Break the Chain Rice To The Occasion

Created 2/3/2003 (2/3/2003) Many grassroots demonstrations against war with Iraq have been proposed recently, but this one is easily one of the more creative ones.

SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT

Subject: Re: Rice to the Rescue: An Interesting Peace Initiative Can't hurt! (unless the bags break and gum up the anthrax irradiation machines . . . )

Place 1/2 cup uncooked rice in a small plastic bag (a snack-size bag or sandwich bag work fine). Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Wrap it in a piece of paper on which you have written, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them." Romans 12:20. Please send this rice to the people of Iraq; do not attack them."

Place the paper and bag of rice in an envelope (either a letter-sized or padded mailing envelope--both are the same cost to mail) and address them to:

President George Bush
White House,
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Attach $1.06 in postage. (Three 37-cent stamps equal $1.11.)

Drop this in the mail TODAY. It is important to act NOW so that President Bush gets the letters ASAP.

In order for this protest to be effective, there must be hundreds of thousands of such rice deliveries to the White House. We can do this if you each forward this message to your friends and family.

There is a positive history of this protest! In the 1950s, Fellowship of Reconciliation began a similar protest, which is credited with influencing President Eisenhower against attacking China. Read on:

"In the mid-1950s, the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, learning of famine in the Chinese mainland, launched a 'Feed Thine Enemy' campaign. Members and friends mailed thousands of little bags of rice to the White House with a tag quoting the Bible, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him." As far as anyone knew for more than ten years, the campaign was an abject failure. The President did not acknowledge receipt of the bags publicly; certainly, no rice was ever sent to China.

"What nonviolent activists only! learned a decade later was that the campaign played a significant, perhaps even determining role in preventing nuclear war. Twice while the campaign was on, President Eisenhower met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider U.S. options in the conflict with China over two islands, Quemoy and Matsu. The generals twice recommended the use of nuclear weapons. President Eisenhower each time turned to his aide and asked how many little bags of rice had come in. When told they numbered in the tens of thousands, Eisenhower told the generals that as long as so many Americans were expressing active interest in having the U.S. feed the Chinese, he certainly wasn't going to consider using nuclear weapons against them."

From: People Power: Applying Nonviolence Theory by David H. Albert,p. 43, New Society.

END CHAIN LETTER TEXT

Earlier versions of this chain set January 27 as a target date. That was the day arms inspectors were to report to President Bush their findings on Iraq's capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. After that date passed, erstwhile forwarders removed references to this deadline to maintain the letter's timeliness.

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The first question I get with this one is: "Is it legitimate?" Well, it's legitimate in the sense that someone came up with the idea and decided to use an e-mail chain letter as a way to gather support for it.

Historically, however, grassroots campaigns that rely on e-mail as the only source of publicity are failures. In addition, this one differs from earlier campaigns (such as fasting on 3/3/03, driving with headlights on and saying the Pledge on 9/11) in that it requires more effort from its participants for success. It's easy to forward this message, but how many will actually do what it asks? Based on the failure of easier and less costly campaigns, the outlook does not look good.

So far, I have not been able to validate the "proof" of the campaign's historical success. President Eisenhower's reliance on the count of "little bags of rice" appears apocryphal at best and the description of the two meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff must be regarded as hearsay until a source is identified and verified. Besides, the example differs significantly from the current campaign in that it was sponsored by an organization and did not rely on randomly forwarded messages for its publicity.

This one has already developed a case of "False Attribution Syndrome." Later versions contain contact information for Professor Suzanne Kessler, in the Division of Natural Sciences at Purchase College of the State University of New York. Professor Kessler has nothing to do with this campaign other than she received and forwarded the chain letter, inadvertently adding her identity (and credibility) to it.

Given heightened security in government mailrooms across the country following 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax letter attacks, it's unlikely that thousands of letters containing packets of an unidentified white substance would make it to the White House. A personal letter sent to the same address asking the president to consider aid programs over a military solution will likely have more impact, though certainly be less symbolic. Break this chain.

What Do You Think?

Category: Armchair Activism
References: None

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