What am I supposed to do with all this political mail?
Updated: Jan 27
Here are the steps SJPC went through to get to a Yes on Measure C...
It's that time of year, people - election season. Regardless of whether there's a presidential race on the ballot or a local initiative, one thing remains a constant - you're going to get a lot of mail. For those of us interested in social justice, here are a few tips on how you might sift through all of the information being thrown at you to help you make up your mind.
Let's use local Measure C as an example, because it's a hotly contested issue in the City of Sacramento and chances are you may have some mailers around the house on it. So here are a few tried and true steps to take:
1. Don't throw the mailer away immediately!
All of the political mail can be totally overwhelming especially when you’re waiting for a check to arrive or that package from Amazon. But before you toss them, read them closely. They can actually provide a lot of information.
Usually mailers have talking points from the campaign, provide information on who supports or opposes the measure, a website you can visit for more information, and some information on who paid for the advertisement.
2. Start with the FACTS.
Read the entire mailer, but don’t accept it as the truth just yet. The mailer often will NOT tell you exactly what the measure does. But it will provide some key facts. It tells you what the folks paying for the ad want you to believe the measure does. This is a great measuring stick for getting a quick sense of how the issues are shaping up with the organizations and people that pay close attention to these issues.
3. Who are these people?
Look for the organizations or individuals that support or oppose the measure and consider:
Does this a person or organization have had a long history of working on this issue?
Do I tend to agree with the positions this person or organization takes on issues like this?
If the issue is local, consider whether the person or organization has a history of doing work in your community and if that work has been beneficial.
The more you pay attention to the organizations out there, the more you'll start to develop your own sense of what endorsements matter to you when evaluating an issue.
For example, one of the "No on Measure C" mailers includes pictures of all of the members of the Sacramento City Council and says none of them support the measure. That's good to know, but the more important question to ask is, what does their opposition mean to you? Does it matter to you that they all oppose the issue? How have they been on social justice issues: those that redistribute wealth, privilege, and opportunity so we all benefit?
4. Show me the money! Pay attention to the fine print.
Mailers are required to say who paid for them. Many groups start campaign committees with names that sound positive but don't tell you much. Look at who the major funders are. After the catchy campaign committee name, it should tell you who those groups are.
For example the No on C campaign materials say the following:
That's a mouthful. But once you get past the first line you'll see that Citizens for Affordable Housing group is actually sponsored by and majorly funded by the California Apartment Association and other developers.
Here's what's on the website for the Yes on Measure C campaign website:
Again, run the same drill. This campaign is sponsored by a number of groups and majorly funded by the SEIU labor union.
Now ask yourself the "who are these people" questions from #3.
5. Consider what's missing.
This is a really important one. If a mailer is trying to convince you a position is good for equity, but there aren't any equity organizations or champions listed on the mailer - that's a problem!
Campaigns will beat you over the head with all the information they have to sway you. So if you don’t see a long list of organizations on a piece of mail that are usually vocal on a social justice issue, pay attention.
The one thing a mailer can't really do for you is to actually tell you what the campaign in question is really about. If you're looking for straightforward information, you won’t find it on a mailer. . You have to do some work if you want to know more.
Look up the campaign website. While that information is often skewed, it's still a great place to go for more information. You'll learn more about who's endorsed it and maybe a little history about what brought the measure forward. Then look up the opposition’s campaigns website and compare the two.
Look for articles and editorials to tell you more about a measure or a campaign from different sources. You can get more information about a measure from trusted media sources - The Sacramento Bee, The Sacramento Observer, CapRadio, or local TV news. Always be sure to consider the source.
Here's an article on Measure C with additional information on both sides of the measure:
Please note, if you’re reading an editorial it’s different from a regular news article. Often campaigns will have community members, business people, or local leaders write pieces to be included in the editorial sections of the newspaper to give you their opinion on an issue. Those can be helpful in giving you more information, but they are still opinion pieces. Know the difference to better understand what's at stake.
And for the record, SJPC is a YES on Measure C!