Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do you think online petitions don't work?

In 2007 Snopes debunked the idea that online petitions were worth the time it took to forward an email.

A misdirected petition is of no more use than an undirected one - though the voices it contains may be shouting, they won't be heard.
According to Snopes.com, the average e-petition isn't worth the pixels used to create it, but stated the popularity of online petitions comes from the instant sense of relief for people who otherwise feel helpless to impact the world or its policy makers.

A popular online petition site is change.org. It addresses concerns about the validity and potency of online petitions this way:
...what if you started to receive emails from each of your neighbors asking you to mow your lawn more often? Or, what if your company received thousands of emails from valued customers asking you to use a different supplier for your parts? How quickly would you act? That’s the unique thing about creating an online petition on Change.org: when you specify an email address for your target, each time a supporter signs your petition, an email is automatically sent directly to that person. Governments, companies and individuals value their reputations and feel accountable to their neighbors, constituents and customers. When hundreds or even thousands of emails arrive in their inboxes, the message is very hard to ignore.
iPetitions.com states:
Online petitions can be a very effective way of gathering support for a cause you care about and drawing attention to that cause. Many of our petition hosts have gathered tens and even hundreds of thousands of signatures on their petitions—petition recipients have had to stand up and take notice! To be truly effective in creating change, however, you need to be actively involved in promoting your petition.
Both sites emphasize the need for the petitioner to move beyond creating the document. If the petition is not promoted and promoted and promoted, it truly is worth no more than the pixels from which it came. Email, social networks and word of mouth are all necessary to make a petition take precedence when the emails do reach the inbox of the person working on behalf of the organization targeted for action. The sites also stress the importance of reaching out to officials through personal emails and even postal mail - yes, the old fashioned kind of mail that is written on paper and sent through the USPS inside an envelope, paid for with a postage stamp. Phone calls are also effective. If you wish to reach someone and draw attention to your concern, don't stop until you have exhausted all of your options.

The beauty of online petitions is that sometimes, the media picks up on these issues and runs a story. Sometimes, the media runs a story that leads to the petition. Often, if the issue affects enough people, these events run simultaneously.

Such is the case with the United States Navy and its enlisted personnel. Media knows, the sailors know and now, thanks to online petitioning and social networking, many more civilians know that during the final months of 2011,  two enlisted retention boards evaluated nearly 15,386 sailors ranked E-4 through E-8, who have served between seven and 15 years in 31 overmanned ratings. The week after Thanksgiving, 2,947 sailors learned they will be involuntarily separated from the Navy on Sept. 1, 2012.

Some have resigned themselves to finishing out their broken contracts, but many are outraged. They had planned their lives around retiring from the Navy after serving 20 years. Some bought homes after their most recent re-enlistments, certain they would retire and settle down in their current locations and expecting to receive military pensions and continued benefits for life. Instead, during the height of the holiday season, they discovered they have until the end of August to adjust to the idea of being a civilian , through the summer to attend classes and transition to a new way of life - and look for employment.

Sailors Against ERB is a Facebook community page that decided to create petitions online at change.org and on the WhiteHouse.gov site, hoping to impact the policy makers at what sailors call "Big Navy" and within our government. The group is taking the petitions straight to the Commander in Chief. The group is also encouraging the thousand or so members to share the word, spread the word, and talk the words to their families, friends, colleagues and elected officials. It even has links to the House of Representatives and Congress, as do I in a previous post.

Whether or not you believe in the cause of Sailors Against ERB, whether or not you believe in the power of online petitions and whether or not you decide to sign a petition, I urge you to find that within you that makes you want to take action and do so. Find a cause worth supporting and support it with all your being. Seek out that which brings you joy or riles you. Take steps to spread the joy or soothe the anger. Do something. Let people know where you stand. If you're not sure, come stand beside me. I tend to get things done!