Dear Mr. President,
My dear friend JP works at an ice cream shop in our neighborhood. I'm writing to you from his shop as he finishes closing. Tonight I asked him what he'd like me to write about and he suggested I discuss the solar panel that environmental activists brought to the White House. That you declined to place the near-ancient solar panel on the White House roof is not what bothers him. The activists bringing you the panel were doing so, I'd imagine, for a symbolic and not a practical purpose. The security and logistical issues involved in placing something of that size on the White House roof are surely greater than the energy saving potential of such an old device.
But in a year when your administration has backed down on comprehensive energy legislation, maybe a little symbolic good will to the green movement was in order. Accepting the solar panel for a museum, or for the OEOB or another office building might have at least demonstrated that you took the offering in good spirits, that you had respect for the group and their cause. A commitment to make the White House more energy efficient- or even to answer questions about its energy efficiency- would have left the activists feeling like they'd accomplished something.
Perhaps you didn't want this. Perhaps you viewed their "stunt" as something that should not be rewarded with good will from your office. I can see the logic behind this, I suppose. At a time when lobbyists have unprecedented power and influence in Washington, when votes in congress can be openly purchased by special interest donations, is it really such a bad thing to indulge a "stunt" from an organization without a particularly loud voice on the Hill? If you really want to change the culture of corruption in Washington, maybe you should stop rewarding those who know how to play the game best. Yesterday, I engaged in a debate with a conservative friend and fellow blogger who criticized those on the left for insisting Islam to be a "religion of peace" while asking that nutcase in Florida not to do something that might trigger violence from Muslims. I argued that you were speaking to the majority of Muslims who would have reacted to this man's hateful actions with nothing more than words. Reassuring them that, even if their quiet speech was drown out by the shouts and violence of the fringe, you could still hear them. My point was about the importance of acknowledging the silent majority, of empowering them so that shouting (or violence) doesn't become the only way to be noticed.
Powerlessness is an awful feeling. I often imagine that the only way for some one like me to be noticed by those in power is to become wealthy, to have something tragic happen to me, or to do something horrible. For me, the act of writing to you, the act of speaking, is much more important than the act of being heard. I don't need you to know that I exist or what I feel strongly about, so much as I need to articulate these things to myself. But others don't feel that way. Others do need to be heard. And so much of your time is spent dealing with tragedy or chaos or violence that is may occur to some as the best way to get your attention. I'm not saying you should accept the solar panel in order to avoid ecoterrorism or anything like that, just that empowering people so passionate about moving our country away from our worst and most consumptive practices is more productive than discouraging them. We need committed environmentalists and your administration needs them to feel respected and listened to if you want their support. In a year when you have done precious little to remind them why they elected you, would it have been that hard just to admit your own shortcomings and listen to their ideas for improvement? Especially when it costs you nothing, I think accepting their criticism gracefully and demonstrating your willingness to work with them would have been a much smarter move.