First in a series of profiles of Long Islanders in the Trump era that will feature a mix of political viewpoints.
Erin Debrich has mailed hundreds of postcards this year, but none to her family or friends from a vacation or beach getaway.
Debrich’s handwritten messages, nearly all positive, went largely to politicians — her way of showing them her voice matters, she said.
Debrich didn’t hear back from anyone for months — but that didn’t bother her.
“Do I think that Chuck Schumer sits down and reads my postcard personally? No. And I’m OK with that,” Debrich said, adding that if it goes into a stack of mail from constituents, that’s fine. “I made my opinion known, I put it out there and I’ve directed it to the person I needed it to go to.”
Debrich, 34, said she likes writing the postcards because it’s a “very nonconfrontational way of saying ‘This is my opinion, my voice counts, here is my idea.’”
In an age where other Americans take to Facebook to launch angry screeds against politicians and people on the other side of issues, the stay-at-home, Garden City mom tries to keep her quick feedback supportive and encouraging.
“As a registered Democrat and voter, I have proudly voted for you. I appreciate all you do for our state and for women,” she told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in her first postcard to her, saying that under the new president she worries a great deal about issues including the future of the planet, climate change and civil rights.
A postcard she had on hand during an August interview, written to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), thanked him for his support of New Yorkers and Americans during an Affordable Care Act repeal attempt. “Please, work with all of your colleagues to improve it so the idea of repealing it is disgusting to all law makers. Country before party,” she wrote.
Debrich said she was riding on the train back from the Women’s March on Washington when she met a Manhattan woman who pointed her toward writing postcards.
“I said ‘OK, I can do this,’” Debrich recalled, adding, “This is a way to engage in my democracy in a way that I had never done before.”
She began dashing off postcards, writing her first one on Jan. 24 to Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
She “got very into it,” sending about a couple hundred of them, mostly to Rice, Gillibrand and Schumer. She’s also written to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
The Trump era so far, she said, has “taught me about what it takes to continue to have a democracy that works, and that everyone needs to be involved in some way other than voting. Voting’s important, of course, but there’s more that can be done to help and to build a more perfect union.”
Words are important to the former New York City high school English teacher, who has two young boys.
“If you say it, you mean it. And the entire discourse of the election just made me sick to my stomach. And I felt that writing this way was more civil,” said Debrich, who voted for Hillary Clinton.
Family and friends have been “very polite” about her postcard passion, she said. “No one gives me a hard time. I don’t know if everyone’s ready to write a postcard, but that’s OK. No pressure,” Debrich said.
Another key way she’s been engaged is through Garden City Indivisible for Democracy. The action- and civic-oriented group, which grew out of an initial December meeting of 10 people, now has 62 members, all women, president Christina Josling said.
“She wants to hold our elected officials accountable. And she’s not going to let up,” the 41-year-old Garden City resident said of Debrich.
Education, health care and the environment are her top three issues. Debrich eventually got a response, from Rice, after sending her a postcard about the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency. Debrich said “that was really good. It was a form letter, but it made me feel like, well, she’s receiving them.”
Rice spokesman Coleman Lamb said her office gets as many as 1,000 letters and emails combined per week — and even more in certain weeks, such as when the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Rice’s office tries to respond to every piece of mail, email and phone call it gets, he said.
“That specific issue, the EPA, is one that we hear about a lot from our constituents. It’s one that is very important in the district,” Lamb said.
Debrich’s favorite postcards are that EPA one and those she sent “expressing sympathy and support and love” to four groups in Charlottesville after the fatal violence there. She told them that white supremacists do not speak for everyone.
Debrich strikes hopeful and idealistic tones about American democracy, saying this year has given her a greater appreciation for it.
“The fact that I can be in a town like Garden City that is heavily Republican, and we can have our Indivisible meetings, and everyone’s cool with that,” she said. “There’s the idea of ‘All right, that’s your opinion? You’re entitled to it. Go ahead. We’re not going to stop you.’”
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