Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

May 19, 2009

One Proper Way To Confront a Government Official

by tarran

On this website, we have a category called “Dumbasses & Authoritarians” that is a grab bag of stories about really dumb or vicious government officials. Typically, the posts that are assigned to that category detail some government official who is making everything worse via his actions. No, not every post gets assigned to that category, just the actually egregious stuff.

When you read one of those posts, what emotion do you feel? Typically, people feel anger or outrage. Odds are that you have fantasized about slapping one of those jerks about, screaming at him, or squeezing his neck until your pain stops. This desire to punish these people is understandable but counterproductive, because there is little chance of convincing a government official of the error of his ways by calling him things like ‘traitor’, ‘moron’, ‘toady’ etc.

Rather, the way to change a government official’s heart is to convince him that it is in his best interest to do the right thing. To that end, I want to republish a letter written by someone named jeff that was posted on freekeene.com

The Honorable Edward J. Burke,
Judge of the Keene District Court
P.O. Box 364
Keene, NH 03431-0364
Dear Judge Burke:

I would like to bring to your attention information related to the case of Sam Dodson.

As you are probably aware, Mr. Dodson has been held as “John Doe” in Cheshire County Department of Corrections for the past 4 weeks. Per your order, he will remain there indefinitely unless he consents to give his name and address. During this time Mr. Dodson has been on a hunger strike in order to gain sympathy and publicity for his cause. He has lost 20 lbs.

It is my understanding that the Department of Corrections knows his legal name and address.

It is difficult to predict the time it takes to die from starvation, but a reasonable estimate based on Mr. Dodson’s situation shows a 50% chance that he will die within the next week, rising to near certainty about 4 weeks from now.

What you probably do not know is that in the intervening weeks there has been a growing tide of sympathy for Mr. Dodson’s situation. Initially blog posts and opinion articles with an immature tone, these have matured into a full-fledged campaign of sympathy for the plight of what I believe to be an innocent man. To take one example, Mr. Dodson’s supporters recently sent a well-worded press release to over 500 (!) news organizations around the country. Blog posts and articles are now numerous on the web.

If Mr. Dodson should die in jail, every aspect of the case will be brought out for public inspection, including his original charges, your court orders, and the jail house conditions that led to his death.

I understand that people should show proper judicial respect, but Mr. Dodson’s case appears to be a point of pride with vanishingly small value.

I urge you to consider whether it would be better to concede the point, and in so doing let the matter slowly dissipate.

Note the calm appeal to the judge’s humanity, the appeals to his self interest, and the acknowledgment of why the judge has thrown Sam into jail indefinitely. Nor does it sacrifice principle. It is an attempt to open a negotiation that is to the benefit of the judge, Sam Dodson and Jeff.

The letter was not successful; Sam still rots in a prison cell in New Hampshire, a modern day Giles Corey. However, that letter is a thousand times more likely to succeed than a diatribe, or a threatening letter, or a campaign of harassment and intimidation.

While Jeff could have dashed off an angry, emotionally satisfying letter that took only a minute or two to write, he took the time to pen a thoughtful letter that was written with the judge’s thoughts, beliefs and goals in mind. It is that intelligent and disciplined activism that has the greatest chance of carrying the day.

When advocating for liberty, please keep this in mind.

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  • southernjames

    If it had zero effect, why is this the model to be followed?

  • http://libertyactivism.info bile

    You can read more about Sam’s situation at http://sam.jailedactivist.info

    You can’t say that it had zero effect. The fact he received it and likely read it has had some effect on the man though not in a way that is visible to us. Besides… what other options are there? You can be civil and inundate the people involved with requests to release him (legal and personally), break him out of jail or do nothing. Seems the middle of the road here is the most appropriate.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    James,

    I think the key here is that threatening a guy with access to the police and the 800-lb gorilla of the state causes him to become defensive, and he likely won’t listen even if you’re right.

    Appealing to his humanity and emotions in a calm and respectful way MIGHT have a better effect.

    But crucial is appealing to his INCENTIVES. Simply put, he has a chance to be royally embarrassed by this case. Publicity could bring scorn on HIM for keeping someone who is engaging in peaceful civil disobedience in jail. While the hunger strike is Sam’s choice, it is a way to force this discussion into the media, where it can do damage to this judge.

    As Chris pointed out in this post, people act in their perceived interest. I think this judge may not see that to back down in this case is in his interest, but it may be a very costly misjudgment if he’s wrong.

    As with most things, it’s about personal incentives. If you make the judge understand that what you want is actually in his best interest, it’s win-win. If you try to fight him, it will inevitably be win-lose, and you can be sure the judge doesn’t want to be on the losing side of that battle.

  • Pingback: The Liberty Papers: One Proper Way To Confront a Government Official | Free Sam Dodson

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