A Letter to the Governor of New York

On a recent Saturday night, I wrote a bunch of letters to politicians in New York, starting with this one to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  I received a form letter reply from the governor’s office about two weeks later.

16 March 2013
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
Though we moved to New York in July of 2011, I still consider myself to be a brand new New Yorker. I am proud of the leadership you showed getting marriage equality for New Yorkers, and admire your ability to get the budget passed with bi-partisan cooperation.  
I recently read the story of William Blake, a prisoner in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility who has been in solitary confinement for nearly 26 years.
I am terribly sad to learn that William Blake is but one of many prisoners in extreme isolation in New York State; a cruel and de-humanizing practice, extended periods of solitary confinement exacts physical and psychological harm on prisoners, prison staff and their families (according to investigations by the New York Civil Liberties Union).  I have also learned that prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day and separated from meaningful human contact or mental stimulation for breaking minor prison rules.
I sincerely hope you join me in supporting reforms to end the common use of this inhumane practice. New York needs to establish strict criteria to ensure that inmates are separate only in limited and legitimate circumstances for the briefest period and under humane conditions and perform an audit of the current population in isolation.
Effective and fair criminal justice maintains public safety and honors our state’s commitment to basic human dignity. Please, help restore New York’s reputation as a progressive leader for the nation. Please, make me proud to be the brand new New Yorker. 
Form letter from Gov. Cuomo

Letter to a CEO #2

Ron Johnson, CEO
J.C. Penney
6501 Legacy Drive
Plano, TX 75024
Dear Mr. Johnson,

Congratulations! I understand you were brought on as CEO at J.C. Penney to provide the kind of leadership they need to achieve a transformation from being a drab also-ran in retail to a fun and stand-out shopping destination.

Like founder James Cash Penney, I believe in treating other people the way that I want to be treated.  I also believe in seeking out the most thoughtfully produced goods for my family: locally sourced and organic, made by workers paid a living wage and in safe conditions.

With this in mind, I want to stand up and applaud your company’s taking on Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman. She is funny, appealing, accessible and warm, and she has worked hard to get where she is today. She has a unique sense of casual style that easily stands for J.C. Penney’s brand. Ellen demonstrates daily that she knows what’s going on with people both in her TV show’s audience and with those of us who follow her on Twitter.
The announcement was met with some anti-gay backlash from the very vocal hate-filled minority of Americans who believe that open homosexuality is something to be feared. I admire your commitment to retaining Ellen as your spokeswoman.  I wish you the best of luck in creating a store where someone like me might shop.

Maggie Russell Berkes
P.O. Box XXX
North Salem NY 10560

Letter to a CEO #1

Today I wrote a letter I have been meaning to write for a while. 
Tim Cook, CEO


1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

29 January, 2012

Dear Mr. Cook:

No doubt you had a worse day than I did last Friday. The New York Times piece about working conditions in the Chinese factories Apple uses was damning, to say the least.  My 8th grader’s missing Spanish assignment pales in comparison.

I am an Apple customer. Between my husband and three children and me, we have an iPad, two iPad 2s, six iPhones, three MacBook Airs, an Apple TV and a 27” iMac.

Since your background is in operations, you may not yet be known as an innovator. You have a unique leadership opportunity to set the example for your entire industry to build devices without polluting and to employ workers humanely, by insisting on safe working conditions.  The energy your company spends to defend itself against critics of these practices could be invested in vigorously pursuing what you know is just. Your legacy could be leading the way for your entire industry to build better, cleaner machines which do not just reflect your design specifications, but your values.  Be the innovator who raises the bar for sourcing ethics.

I do not exaggerate to say that as loyal customers we would gladly pay more for products made by workers who do not require suicide nets to keep them from flinging themselves from the windows. Better still, bring the manufacturing of Apple products back to the United States, as President Obama asked in his State of the Union address last week.

Sincerely yours,

Maggie Russell Berkes

P.O. Box XXX

North Salem, NY 10560