Activism and Writing Letters to the Editor

I led an “Activism and LTE Workshop” October 6 (thank to the Independence Institute for lending me the space). Here are my modified notes.

The type of activism we should pursue is Intellectual Activism, marked by presenting reasonable arguments based on logic and evidence to the public. The goal is to reach active minds in the culture through various means of communication.

Intellectual activism may be contrasted with a couple of bad types of activism. Intimidation is what we think of regarding the typical far-left protest, where the goal is to scare people, break property, and throw stuff at police. Any sort of threat or violence falls into this sort of bad activism.

Sophistic or postmodern activism uses language as a battering ram or a weapon to change policies, irrespective of the facts. This is the modern version of what the Greek Sophists did: use language to persuade people through deceit and trickery rather than through sound arguments. On the left, this sort of activism is marked by postmodernism, using language as a social tool rather than as a means of conveying the truth. This sort of activism involves distorting statistics, cherry picking data, taking quotes out of context, and pushing logical fallacies. This sort of activism often relies upon crafting some “narrative” to spin one’s policies or vilify one’s opponents, as with calling opponents of Obamacare an unruly mob. Closely related is the obsession with unfounded conspiracy theories.

The primary goal of intellectual activism is to present the case for liberty and individual rights to the public. Generally this is done by presenting arguments in written or oral form. Other goals of intellectual activism can be to promote a positive article, person, or group, or to draw attention to some cause.

Many types of activism can be good or bad depending on the context. For example, rallies can be great, but if the participants are off message they can be counterproductive. Partisanship, or beating up the other side, can be appropriate if partisan attacks are rooted in the facts and if they put principles above politics.

So what are the types of intellectual activism? This can best be seen in graphic form (thanks to my wife Jennifer for creating the image):


The image illustrates the roots of activism, the main three divisions — activist training, politics, and mass communication — and the written and oral branches of mass communication.

Note that one particular campaign of intellectual activism can involve multiple branches. For example, promoting a good article written by an ally might involve writing a blog post, posting a social media link, and mentioning the article in a letter to an elected official.

Obviously, intellectual activists generally specialize in a few branches, though a well-rounded activist can swing easily among various branches.

Writing letters to the editor is one small branch of the tree, but it is an important one. The ability to write a good letter to the editor is an essential skill of any good activist. If you can write a good letter, you can also write a good blog post, learn to write a good op-ed, and translate your skills to oral communication. That is why the workshop I led focussed on developing this skill.

I recorded my presentation on writing letters, so I’ll turn the reader over to those YouTube videos. Some of my material finds inspiration on the article by Robert W. Tracinski, “How to Write an Effective Letter to the Editor.”

Part 1

Part 2

2 thoughts on “Activism and Writing Letters to the Editor”

  1. A few years ago, I bought a taped course on writing letters to the editor, by Robert Tracinski, from the Ayn Rand Bookstore. If you’re interested in improving your skills at writing letters to the editor, I recommend buying that course. While I checked the ARB web site to see if it is still available, I did not see it listed. You may nevertheless want to try calling or emailing ARB to see if they have another copy or two in stock.

  2. Very glad to discover this tutorial. Grass roots and first time activists are getting involved in SC-5 congressional district to try to unseat 28 year incumbent Rep.John Spratt this year. This straightforward advice for letter writing is a great aid. Thanks!

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