Guide to Writing My Views & Op-Eds

OPINION / MY VIEW / OP-ED  (“Op-Ed” because they used to be placed Opposite the Editorial page)

  • Stay within the maximum number of words (usually 500 to 800 words).
  • Start with a strong title that states the topic or issue and includes your intended outcome.
  • Use the first line in the intro paragraph to surprise, intrigue or alarm the reader (the “hook”) into reading the rest of your essay ; visualize your audience as you write to them.
  • Crafting a first paragraph that can be “mirrored” in your final paragraph makes a strong statement (see example below).
  • Focus on one clearly defined issue that is current, provocative or has a new slant, and back it up with evidence (facts, quotations, citations, data); tell the readers why they should care.
  •  Include personal and/or professional  experience if available; use your personal voice (and humor  if the topic lends itself and you are so inclined). 
  • Structure your Op Ed as an argument: use your introductory paragraph to state the issue; body paragraphs offer supporting points to back up your clearly defined point of view.
  • A qualifier paragraph can acknowledge your consideration of “the other side.”
  • The final paragraph should be strong and echo the intro, or contain a final epiphany, or call the reader to action.
  • As with all writing, get feedback from someone else and edit;  avoid jargon, clichés, passive voice, adjectives,  adverbs; use active verbs,  clear, powerful, direct language, short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Follow the media outlets’ guidelines on how to submit; include all your contact info with a brief bio (you may want to list your qualifications if pertinent to the issue).

EXAMPLE OP-EDs:

2019 LEGISLATIVE REPORT CARD REVEALS NM LEGISLATURE SECRECY, SETS THE STAGE FOR 2020

Is there a secret password or code needed to enter the inner sanctum of the NM Legislature and participate? I decided that must be so when I attended the 2019 session and tried to make my views known. It was a confusing and often frustrating experience. But now someone has come up with that secret password and broken the code!  

Retake Our Democracy (retakeourdemocracy.org and retakeresponsenetwork.org) has prepared a Legislative Report Card for the 2019 session and pulled back the folds of secrecy that shrouded much of the Legislature’s procedures. Although the legislative process is certainly complex, this Report Card reveals its workings and greatly simplifies the process. And, most importantly, it reveals how the citizens of NM can participate in the law-making and impact the decisions of our senators and representatives.

Why is this important? As Retake states in their introduction, “If democracy is to thrive, legislative decisions can’t be made behind closed doors, outside the view of constituents whose interests are supposed to be addressed in the legislative process.”  And yet, analysis of the session showed that 872 bills were “killed” in Senate and House committees, many of them important to many people, because the committee chairs refused to give them a hearing in their committees.  

The Report Card, based on statistical, objective data, explains how this is allowed to happen. Even though Democrats control both the Senate and House and have a Democratic governor, conservative Democrats control many important committee chairs and thus have the power to block even a hearing on bills like SB 459 Hydraulic Fracturing Permits and Reporting, SB 39 Solar Market Tax Credit, and SB 671 Permanent Fund for Pre-K, a compromise replacement bill for HJR 1 that only asks for ½ of one percent increase in the Permanent Fund allocation. And this is just one of several ways that some legislators make decisions behind closed doors, outside our view and without our input.

Another interesting revelation of the Report Card was the very high correlation between some of the conservative Democratic legislators’ votes and the extent of campaign contributions to them by corporate lobbyists. This probably accounted for the fact that almost no climate change legislation was passed despite our great need for meaningful efforts to save our planet. Additionally, the oil and gas industry escaped almost all efforts to reduce their emissions and tax them at a higher rate that is similar to that of adjoining states.

The Report Card also lists and praises the accomplishments of the many Representatives and Senators who worked diligently to pass some very good bills, like the Health Security Act study of its feasibility to provide a “Medicare for all” state insurance, an increase in the state minimum wage, and several gun violence prevention bills, among many others.

The most important section of the Report Card titled “Where Do We Go from Here?” exposes the secret password for all citizens by including a list of steps we can take to correct the major roadblocks in the legislative process. You can find it at the links above. Check it out and see what you can do; from the smallest step to doing them all, every effort we make is important. Let’s break through the outdated code of secrecy and move our state into the 21st century!  550 words

Susan McGrew, Retake our Democracy

If Progressives Are “Radical,” America Is “Radical”

As an activist fighting for social, environmental, and economic justice for some years now, I have become increasingly frustrated by the use of labels that attempt to define people and their actions but misrepresent and distort the truth. I’m talking about labels like “progressive” and “liberal” and what they’ve come to mean for many people.

Language is powerful, and narratives can be absorbed without conscious intent. People sometimes use words and phrases without knowing who crafted them for what purpose. In part goaded by moderators, even some of the candidates in the recent Democratic Presidential debates fell into using the rhetoric of the right wing––conservative arguments so skillfully costumed that even well-meaning Democrats parroted them with little thought. As Senator Elizabeth Warren warned during the debate, “We should stop using Republican talking points.”

In his popular book Don’t Think of An Elephant, cognitive scientist George Lakoff writes that narratives, or “frames,” shape the way we see the world, the goals we seek, the plans we make. It’s well documented that right-wing conservatives have worked hard over many decades to impose their narratives, or frames, on the American people. These frames are so powerful that many Americans have no idea they’ve been duped into acting, and voting, against their own best interests.

As co-founder of the advocacy non-profit Retake Our Democracy and a founding member of the Adelante Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, I am no stranger to “progressive” values being labeled “radical” or “socialist.” These labels need to be called out for what they are: the frames of the right wing, the language of fear and greed. What progressives want for our country is, in fact, what most Americans want for our country. Progressive values are not radical values. They are human values. They are human rights.

Since when has it become “radical” to help a neighbor or stranger in need? Since when has it become “radical” to protect our land, air, water, and wildlife––the planet that gives us life? Since when has it become “radical” to think everyone deserves food, shelter, and safety? Free, quality health care? A living-wage job? Since when has it become “radical” to believe that every human being deserves equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal protection, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or physical ability? These are values this country was built on.

I’m tired of the fear-mongering narrative that people should help themselves, that helping people encourages them to be lazy and dependent on that help. Research shows this is just not true. We spend billions more on corporate welfare in this country––bailing out corporations and giving tax cuts to the wealthy––than we do on people in need. Where is the conversation about how people may have been forced into that situation in the first place? What about Manifest Destiny, colonialism, slavery, racism, redlining, exploitation, and more, the oppressors and destroyers of communities, particularly communities of color, over centuries?

Let’s not even begin to look at the label “socialism,” a word that turns conservatives apoplectic with fear and rage at the slightest mention. We’ll save that discussion for another day. In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy public highways, public schools, public libraries, fire and police services, post offices, state and national parks, Social Security, and Medicare––all “socialist” services in America.

If we can see beyond manipulative labels and talk about issues, about our values, about what we want for our state and our country, maybe we can find our common vision and work together to accomplish it.

Roxanne Barber, former Communications Director of the National Writing Project, is semi-retired and has lived in Santa Fe since 2012 and is co-director of Retake Our Democracy.