I recommend staying positive and not getting in a media fight with other highly worthy causes. For instance, you can see that when I see Sarah asking for funding for Americans in poverty in her letter, I build upon her ask without suggesting that senators fund people in poverty around the world instead of impoverished Americans. We can do both. 

Now, You Give it a Try!

The month isn't over. No matter what your topic is, you will have less competition than the rest of the year. If you are an advocate fighting poverty in the U.S. or around the world, I've just given you eight great hooks. Give it a go!