At the urging of Al Gore's Repower America people, I just wrote a letter to my local newspaper against Senator Lisa Murkowski's amendment to weaken the Clean Air Act. I have to say that I was impressed with Repower's newspaper writing tool.
One of the things that impressed me was their approach to the letter's content.
Unlike some letter tools, they didn't provide any canned copy, just a short list of talking points off to the side. To my mind this approach accomplishes two goals. First, you do have to make the effort to write your own letter, which is necessary if you want newspaper editors to take your letter seriously at all. But at the same time that you are writing an individual letter, you are able to coordinate yourself around some common themes that other letter writers will also use, creating coherent political pressure out of a mass of separate letters.
Normally I bristle a little at the idea of someone giving me canned talking points. I'm a little too proud to feel comfortable letting someone else tell me what to say about a public issue.
But I remind myself that in politics, for better or for worse, the opinion of any one individual counts for very little in determining what the government does. Politicians respond to pressure from large groups of people, especially when those large groups appear to be organized and capable of taking followup actions. When a large number of people parrot the same talking points in a coordinated fashion, they signal that they are organized. Effective political action is like being part of a football team, executing your part of the play, rather than being an individual citizen just speaking your mind.