Petitions are a very two-edged sword. They are literally begging our lords and masters not to be quite so venal, stupid and elitist – they are offering L&M ways to seem like they are listening, thus propping up the status quo. However, they can also be ways of exposing the inability of “The System” (, “man”) to deliver a sane future. Lack of skill in petitions means the first is much more likely than the second, leading to what the young people used to call #EpicFail
|You can devise and run, with assistance, a basic petition campaign which gets enough signatures for you to be patted on the head by a committee of councillors, without totally derailing the organisation that you are part of from its other goals and ambitions. You are able to recruit one or two people to help with the organising, and keep folks informed.||You can lead a team on a more sophisticated petition campaign, involving phased and targeted signature collection and lobbying of relevant policymakers, leading to a better chance of you getting a bells and whistles fobbing off which creates opportunities for further and more insistent campaigns down the road. Some of those who signed become actively engaged in the work of your group.||You can lead a large team on a petition which is not an obvious/easy sell, using innovative techniques to catch attention and signatures, building ad hoc coalitions, and ensuring a sense of momentum and media buzz. It becomes harder (politically costly) for those you are trying to influence to either ignore or smear you. They concede at least some of the points on the petition at the debate they are forced to have.||The mere news that you are creating a petition sends your opponents into a frenzy of co-opting and emollience. They try to create ideological firebreaks for fear that you will force them into a series of humiliating compromises and costly commitments. Your petition campaigns come in ahead of time, having inspired diverse networks of active citizens, showing them the power that they have, if only they think and act together, strategically. There is a standing bounty on your head.|
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One big reason petition campaigns are so badly done is they’ve been so massively devalued by the clicktivism of Avaaz. change.org 38 degrees, etc where all you have to do is enter your email. And you watch the numbers go up. These petitions may have had some impact a long time ago, had some sort of public impact, but they’re now massively devalued. And they’ve left behind the false assumption that petition campaigns are worth anything on their own, or they are easy to do.
The consequences of doing petition campaigns badly is that you demonstrate to the people that you’re trying to combat that you are weak and that they have nothing to worry about. And it sends a signal to other people that you don’t have your act together. Those are really not signals that you want to send.
So, even before Coronavirus came along, collecting valid signatures on a petition was really hard. And the key here is valid. You need to make sure that you know what the rules are and that people sign supplying the information that is required for the signature to be legally countered. That is the bread and butter you need to have both online and in real life mechanisms by which you can alert People to the existence of your petition, the reasons they should sign it, how to sign it. You need to be informing people of the progress that you’ve made in collecting signatures, you need to be informing people of the other ways that they can help you to get these signatures. And there are any number of tools that can do that. Whether it’s videos or posters in the window, or printing off sheets and distributing them among family, friends and neighbours, get your game face on and do this properly.