Democratic Underground

To Influence Swing Voters, Act Locally

September 28, 2004
By Dan Gougherty

As a freelance writer who makes a portion of my living writing for a weekly newspaper, I sometimes find myself yearning for a bigger stage. What self-respecting reporter doesn't want to be trotting the globe covering the war in Iraq or be inside the Beltway? After writing literally hundreds of stories covering everything from volunteer fire district meetings to golden anniversaries, I sometime wonder what, if any, difference I am making.

Every now and then though, be it from someone testifying at a community meeting about the location of a new park or bumping into someone at the post office, I hear those magic words that remind me of the importance of my work. The words are "Well, I read in the paper that..." or some variation thereof.

As astounding as it is to believe in this day of 24 hour cable news and the instant news on the Internet, people still look to their local paper for news that pertains to their neighborhood and in a very direct sense, their day to day life. In my case, I am not referring to the major metropolitan daily in my area, the Sacramento Bee, but rather the very local publications that report on everything from PTA meeting to the deaths of a longtime residents.

While my brethren in larger markets may sniff at our level of reporting, I would argue we by far have more influence in our sphere. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a heated community meeting when people will say "I read it in the paper" to add validation and strength to their argument. Rarely is the use of "I read it in the paper" challenged.

I am not trying to say local publications are the end to all; rather it indicates that the readers read them from cover to cover and use them as the valid source of community news. They also read the "Letters to the Editor" section as a forum to discuss their views on local and national matters. Intuitively, I think this is the most read section of the paper I report for.

With this in mind, I urge Democratic Underground readers to write letters to the editor, particularly in rural areas, supporting John Kerry and John Edwards. Knowing that editors are always looking to publish well-written letters, particularly if Democrats are in a minority, it is a great way to spread the word.

Aside from that, local publications are often elderly voters' only source of local news and opinion. If they read that several of their neighbors are supporting Kerry, seeing that person's name in print will help to validate their thoughts and win more Kerry votes. Given the overwhelming negative influence some media outlets can have, for many people this might be the only chance to learn what the people in their community are thinking, as well as counteract the Fox News Channels of the world.

When you write your letter, address an issue that may have particular importance in your region. For instance, people in Michigan or Ohio would want to point out the decline of manufacturing jobs so vital to the entire state at the hands of Bush.

While there are doubtless hundreds of similar Get Out The Vote movements planned, this one requires nothing more than an original, well-written letter to your local editor. As we learned in 2000, every vote counts. If we can influence even a few swing voters, or better yet persuade a Kerry supporter not to be discouraged and go to the polls with letters to the editor, we may yet be saved from four more years of Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons.

Visit Dan Gougherty’s blog at

Editor's note: Want to get started on a letter right now? Check out Democratic Underground's media blaster.

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