March 29, 2018
Perhaps one of the most effective means of misdirecting the energy of activists and the public at large taken during the Obama administration was the creation of the White House petition site that guaranteed the White House would address any concern that could receive 100,000 signatures. Of course, the Obama administration routinely ignored many of those petitions and simply refused to listen to others that did reach the signature threshold but that didn’t stop activists from trying.
Now, with the Trump administration, who has never agreed to such a policy, activists are still trying and it’s having even less of an effect.
One has to admit that these petition drives do often have a minor positive effect of raising awareness. They are short, details are kept to a minimum, and they are usually accompanied by one evocative image. That’s about all most people can handle in terms of research and news in 2018. But that’s generally where the positives of sharing petitions end.
The problem with the petition obsession is that it doesn’t actually inform anyone beyond a short burst of text and it gives signatories a false sense of accomplishment in terms of activism. In searching social media, for instance, one can come across a myriad of petition links (sign a petition calling for the end to killing elephants, an end to zoos, an end to glyphosate poisoning, etc.) that contain a few sentences of the problem and ask readers to sign their names to the petition.
What is lacking is any intelligent discussion of the subject with a succinct description of the problem, what is causing it, the responsible parties, and what can be done about it. There is no evidence or citation. Also lacking is any organizational structure to direct the energy of those concerned in a constructive direction that will enable them to do something about the issue.
What I am about to write will undoubtedly upset many people reading this article but the truth of the matter is, the petition you signed on the internet is most likely useless. In fact, it’s just as likely that by signing it, you just wasted your time.
One question to ask is, “Who is this petition being sent to?” The majority of petitions are simply just name gathering websites who are able to announce the gatherer has reached his or her goal of a specific number of signatures. Many of the petitions don’t even get delivered to anyone.
If the petition is organized correctly, it is sent to the proper government agency or corporation that should be held responsible. But many of the people and agencies who receive these petitions, at best, see petitions as part of an opinion poll and nothing more than that.
The idea that the US government or a successful corporation would pay any real attention to it is optimistic to say the least. History simply tells us otherwise. Add to that the fact that the internet has become saturated with petitions and the number of actual signatures have gone down as a result, even the petitions that actually do get signed have been made even weaker than they would have otherwise been.
When people sign a petition, they are provided with the false perception that they just did something to right a wrong, to change the problem, and that they have engaged in some type of useful political activism. They feel like they have “done something” and, after that little burst of activism, they have exhausted their energy devoted to activism and can now successfully and confidently veg out in front of the television after a hard day’s work.
There is even an Oxford English Dictionary definition of the type of activism I am describing. It is called “slacktivism” and the definition is “Actions performed via the internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website or application.”
Strategist and founder of NetChange Consulting, Jason Mogus, agrees, although he points out that petitions can have a positive effect but only if they are taken in tandem with action. As Gail Ablow writes,
The strategy needs more than a long-term, big-picture goal: It needs to be directed at a clear target — such as a person, government or company — and have a clear action it wants the target to take. Mogus, who worked on the successful campaign opposing the Keystone Pipeline, says President Obama was the target of that campaign because the pipeline required a presidential permit to cross the Canadian border into the US. The clear action Obama could take was refusing to approve the pipeline. And the big-picture, long-term goal was to cut down on the carbon emissions that would come from burning the tar-sands oil the pipeline would have helped transport.
“What they did with those signers afterward, how they recruited people to take leadership on the ground, how they delivered the petition, how they pulled stories from action takers so they could highlight them in the media or at public events — that’s when things get interesting,” says Mogus. The campaign also went after Obama’s big donors to get them on board to make sure the president got the message.
. . . . .
If you care about an issue, your job is not done after you sign, says Mogus. “Social change has almost never been made because of what [organizers] call ‘low-risk, loose ties’ types of actions.” The classic example of a “high-risk, close ties” action, he says, comes from the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when protesters got arrested at segregated lunch counters. Those protesters trusted organizers and put their physical safety — even their lives — on the line. The campaigners’ job is to show people how they can create change by breaking down overwhelming problems into winnable steps. “If they haven’t done that for you, I suggest you ignore their petition,” says Mogus.
So there you have it. Online petitions are only useful if they are followed up with meaningful action in the real world.
At the end of the day, I’m not suggesting that you should never sign or share a petition. There are times and places for petitions. However, petitions do not take the place of real research and activism. In fact, in many ways, they have worked to handicap them.
It’s going to be up to you to decide if you are going to be a “slackitivist,” (another name for someone who will only engage the world if it can be done within 5 seconds on smartphone) or a true historical human being who brings about real change.
While petitions can be a part of any movement, they need to be a small part. So please, for the sake of whatever cause you are interested in, stop sharing so many petitions and start engaging the world.. After all, if the petitions aren’t done right and if they aren’t followed up with action, they don’t really do anything at all.
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Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is an author out of Florence, South Carolina. He is the author of six books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies,Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria,and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 1,000 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.