Fifteen thousand Utahns in Salt Lake and Summit counties got a lesson in modern-day politics last week when they got in the mail a member-recruitment letter from Utahns For Choice.
Many people probably just threw it away without reading it closely. Those who did read it were either inclined to join up for $10 or get really mad.For the letter said if the recipient didn't call or otherwise notify Utahns For Choice that they didn't want to be on their voter identification list, they were.
For baby-boomer males it's kind of like getting the draft notice that read: Congratulations, you have been selected.
It's clear pro-lifers would rather pass on the honor of being automatically placed on a pro-choice voter information mailing list.
Utahns For Choice has every right - in fact, an obligation to its members - to try to increase it's membership and political clout. Considering what the Utah Legislature is willing to do in this area, the pro-choice side in the abortion debate is definitely undergunned in Utah.
But abortion is a touchy and emotional issue.
In Utah that's especially so, with many citizens belonging to churches that condemn the practice.
And even people who privately may be pro-choice may not want that known in their neighborhoods.
It's natural the closet-pro-choicers would worry about getting a letter saying they're on a pro-choice mailing list - they could be fearful in not knowing how that list could be used.
And if you weren't pro-choice - goodness, I can see how those recipients would be incensed that they'd be so considered unless they call someone up and claim they weren't.
To add insult to injury for those not welcoming the mailing, a Utahns For Choice telephone number listed on the letter's second page was printed incorrectly.
Call that number expecting to talk to a Utahns For Choice staffer and get your name off the list and you get a recording saying the number is not in service.
Fortunately, said Utahns For Choice executive director Beverley Cooper, the letter's first page was printed on the group's letterhead. And the telephone number listed in small letters at the bottom of the page is correct, as is the listing in the telephone book.
But for recipients of the letter who may not be pro-choice - may in fact be pro-life and disagree with all that Utahns For Choice stands for - getting a disconnected telephone number plays on their paranoia.
The wrong telephone number was a mistake. Six of the group's people read the letter and didn't catch the error, says Cooper.
As any reporter or editor knows, telephone numbers are listed wrong in newspapers all too often. So one can sympathize with that error.
But sending out this kind of voter-identification letter was also a mistake.
Certainly Utahns For Choice should be politically active, as should any group whose issues are so controlled by government.
But sending out a letter where one automatically is placed on the mailing list of such a controversial group was, well, naive to say the least.
Turn the tables and you see what I mean.
What if Eagle Forum, a conservative family group active in legislative politics, had sent out letters that reached some liberal Utahns' mailboxes saying they were on Eagle Forum's mailing lists automatically.
If some Democrats in the Utah House got such a letter, they'd have to be revived by oxygen. Their little fingers would break calling Eagle Forum to get their names off the list.
Cooper says her group didn't mean to offend anyone. They got the names after a year of collecting identities, from fellow pro-choice members, of people who may be interested in getting information about Utahns For Choice and its work on women's reproductive issues.
And, says Cooper, after this week's uproar she went back and looked at her mail over the last week - finding 38 solicitations or other information which identified her and gave her no way to remove her name from that mailing.
"At least we clearly gave (recipients) a way to get their name off of our mailing list," Cooper said Thursday.
All well and good.
But while it's proper that Utahns For Choice wants to build a larger political base, this was the wrong tactic.
You have to take risks to get more members in any group. But the difference lies in whether you take risks yourselves or force some risk on to others.
While none of the new (or old) names on Utahns For Choice's mailings lists will become public, just the thought that they could - and for pro-lifers that they could be associated with Utahns For Choice - upset some people who got the membership invitation letter.
Perhaps a lesson was learned all around.
Better pay attention to that junk mail you get before you throw it out. And naivete in abortion-related matters doesn't pay.