American Culture

The petition to end all petitions

Petition driveWhite House Website Draws Petition To End All Petitions


by Gene Demby, December 31, 2012

But Jarvis, a journalist, author, professor, media critic and Buzz Machine blogger, thinks the project is just enabling the attention-starved, especially in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

So naturally, he created his own petition on the site calling for an end to stunty, attention-seeking petitioning. “Petitioning government is a right as well as an opportunity for citizens to convene and for government to collaborate with them,” he wrote. “But this facility is becoming farcical. Indeed, this petition itself is merely link-bait, to demonstrate the point. If you’d like media to stop making fake stories out of fake petitions, sign below.”

I agree with Jarvis that We the People needs to go, but for different reasons.  I’ve seen a few of the White House responses (87 to date) to petitions that met the threshold.  As far as I can tell, We the People is worse than just another platform for the White House (regardless of administration) to generate these non-responses that miss the spirit of the petitions submitted.  The petition site also serves as a way to dilute what I think of as “one-click activism” by creating the appearance, not only that the White House is listening to us, but that by clicking our little hearts out on their site we are somehow meaningfully engaged in petitioning our government for redress of grievances.

In that sense, We the People is hardly the worst culprit.  For a good sample mugshot of a typical accomplice, many of us need only look in the mirror.  By all means, keep using petition sites that put pressure on Congress, as those appear to have some effect, but I seriously cannot imagine that any POTUS is going to change direction in any meaningful way because 25,000 (0.008% of the population) gives the White House the finger, clicking or not.

Calls, letters, and emails to Congress, that clearly and quickly state opposition to or support for an issue get tallied and, in sufficient numbers, may make a difference.  Social networking and GOTV efforts may make a difference.  If you are a card-carrying party member, getting involved in candidate selection at all levels of government may make a difference.  If you are politically independent, getting involved in recruiting and running suitable candidates may make a difference.

Clicking on We the People? Not so much.

Really want to make a difference? Here’s one way: get your hands dirty and beat some pavement.


Image credit: © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

1 reply »

  1. thanks. I wish that the idea of a petition on the web at the white house were more than a media stunt to offer political cover.