Revised Draft of Open Letter to Obama

Update, November 22: thanks once again for the great feedback!  Please check out the final draft!

We received some really fantastic feedback from our proposed open letter to Obama and have revised it accordingly — for example, this draft is about 40% shorter. We’ve tried to incorporate everybody’s perspectives … please have a look at this version and see what you think:

Dear President Obama,

In response to Get FISA Right’s July 2008 Open Letter, you promised 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.”    With Patriot Act and FISA reform once again before Congress, we woiuld would like to accept your invitation.

Last July, you told us of your intention to direct your Attorney General to “make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”   Once Patriot Act reform legislation was introduced, AG Holder talked about “a conversation that can be had” about civil liberties concerns.   So far, the conversation has been disappointing. Your administration opposed long overdue and badly needed protections for civil liberties and urged their eventual rejection by the Senate.  Absent this intervention, the legislation emerging from the Senate and House Judiciary Committees would likely include greater civil liberties protections.

We ask you and your administration to take a strong stand to support significant reform of key sections of the Patriot Act, incuding National Security Letters, Section 215, Lone Wolf, Sneak and peak, and material support.  Legislatively, we ask for your public support of HR 3845 and 3846, and amendments adding similar protections to S 1692.

Just as importantly, in light of your promises regarding open government, we ask you to respect the people’s passion regarding our rights as citizens and to respond in an open and transparent way.  Much of the conversation has gone on behind closed doors or via anonymous sources, rather than out in the open.  With your background in constitutional law, and insight into the complex tradeoffs you must make as President, you are uniquely qualified to help all Americans to get beyond the false tradeoff between national security and civil liberties.

President Obama, 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 believe, and hope you do too.

Americans of all stripes have grown increasingly wary of giving up liberty for the illusion of security.  Get FISA Right’s 23,000 community organizers are the largest grassroots issue-oriented group on Organizing for America, and we are only one of many organizations across the political spectrum working to restore or civil liberties.  If you join us, you can inspire the same wave of grassroots energy that propelled you to the Presidency.  Together we can reject the politics of fear, and turn the page on the abuses to our constitutional rights of the last 8 years

Signed,

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11 Responses to Revised Draft of Open Letter to Obama

  1. Craig Nazor says:

    In the last sentence of the first paragraph, there are two “woulds” back to back. Other than that, I would say the recent edits are excellent. The letter is much more concise and direct.

    At the end of paragraph 3, how about:

    [If you have serious objections to any of these proposed changes, we believe that a “serious discussion” would, of necessity, include an explanation from your Administration as to what these objections might be.]

    Or another, and possibly more concise, way to ask for an explanation for actions taken might be to add this to the end of the first sentence in measure four:

    …way[, particularly in the instances where you may disagree with us.]

    What I am getting at is to more explicitly ask him to respond, even if he is not going to give us what we want. Any pressure generated toward having him explain his actions may result in a decision more to our liking.

    At any rate, it is looking good.

  2. In the 2nd sentence of the last paragraph (near the end) you use the word “or” when I think you mean “our” (I suspect it’s a typo).

  3. Mark Dorlester says:

    Outstanding!

    In addition to the above typos, in the 3rd para, “Sneak and peak” should be “Sneak and Peek” (2 changes to “peak.”)

  4. Sally G says:

    Hi,
    Sorry I haven’t been more active in helping with this letter, but it’s great. Mark & Richard’s proofreading is excellent; I also picked up on those.
    As for Craig’s idea, I like his second version, with one minor change: “particularly in any instances in which you may disagree with us” added to the end of paragraph 4, sentence 1. (I.e.: Change Craig’s “the instances” to “any instances” and his “where” to “in which”.)
    Also, to nitpick, I would change “importantly” to “important” (“Just as important[ly], opening of paragraph 4).
    Thanks, all, for creating this!

  5. jonpincus says:

    Good catches on the proofreading …

    I’m with Sally: I like Craig’s suggestion, and think the approach of adding a sentence on to the end of the paragraph where we’re asking him to speak out. As I reread it, we probably should be more explicit that we’re asking him to speak on this issue — should we ask him to cover it in his weekly address?

    jon

  6. jonpincus says:

    Hmm, just realized that the ask in paragraph three should support for FISA reform, including stripping telecom immunity.

  7. Joan Mokray says:

    Consider changing the second paragraph to make the ‘ask’ stronger: We want to engage in a meaningful conversation with you and your staff. Last July, you told us of your intention to direct your Attorney General to “make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.” Once Patriot Act reform legislation was introduced, AG Holder talked about “a conversation that can be had” about civil liberties concerns. So far, that conversation has been disappointing. Your administration opposed long overdue and badly needed protections for civil liberties and urged their eventual rejection by the Senate. Absent this intervention, the legislation emerging from the Senate and House Judiciary Committees would likely include greater civil liberties protections. We don’t feel as if we’re being heard.

  8. Dawn Teo says:

    “Just as importantly, in light of your promises regarding open government, we ask you to respect the people’s passion regarding our rights as citizens and to respond in an open and transparent way. Much of the conversation has gone on behind closed doors or via anonymous sources, rather than out in the open.”

    It’s not about respecting the people’s passions. It’s about him keeping his promise for an open government. This sentence would be a lot stronger if it read something like this:

    “Just as important, in spite of your promises for an open and transparent government, much of the conversation around this issue has been behind closed doors or via unnamed participants rather than out in the open. We ask that you remember your promises and respond in an open and transparent manner.”

  9. harrywaisbren says:

    As usual, really fantastic feedback on the letter! Thanks everyone who has commented!

    Of course, I’m a major fan of it. Upon rereading, I am especially agreeing with the comments from Dawn and Joan about specifying the ask better to make it as concrete as possible while keeping the broader focus in mind as well.

    One other addition I can potentially see us including goes back to a comment from Mark about incentives for Obama to listen to us. Right now, we say “If you join us, you can inspire the same wave of grassroots energy that propelled you to the Presidency.”

    However, I’m curious whether we should specify further here about how we are building this momentum–as we did in our last letter and previous versions of this one–by citing that we will be spreading his words through new media to amplify this issue within our country’s public discourse.

  10. Craig Nazor says:

    My feeling is:

    If you want us to know we are being heard, even if you are going to disagree with us, you have to tell us your reasoning if you want our continued support. A “conversation” must go both ways. It is possible to support someone without agreeing with everything they say, but this becomes much harder when the conversation just stops, and we have to guess at your reasoning.

    Of course, this is too wordy and a little on the negative side, but I think it is close to what needs to be conveyed. I believe it is actually at the heart of a larger sickness now very prevalent in our democracy. Politicians want to be all things to all people.

    I guess I’m tired of this scenario: someone says, “I’m not being heard!” The answer is, “I hear you!” and then that’s the end of it, and nothing changes.

    At any rate, this all seems to be moving in a very good direction, and the letter is really honing in quite nicely. It’s going to be hard to ignore, which is just the point!

  11. Jim Burrows says:

    Like Harry, I find myself agreeing with Joan and Dawn’s comments especially. Otherwise, the letter seems to be converging on what I was looking for in my earlier comments.

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