It’s wicked fun, easy, and arguably sometimes productive to make fun of the worst political behavior, governmental foolishness, and outrageous civic discourse reported, repeated, often exaggerated in our County. A mostly white coastal city pretends it can’t adopt low and middle-income housing. A school board member and January 6 rally veteran proposes banning books.  An entertainment industry employer harasses its unionized workers, professionals who dress up like medieval characters for audiences who eat prime rib. 

Reading about these OC hijinks might make you laugh, as it should. Indeed, it takes a special kind of energy, anger, or optimism to summon a more constructive response.  Plenty of of us just rant to friends on social media, shrug, or use it as an excuse to disengage, embrace cynicism, or wallow in fear or suspicion.

Friends, fear no more! Abandon cynicism! Suspect the best in others! And by all means engage immediately! It’s spring, and after a three-year Covid hiatus, we’re invited to follow the righteous and steadfast example of Women For: Orange County, whose breathtakingly joyous and completely genuine 35th Annual Great American Write-In is back on Saturday, May 6.  You’re invited, if you dare to show up, show off your goodwill, and show some faith in the power of citizen advocacy.

Since 1985 this women-led civics education and outreach outfit has delivered full-on sincerity and celebrated their — and our! — collective power by hosting the unshyly if accurately named half-day in-person, pen and paper letter-writing festival that is the Great American Write-In.  Leading by example, the organizers host a sincere, real, vigorously optimistic, and empowering epistolary democratic hoedown that can’t be parodied, diminished, or satirized.  I just dare you.

I’m a smart aleck myself and can tell you that my own default despair and disappoint just melt when I see the hundreds of activists and students and everyday citizens who’ve arrived to perform the simple, brave, and meaningful act of writing a letter or two, or a dozen. You’re guaranteed to abandon any residual alienation and find courage upon joining the Write-In. You’ll be immediately won over by Women For’s clever strategy — be warned! — of inviting the very best in our community, expecting it and, right then and there, creating it.

Photo credit:  Angelo Vassos

Women For: Orange County does all the hard work, after all — hiring the hall, inviting the advocacy groups, providing breakfast — and asks only that you be their guest. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant: a party of empowerment, community, and deserved self-regard for our citizenship. But don’t be fooled. These women are political activists not Pollyannas.  They’ve anticipated all the available excuses and have made it easy on purpose.  They are both calling you out and calling your bluff, with coffee and donuts, not punishing but feeding you, welcoming you, and then, best of all, celebrating you for how great you are. Pretty clever.

The League of Women Voters, no slouches, and certainly not pushovers, offers its own objective and nonpartisan endorsement, with a helpful description: “The Great American Write-In provides community members with the means to influence policy decisions by writing letters to their legislators. Every year, sixty or more different organizations and advocacy groups present information regarding some of today’s most vital issues, including education, health care, human and civil rights, and the environment.  Attendees visit participants’ tables and then voice their opinions by generating letters and postcards to government and corporate decision-makers in the hopes of bringing about constructive change. In 2019, over 550 visitors sent more than 4,250 pieces of mail at the event.”

That’s it. 

This year the participating organizations are diverse, representative, moderate and militant, secular and faith-based, ranging across issues and struggles.  Included are the local chapter of the nation’s largest anti-gun violence group, a non-profit human relations organization, and a local affordable housing network.  And the League of Women Voters itself, of course, one of the oldest and most trusted voter education groups in our nation. Habitat for Humanity will be there, along with Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Jewish Women. See the full list at the Women For: Orange County website.  

Photo credit:  Angelo Vassos

Whatever your issue, you will find a cause, campaign or project which needs you, and on whose behalf you will indeed want to write a letter after talking with a volunteer staffer and reading some literature.  The letter you compose might be to a local elected official, administrator, county or state or federal official.

The truly radical premise of the Write-In is that you don’t have to be persuaded by or even interested in the work or all or even most of the organizations.  You can pick and choose.  You have only to believe, sincerely, in the project of representative democracy for at least one morning and sit down at a table with other writers and compose.  

Women For puts the free in this community exercise of Freedom in Orange County, California, of all places:  free admission, free parking, free refreshments, free stationery and pens and envelopes.  And the postage is paid for, joyfully, sincerely, by Women For: Orange County.

The 35th Great American Write-In is Saturday, May 6 at the Delhi Center at 505 E. Central Ave in Santa Ana.

Andrew Tonkovich lives in Modjeska Canyon and edits Citric Acid: An Online Orange County Literary Arts Quarterly of Imagination and Reimagination. He writes for The Foothills Sentry and with Lisa Alvarez co-edited the landmark regional anthology Orange County: A Literary Field Guide.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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