The Great American Write-In: "The Conscience of Orange County"
by Felicity Figueroa (with Carol Tuch)
Back in 1985, Orange County community advocate Molly Lyon had an idea: why not create an event where hundreds of people could come together and write letters to their representatives on issues that were important to them? The next year, that vision became a reality, and the Great American Write-In was born.
What began as an exercise in civic participation with around 40 local organizations and a few hundred attendees writing 1,700 letters has now grown substantially: in 2019, over 70 social justice groups ranging from Amnesty International to Veterans for Peace and more than 550 visitors participated, generating over 4,250 pieces of mail to city council members, state senators, Congresspeople, the president and even foreign heads of state.
The Great American Write-In (GAWI) is a free annual event offered to the public by Women For: Orange County to provide community members with the means to influence policy decisions by writing letters to their legislators. Every year, a variety of organizations and advocacy groups present information regarding some of today’s most vital issues, including education, health care, human and civil rights, and the environment. Attendees visit participants' tables and then voice their opinions by generating letters and postcards to government and corporate decision-makers in the hopes of bringing about constructive change.
Students are particularly encouraged to participate. Women For contacts teachers throughout the county, encouraging them to offer extra credit or community service hours to students that can make the event. Several years ago, a senior at University High School remarked after attending GAWI, “There are so many issues I haven’t looked at or heard about and now I feel connected that I can actually make a difference.”
The event gives the community an opportunity to “participate in democracy and stand for what they believe in,” said Elaine Booth, 2006 President of Women For: Orange County. “It’s a letter-writing jamboree.” GAWI has also been dubbed “The Conscience of Orange County.”
This year on May 6, the Write-In will be celebrating its 35 th incarnation (the event was put on hold for three years because of the pandemic). It will take place at the Delhi Center in Santa Ana from 9:30am to 1:30 pm. As usual, Women For: Orange County will provide stationery, postcards, address labels and postage, as well as breakfast items and a pizza lunch. Everyone is invited, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own return address labels and lots of civic-minded energy.
When Molly first conceived of GAWI, she hoped that one day there would be enough tabling organizations and letter-writers to fill the Anaheim Stadium. While GAWI hasn’t quite reached that level as yet, there is hope that in the near future, with the help of a concerned and committed public, Molly’s dream will finally come true.
Felicity Figueroa is a community advocate, activist and organizer working to promote human and civil rights. She is a founding board member and current chair of the Orange County Equality Coalition (OCEC), an organization created after passage of Prop 8 and is dedicated to protecting the rights of OC’s LGBTQ+ community with a special focus on trans rights and on those of gay and gender-nonconforming school children in the county. Felicity also serves on the board of Women For: Orange County, where she chairs the Great American Write-In, an annual event that brings together non-profit/progressive organizations and the general public to write letters to legislators and corporate heads on pressing social issues.