Local members of Amnesty International's "Group 39" are used to writing letters of protest to officials from China, say, or Vietnam who are holding political prisoners or torturing dissidents. So it was "not typical," says Eve Wider, head of Pittsburgh's Amnesty chapter, Group 39, to see a request go out from Amnesty's London office on May 7 for members in the United States to write letters to George W. Bush, asking for an investigation into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Apart from anti-death penalty campaigns, neither Wider nor local Amnesty spokesperson Dorothy Miller can recall any other Amnesty campaign of U.S. citizens writing to their own government.
"We work against torture around the world," says Wider. "It's hard to write about it in another country, but when it's in your country it's even worse."
Can mere letters to Bush have an effect when the outrage has already been international? "I hope so," she says. "It seems like our politicians generally work from polls. He just needs to hear from the American people -- it's OK to say it" -- that the perpetrators at all levels will be punished -- "but you have to do it. We are watching."
Mass letter-writing campaigns, for which Group 39 holds an annual write-a-thon, sometimes have a demonstrable effect. To address Bush, Wider says the group plans to incorporate letter writing into its informal monthly gathering at Kiva Han on Oakland's Craig Street, held on May 24, 7 p.m., to which the public is invited. Won't it feel weird to sit comfortably in a coffeehouse, writing letters about sodomy and electroshock?
Says Wider: "It feels weird not doing anything about this."