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Monday, February 21, 2005

What's My Voice Worth?

They put it in letters to my representatives, in petitions to government agencies, and in surveys about my government. They include it with your restaurant check, on your Home Depot receipt, and I just got one from the guy who comes out periodically to service my furnace. We may never know who the “they” are, but the “it” is a place, block or card for my personal comments about the service that the interested agencies provide.

There may be some practical use for such feedback in the private sector. If I get a lazy waitron, I want to know that he or she will be given a talking to by the restaurant manager. If I walk through a pile of debris in a Home Depot aisle, I want to make sure someone even clumsier than I doesn’t actually hurt themselves under similar circumstances. And if the guy who comes to check my HVAC is rude (which he isn’t, by the way), I want a course of action.

But what about those petitions, letters and surveys, both online and direct mail, that I get from groups like NARAL, MoveOn.org and the DNC? Many of those have a section that begs to be typed in, like adding your own comments to a form letter to a congressman, or asking you what you think the Democrats did wrong last year that needs improving. I don’t know about you, but it’s harder for me to leave those solicitations for comment blank than it is to ignore the insecurities of a restaurant staff.

So I want to know why I am compelled to comment to someone who doesn’t provide a service with tangible rewards? Why, when I recently received the 2005 Survey from the Democratic National Committee, did I find it important to fill in their “ideas” box? Why? For the same reason I write this column - I want to know my voice will be heard.

But it’s frustrating. It’s so much unlike the private sector because I am held captive by my politics. There may be many entrances to the progressive mansion, but there’s still only one place I can go. It is as if my town only had a Wal-Mart and a K-mart, and I was forced to be loyal to the latter, despite its crappy selection, because I disliked the policies of the former.

So how can we be certain that our comments will yield results? It could easily be very much like the suggestion box at the office. Maybe someone reads it, and if they like it they may implement it; or, like in some offices, the suggestion box is a placebo that’s contents get dumped with the evening trash. I guess we’ll never know, but the great thing is, we get a chance to say them, and maybe, just maybe, someone will listen.
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