Proposed Open Letter to Obama

Update, November 21: thanks all for the great feedback!  Please check out the (much shorter) revised draft.

Below you will find our proposed Open Letter to President Obama. We will continue editing and discussing as needed, and as always, we welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comments:

Dear President Obama,

In July 2008, in response to our previous Open Letter, you promised “to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”

Within your response, you also elaborated on your intent as President to run “a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.”

Despite our differing opinions on the  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), your statement that “no tool has been more important in focusing peoples’ attention on the abuses of executive power” than the “sustained engagement of American citizens” was an inspiring call to us.  We remain heartened by your “promise to listen” to our concerns and to “take them seriously.” This is an invitation that we hope citizens at large have taken very seriously. Indeed, we undoubtedly do, and again, we applaud your offer of collaboration.

Over 23,000 strong, we are the largest issue-oriented grass-roots group on your campaign website, We once again ask you to follow through on your campaign pledges of an open and responsive government by shining light on the Patriot Act in particular, and on our country’s civil liberties in general. Our coalition is an ideologically and demographically diverse group who believes in your clarion call to change, and we want to see it enacted. We stand ready to help and wish to share our ideas to further your stated goal of rolling back the abuses of the Bush administration — implemented in a post-9/11 panic.

We ask you again to reaffirm the right to privacy in our country. However, we need you to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, through obfuscating these issues behind a veil of secrecy.

Your Attorney General has flatly stated that whereas “a conversation that can be had about do [Patriot Act provisions] need to be modified in some way to be more sensitive to civil liberties concerns”, yet this conversation has been held behind closed doors. Furthermore, we continue to hear of your representatives insisting on a package of amendments to strip privacy and civil liberties protections that you had purportedly favored in the past. We hope you will not continue to allow members of your administration to work to minimize these reforms and to further degrade our liberty. Even more broadly, we hope you do not further dilute the principles of open government and of the personal responsibility of a citizen to act through attempts to sweep the Patriot Act reauthorization, and its impact on our rights, under the rug. In particular, we are concerned about the ‘Lone Wolf’ provision and of Section 215, although we applaud your Attorney General’s decision to make the requested information available to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Americans of all stripes have grown wary of giving up liberty for temporary security, as we know such a notion is antithetical to the nature of our country. We recognize the need to ensure the safety of our free nation, which is why we feel so strongly about rolling back the abuses to our freedoms. As has been attributed to Ben Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

This is why we implore you to give us the tools to work together so we can collectively amplify the voices of the people and ensure that the true nature of American patriotism is recognized! As both you and your attorney general speak to these matters, we will capture the video, load it to YouTube, and spread your words far and wide through twitter and any other innovative delivery mechanisms at our disposal. Each of us has our own network of like-minded citizens. Each of us is a community organizer chomping at the bit to exhibit that citizenship is something you do!

Despite our disagreements last July, many of us were among your strongest supporters and we all celebrated when you were elected. Your call for us to believe in our own ability to bring about real change in Washington has affected us to the core. It is why we maintain such profound hope that you will reverse course and not let your administration be tarred by continuing the constitutional abuses from your predecessor.

The Organizing for America caption still reads, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.” We assure you that we believe in our capacity to bring this change. We hope that you will reaffirm our trust in you, and your commitment to civil liberties, by reasserting open and public discourse as a founding principle of democracy.




17 Responses to Proposed Open Letter to Obama

  1. Jim Burrows says:

    I like this. It could conceivably be shortedned still, but it basically works for me.

    There is a passage, an edited quote, that I found extremely hard to parse, though, namely “a conversation that can be had about do [Patriot Act provisions] need to be modified”. Is there somethign that you can do with it? I’m not sure what the recast words were, but the result is very awkward.

  2. Linda Young says:

    The letter’s content is fine, as ever, but changing the tone would help it to be better received. Adding a more temperate, respectful tone would help it be taken more seriously…The first paragraph has an abrupt feel to it.

    Best, Linda

  3. Mark Dorlester says:

    Everything is great, but overall it’s a weak “ask.” We need extremely specific requests, such as “We urge you to direct your representatives on Capitol Hill to agree to incorporate S.xxxx (Feingold) and H. R. yyyy (Nadler) into the final product.”

    Beyond that, many of the statements are really strong; I think with a punched-up ask(s) and an edit just to cut the word count (from the 810+close to maybe 700), we’re a go.


    FYI because of other issues, I’ve opened another track to get Patriot/FISA on a “short list” of issues and lob it where it needs to go directly inside the White House. (The open letter will not be used or referenced.)

    BTW, did you see Axelrod today? Raw nerves, which I’ve never seen before. He needs a rest. He needs better polls. They’re vulnerable for the first time.

  4. harrywaisbren says:

    Jim—agreed in full on the length, and presume we’ll find ways to shorten it down. I also agree that that quote sounds choppy…I can see us changing it around, or potentially removing it if need be.

    Linda—we’ve strived to ensure that this letter reflects a constructive tone, yet it is difficult given the nature of our argument. This is an area where we can improve more no doubt, and if you have more specific ideas about words that we should switch please to do this let us know. The first paragraph is abrupt, which we did to mirror our letter from last summer. however, that is certainly a point to consider if it would lighten up the tone.

  5. jon says:

    Great progress!

    Agreed with Jim on how Holder’s quote is confusing. Paraphrasing is fine here — we don’t need a direct quote.

    Agreed with Linda about the abruptness of the first paragraph.

    Agreed with Mark that the ask is weak. We want a public discussion *and* him to endorse significant strengthening of protections in the Patriot Act — and FISA reform, including the repeal of immunity.

    Also it might be worth combining and shortening the second and third paragraphs, perhaps dropping some of the quotes. It comes across as somewhat pedantic.

    Would the start of fourth paragraph be a better lede? It describes who we are and can then lead into our history …


  6. Mark Dorlester says:

    Role Play: suppose I’m the key White House staffer who could get this to the President, and you have me on the phone right now.

    Staffer: “OK, your letter was called to my attention and I get that you’re 23,000 Obamamaniac community organizers, and you want more progressive stuff in the Patriot reauth, and you’re about to go viral. Fine. I work 24×7 for the President. You have 30 seconds to tell me what exactly you want him to do. That’s all the time I’ll get on this in the Oval.


  7. jon says:

    I want him to support HR 3845 and 3846 (along with the addition of equivalent protections to the Senate Bill), to work with AG Holder to provide the information about Section 215 not just to Congress but to the American public as well. [And maybe NSLs too, not sure.]

    How’s that?

  8. jon says:

    On the timing front, here’s the latest from TPM about health care in the Senate:

    – cloture vote Saturday night
    – vote to proceed 30 hours later
    – two days of reading the bill aloud in the Senate
    – debate to begin in earnest after Thanksgiving


  9. Shahid says:

    Nice letter and excellent effort overall. Just a few thoughts:

    1) Collapse last two sentences of 3rd paragraph: “…that we take seriously.”

    2) Two issues with “Furthermore, we continue to hear of your representatives….:
    a) Add a paragraph break before
    b) It’s a little implausible. I prefer calling a spade a spade: “You opposed long overdue and badly needed protections for civil liberties and urged their eventual rejection by the Senate. Absent your intervention, the legislation emerging from the Senate and House Judiciary Committees would likely include greater civil liberties protections.”

    3) Remove the entire paragraph that begins “That is why we implore….”

    Nice work, once again! We at BORDC are standing by to post the final upon request.

  10. Craig Nazor says:

    Small point – in paragraph 6, before the quote you have a “whereas,” and after the quote you have a “yet,” which doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Though this is a good letter, it is too long, in my opinion. Is there some way that some of the logic can be collapsed a bit into a more simple statements? For instance, measure seven:

    Many Americans are growing increasingly wary of giving up liberty for temporary security. We also recognize the need to ensure the safety of our free nation. But it makes no sense to trade that safety for our freedom. As has been attributed to Ben Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

    That’s 54 words down from 71 words. Is it worth doing more of this kind of editing?

  11. josh2016 says:

    Personally, I have been completely unimpressed by this President’s first year in office. FISA was an insult, but the developing healthcare scam is just the straw that broke this camel’s back.

    I’ll be seeking different political representation.

    However, I commend your efforts, and hope you will continue to fight the good fight.

  12. Ben Vos says:

    I think it’s worth noting that obstructionism from the GOP on all matters related to national security, transparency, etc., has held back progress on this front. And while President Obama is in charge of the Executive, I think it’s also worth noting that priority #1 has been closing Gitmo, trials of Gitmo detainees, and retooling the CIA, State Dept, and Defense Dept. to handle the Obama administration’s different approach on foreign policy and military policy.

    So, while I recognize that FISA is important and that we need to keep our focus on this issue, I nevertheless believe that the blame should be squarely placed on Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and others who oversee national security in the Senate.

    President Obama recognizes that change must come through Congress in order to really be seen as a legitimate change in policy. The Unitary Executive ‘going rogue’ has been a problem and escalated in the Bush Administration’s decision to go into Iraq without a declaration of war, and then to use the term ‘war on terror’ to justify all kinds of illegitimate actions.

  13. harrywaisbren says:

    Marc Lord Elzenbeck via Facebook:

    Harry, the open letter has good tone, supporting quotes, and stated facts. Still, it would hit harder if somewhat shorter, and if it were to directly ask for repeal or redress of specific measures such as #215.

    My editorial bits: 1st and 2nd paragraphs should be switched for smoothness. 3rd paragraph can be cut. Last 4 paragraphs can be compressed to 2. The Attorney General paragraph should point out that 215 is antithetical to Obama’s remarks, and thus it should be reversed, as well as any other specific provisions you choose to name.

    I’m just a guy who runs a company and doesn’t have as much time for this group as I’d like, and thank you for your tireless commitment and work to defend our privacy rights.

    Kind Regards,
    Marc Lord

  14. Louise Friedman says:

    I agree with Marc Lord – shorter, tougher and straight to the heart, ie: We hold you accountable to follow through on your campaign promises – NOT we ask you to – bull – we are through asking and respectfulness is not lost in the truth.

  15. Amy Ringenbach (@BleuZ00m on Twitter) says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your feedback and your revisions. I made just a few more myself. The Letter is much crisper now, you’re right, and direct. Harry and I have worked long hours on this, and your insights just bang it home.

    Great work, everyone. Truly, Thank you!


  16. Robert J. Moore says:


  17. Robert J. Moore says:


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