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Tim Van Schmidt
I wrote a letter to the President. I thought I would ask him a question.
I sent my letter to the Press Office in the White House, thinking maybe my august position as a freelancer writing for the North Forty News might work.
I pleaded my case that I was a senior writer looking at “retirement” and that working a White House press conference had always been a dream of mine.
Then, I tried to ask a question of gravity: “Everything seems so confused and conflicted in the United States today. Where do we find hope for our country?”
I finished my letter by proclaiming that small, independent news outlets like the North Forty News were a “direct pipeline to the people.”
This effort was DIY simple. I didn’t e-mail — I printed the letter on a plain piece of paper and signed it with ink. I used an Earth Day stamp on the envelope and hand-addressed it, thinking, well, maybe it would stand out and someone would take a look.
Maybe it was too simple; maybe not professional enough. Maybe it never made it. It’s been six weeks and I haven’t received a response yet in any case. But that’s really OK — these things take time and just maybe they are doing their duty by not responding.
At first, after sending the letter, I fantasized that someone might show President Biden my letter and that he might take the challenge of trying to answer such a vexing question — you know, a President takes time to consider a small-time journalist’s request kind of thing.
But since then, as I have been following the news, seeing what things are confronting the President every day — the incredibly complex web of concerns and actions that somehow keep our country running — I have realized my letter was just an unnecessary bother.
Sending that letter may even have been somewhat unpatriotic. I mean, these people in the White House are busy. I should let them keep being busy with what’s really important rather than try to take up their time with basic American theory I can — and should — work on myself.
The place to start may be right there in my question: “Where do we find hope for our country?”
It strikes me that the keyword here is “we.”
Let’s look at it. “We” is the very first word of the Constitution. It reads: “We the People of the United States…” So above all else, that is what “we” have to define — who are “we”?
Is “we” my family and friends? Is “we” my city, state, or region? Is “we” the people who believe like me? Is “we” my special interest group? Is “we” my political party? Is “we” my government?
I’ll ask it again: who are “we”?
Now, I’m not saying I know the answer to this. In 2021, though, it seems to me that this is a question “we” have to figure out.
To be honest, I don’t think President Biden knows the answer, either. That’s not a slam, that’s just real — the question of who “we” are is a mind twister and maybe “we” should be working on this question while he sticks to the business at hand.
Hope — that is something I was “hoping” to find in this project, some positive clue coming all the way from the top. But now I realize the hope I’m looking for doesn’t come from proclamations, it comes from good hard thinking from everybody.
Now, I didn’t get to deliver a message to northern Colorado from President Biden — that would have been cool! Still, the experience of writing the letter has lead to this article.
I’m going to send it to the Press Office too, just for a follow-up. I’m not sending a question this time, I am sending a message: People in northern Colorado are working on “we”.
Can you help figure this out? Who are “we”?
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Check out his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”