Online Petitions

Online petitions are a waste of time and effort.

As a homeschooling, outspoken, political activist on several fronts, I receive lots of "informative" E-mails from organizations seeking my support. I am dismayed by how many of them are asking people to sign web-based petitions.

I rarely sign online petitions. In my opinion they are hardly ever worth the effort people make to put them online.

If an online petition has many supporters and the list shows thousands of names it may look good to visitors but what does that prove? Absolutely nothing. Most petitions are regarding highly polical issues. While I’ve found through experience that name dropping helps gain public attention, unless you have high profile people listed on your petition, no one cares.

Writing Your Legislator

Legislators don’t care, unless it’s their name in print. Then they care. In fact, they care enough to task interns with the job of clipping each and every article they find that even remotely mentions their name. The clippings are copied, collated and distributed to everyone in the office, including vistors.

Our congress men and women know that if a person really cares about a topic, they will spend the time and the (now) .39 cents to mail a letter. It is generally held that every letter received by the senator or assemblyman via U.S. Mail, represents 1,000 voters. A faxed letter represents 100 voters and letters received via E-mail are a nuisance.

Grassroots Activists

In fact, on a hot topic issue, it’s not uncommon for a legislator to receive thousands of E-mails in a day’s time. Grassroots activists have become very adept at influencing people to forward E-mails or send a letter by web-generated form. The problem with these is that they are generally ignored.

When the nice Senators E-mail box gets flooded, they dump them, lock-stock-and-barrel. If the office is especially short-handed, they won’t even tally the for/against E-mails before they delete the entire mess. It’s not even that they don’t care really. They have a job to do and you can’t blame them really. Most of the people who have E-mailed their office don’t even live in their district and they may have invested a total of 2-minutes to glance through what they are sending and click a button.

Anyone who is serious about making change at the state or national level, regardless of location, needs to invest a little time and yes, spend .39 cents to send a real letter to law makers. Those who take the time to write a letter will generally receive a well written response, which outlines their representatives position on the issue at hand.

True Communication

This feedback can often be very adventageous because then you have a starting point for a discussion: true communication. But don’t stop there, this is just the beginning. Follow your letter with a phone call. If you live close enough, set up a time to meet with your legislator to discuss your concerns.

Liberty in Troubled Times: A Libertarian Guide to Laws, Politics and Society in a Terrorized World

If you don’t live close enough to visit personally. The phone call will serve as a reminder that you are still concerned and that you are available to help clarify issues to the legislator. Just because the answer is no today, does not mean that things can’t change. We all know that "no", almost never means "NO".

Make yourself available, provide helpful information to your congressman or woman. There may come a time when you will be asked to E-mail information to your legislative advisor, this is an opportunity for you to follow up and build bridges. Keep the communication open. This is how laws are changed, not by posting endless petitions that no one pays attention to.

I’d like to mention as well that for some reason faxed letters don’t receive the same handling as letters sent by U.S. mail. I have had many occasions when it was just too late to send a letter, though I prefer to send E-mails, I know they are the least effective method of contact, so I opted to send a fax. Though I’ve been sending faxes for several years now, I have yet to receive any kind of response to one. I almost always receive a typed response to letters I have mailed.

Bomb The Phones

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Often requests are made from certain political activist organizations, to jam the telephone lines of our legislators. These cold-calling efforts are very ineffective though I must admit they are fun to participate in. If you are leaving a voice message it’s a simple task to delete the messages in volume and harder to tally responses. While the first line of a letter saying "No on 522" cannot be as easily ignored.

If you must contact your legislator at the last minute, please consider sending a fax for maximum impact, when every minute counts and you really do want to be counted.

Those interested in using the internet to further their political agendas would do well to create a blog to make their position known, people love to comment on their pet issues. E-mail groups, such as those who use Yahoo Groups, further help get the word out to other like-minded individuals. These are both good uses of the internet. Just stay away from online petitions. They are a waste of time in my opinion.

If you have wondered why my name does not appear on your petition, there you have it.

  • Paul says:

    Right on! I just received another email asking me to sign one – worthy cause but (I thought) what good is it making a list of names which will just be another in a long line of these things.

    IMO the best way to get your message across is en masse – face-to-face. Find out who makes the decision and get right in their face about the issue – preferably with plenty of video cameras around.

    But getting your message across is one thing… reversing authoritarianism is not something you read about every day. So, yes, online petitions are really not worth the bother. If all the 200 marchers in the Jarrow Crusade got for their troubles (a 200-man 280-mile march on London, with a 12,000 signature petition) was a pound each to get the train home, and all these thousands of anti-bank, anti-war, anti-globalist protesters can achieve is, well, more power to the government and less freedom for themselves – what use is an online petition? Pah!