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Southern California Voices / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY

Today's Agenda

September 20, 1993

Writing letters is something that few adults, much less children preoccupied with video games, television and other things, do these days. And why bother when there are faster ways of communicating?

Because, says Los Angeles public relations executive Michael Levine, writing in today's Community Essay, letter-writing can empower our children and give them a chance to make an impact on their lives and the world around them.

"Writing letters is purposeful work. Kids who normally rebel against learning drills will rise to the occasion when it comes to writing to their heroes, especially when their their letters are answered. Writing is a great habit to develop and a hard habit to break," he writes. And, kids can also make a difference.

Grace Bedell Billings is a good example. She lived from 1848 to 1936 and is credited with having persuaded Abraham Lincoln to grow a beard because she thought he looked too homely. She wrote to Lincoln on Oct. 15, 1860, and he replied four days later.

Grace wrote: "If you let your whiskers grow you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. Answer this letter right off. Goodbye. Grace Bedell."

Lincoln replied: "My dear little Miss: Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons--one 17, one 9 and one 7 years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family.

"As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Yours, very sincere well wishes, A. Lincoln."

Historian William Barton writes of the exchange: "Almost from the very day of her letter, Lincoln decided he would wear a beard."

And 10 years ago, a 10-year-old girl from Manchester, Me., become a world symbol of the desire for peace when she wrote then-Soviet President Yuri Andropov. She asked him, "Why do you want to conquer the whole world, or at least our country? . . . Are you going to vote to have a war or not?" He replied,

"We are . . . doing everything so that there will be no war between our two countries."

Her proud father said afterward, "This is just proof that letter-writing works and people do pay attention."

And President Clinton, as a young man in turmoil over his military draft status, wrote a letter in 1969 to the head of the ROTC at the University of Arkansas, withdrawing from the program. In the letter, which was a major issue in the 1992 campaign, Clinton said, "No government rooted in limited, parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose" But he went on to say, "I decided to accept the draft in spite of my beliefs for one reason: to maintain my political viability within the system. For years I have worked to prepare myself for a political life . . . It is a life I still feel compelled to try to lead."

We know the conclusion.

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