how effective are petitions?​

petitions_2020

If you have a social media account, there is a very good chance that you have seen an increase in petitions being shared. You may have even signed a few. The pandemic has created limits on social justice organizing, leading to a lot of activism being conducted on social media and online. This topic has a lot of connections to slacktivism and general social media activism, which you can read about if you click here. I find these types of topics so fascinating and pertinent because of how activism and politics are changing. I also think that any way we can raise our productivity and efficacy as activists is worth discussing and learning about. Are petitions effective? Are they a form of slacktivism? If they aren’t effective, are there benefits? I have included some resources at the end of this post, ranging from opinion pieces on petitions to how to start your own petition.


what is a petition? A petition is “a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority concerning a particular cause” (thank you google). In other words, it’s a collection of signatures representing a cause or opinion that is worth discussing to several individuals. The most popular petition platform that I have seen is change.org, however, a lot of individual organizations such as the BLM official organization have specific petitions or sign up sheets.

what are the benefits and positive aspects? A big appeal of petitions is that they can raise awareness quickly and cost-efficiently. The question to ask would then be, how much value does that awareness have, and is that enough. Depending on the petition and amount of support, they can be effective in raising concern for a cause and showing the authorities a genuine public concern. It’s one of the best displays of some of the freedoms we take for granted, such as freedom of speech and protest. Petitioning is one of the most frequent and effective ways to encourage citizen participation and mobilization. Finally, they are great outlets for people that may not know where to start in terms of activism, particularly youth. Teens are becoming more politically and socially aware which is due to the increase in access to outlets, such as social media-promoted petitions.

why are they so popular? In addition to some of the pros I mentioned before, the best aspect of petitions is that they are easy. You click a line and sign your name. You may have to enter some information, but compared to going door to door and asking people for money for a cause, it’s really simple and convenient.

when are petitions slacktivism? This would be a good time to click here and read about slacktivism because the complexity of petitioning might make more sense in the context of slacktivism. I mentioned before that petitioning is great at raising awareness. However, oftentimes, people share petitions without understanding them or pursuing any other action. They do it to make themselves feel contributive and “woke”, and then move one because they think their work is done. I want to be clear and say that petitions, themselves, are not an example of a slacktivism action, but are sometimes used to perpetuate mainstream slacktivism. I don’t want to spoil it, but the petition’s effectiveness in bringing about change means that we can override the potential activism with dedication.

are they effective? This big question has multiple answers. Petitions can be effective but require further action and commitment. If you sign a petition and then move on, feeling as though your duty as a global citizen is done, then I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not enough. You can sign a petition, but don’t stop there. Sign a petition, educate yourself on what you are petitioning and why, protest, VOTE, stay committed to the cause because there is no point in writing down your name if your offline and personal commitment is nothing. Petitions are great at bringing people together to mobilize a cause, but we need to make sure that after we raise that awareness, we are promoting action so that we can see change.

when have they been productive in the past (or present)? I want to support my claim that petitions can be effective by providing some examples. This article goes in-depth into some points in history where petitions, coupled with protesting, education, and rallies, have impacted people on a congressional and or national scale.

how do we make sure that they have a real-world effect? To summarize, I want to make sure that the intended takeaways are made clear. Here are an overview and suggestion of some steps to take to make sure you are contributing and ensuring a petition’s effectiveness.

  1. Once you have found a petition, do some research to make sure you understand it. Not only does this ensure that you know what you are signing your name to, but it’s always good to know more about a cause or topic you care about. Your research may also lead you to another, a more dominant and legitimate petition that takes us to step 2.
  2. Some petitions are going to be more legitimate than others. While they are all worth consideration, there may be a duplicate petition out there that is a veritable and better use of your signage. For example, there may be a petition started by user12 to ban plastic bags, or maybe there is an established organization sponsored page dedicated to petitioning and advocating for government action to ban plastic grocery bags in a certain state.
  3. Once you have signed it, continue to research (I know there’s a lot of research, but trust me, the more aware and less ignorant we all are, the better). Research actions occurring in your community or online that you can participate in and dedicate some time to. This may be an upcoming protest or even researching how to register to vote before the next election. Anything that will make sure that you didn’t sign your name in vain and are pursuing active change.
  4. Don’t only share the petition, go further, and also share your research or provide resources.
  5. Stay aware and promote discussion. Start a conversation with your friends or within your communities.

Feel free to start a discussion in the comments, or even just share your thoughts! What petitions have you been a part of? How else can you promote change in your community? How do you ensure that what you are doing on social media is constructive?

Resources:

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/publications/insights-on-law-and-society/volume-20/issue-1/learning-gateways–right-to-petition/

https://www.change.org/start-a-petition?source_location=header

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/22/us/top-petitions-decade-change-trnd/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/02/03/yes-signing-those-petitions-makes-a-difference-even-if-they-dont-change-trumps-mind/

NYT

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/23/us/do-online-petitions-work-trnd/index.html

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