Getting Into the President's Purple Folder
One of President Obama's most well-known policies is to ask his staff to select 10 letters every day from among the thousands that are mailed to the White House for him to read on his own. Some of these, he responds to with a hand-written note. How can you increase the chances that your letter might be one of those selected to land in that special purple folder for the president's eyes?
Official Letter-Writing Policies
The first step in writing a letter to the president at all is to make sure you're following the official protocols laid out by the White House. The contact page on the government website for the White House actually recommends emails as the fastest route to getting a message to the president. However, many sources have acknowledged that President Obama has a personal fondness for letters over email, so sending in a physical letter instead will certainly increase your chances of making it into that folder.
The guidelines posted on the White House website also suggest typing your letter on a standard 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. If sending a handwritten letter instead, they advise using pen rather than pencil (which is more likely to smudge and become illegible) and to use your most legible handwriting.
Finally, be sure to include your return address both on the outer envelope and within the body of the letter itself. This makes it a lot easier for the president to respond to your letter, and is also just good letter-writing etiquette.
What Are Your Chances?
Aside from following the requested protocol for sending letters to the White House, in what other ways can you improve your chances of being among the selected few? To start with, keep in mind that your letter is one of thousands that reach the White House every single day; the goal is to set your story apart somehow.
First impressions are very important, even when it comes to letter writing. Be sure to scan your letter for proper spelling and grammar, and plan on writing a few rough drafts before ending up with a finished version. It's a good idea to read your letter over to double-check that it makes sense (or to have a friend read it over for you).
How It Works
It's White House policy to read every single letter that arrives, in part to screen for potential threats. The White House has staff members whose job it is to read letters coming in all day, every day; emails don't need to be read individually, since a computer program is used to automatically search for key words and phrases and sort the digital correspondence accordingly.
Letters are sorted by the letter-readers according to subject. Although anyone could write the president on virtually any subject matter, several topics seem to pop up again and again: housing concerns, the economy, healthcare reform, global warming, troops overseas and more. These broader subjects may also be broken down into more specific demographics, such as letters from inmates or single parents. The letters that stand out most to the letter-readers are the ones flagged and set aside as potential candidates for President Obama's special folder.
The letters for the purple folder are chosen to be representative of the subjects that concern the American public the most, or at least the subjects they feel passionately enough about to write the president. To decide which letters best fit this description, the director of the White House Office of Correspondence looks at the total subject volume that's come in for the day. For example, the breakdown of one day's letters may include 30 percent talking about healthcare, 60 percent discussing the job market and 10 percent that express concerns about troops overseas. The 10 letters for the purple folders are then chosen from among the flagged letters that also discuss these subjects.
Making Your Voice Heard
Although the letters for the purple folder are chosen as representative examples of what the average American citizen is concerned about, it's the individual quality of the letters that matters the most, regardless of their subject matter. In instituting this policy, President Obama specifically requested that his staff not choose biased letters; he sees just as much mail that is critical of his presidency and his policies (actually, much more) as those that offer compliments. His interest is primarily in reading an honest, open sampling of what's really affecting the people of the country.
The best way to make sure your voice is heard when you write a letter to President Obama is to simply tell your story in your own words about the issues that are affecting you. When politicians are surrounded by other politicians around the clock, it's easy to lose sight of how the average American thinks and feels about the policies that affect his or her daily life, and your letter offers valuable insight that can help change these policies.