Thursday, January 31, 2013

All Petitioned Out

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I fervently shared, tweeted, and emailed a very important petition that needed tons of signatures to get any attention. Then a friend’s question stopped me in my tracks.

“Do these things actually work?”

It may have been the tenth petition my friend had come across that day. Due to the rise of online petition platforms like,, and so on, where pretty much anyone can start an online petition about anything, we have become inundated by these online petitions, and left wondering what our signatures do when we sign them.

So, do they work? As always, it depends.

Petitions are a tactic among many possible tactics that can be used in an advocacy campaign. Often, when a petition is started by an organization that does advocacy work (like ONE, the National Council of Churches, Amnesty International, MomsRising, Better Life for Egypt, etc.), the petition works in tandem with a larger strategy that can include other actions to increase public pressure on a target and increase media attention on an issue. These actions can include face to face lobbying, demonstrations, letters to the editor, and so on.
The petition itself may or may not be effective in achieving what it asks. That depends on many factors, including who the target is, and how straightforward the ask is.

Whether they succeed or not, online petitions add numbers and strength to a campaign, enabling these groups to say, during other actions, that they are backed by the hundreds or thousands of people that have signed their petition.

Your signature may also have another important affect on the campaign: it may help to insure the safety of the people directly affected by the issue at stake. I personally know people who faced retaliation for petition s they started. Those petitions did not get many signatures, and so they were easy to target. Thousands of signatures tell the perpetrators of injustice that we will not be silent, making it harder for them to retaliate against affected parties.

So what do you do when you get a petition request?

  1. Read it. Do you agree with the ask? If so,
  2. Sign it.
  3. If you feel passionate about the issue on the petition, share it.

That’s it. It takes a few minutes of your time, and it adds strength to the campaign that the petition is related to. The petition itself may succeed due to the numbers and the effectiveness of the ask and target, or your signature may add to the public pressure exerted by the larger campaign. 

At the very least, your signature will help protect the safety of the people directly involved in the action from retribution by those in power for speaking out about injustice.