These days I feel more and more pathetic when I am watching television or reading newspapers about issues like the environmental hazards, the human's carelessness with the environment, tragedies that inflict the human beings around the world, issues that sometimes can be avoided or stopped or even minimized by the man himself. Pathetic and helpless at the same time contemplating what I am doing when people need food or they are dying or even they are desperate about their existence.... Most of the times I am switching off the television feeling sad going to bed and thinking about when is the next due date for my monthly ‘petite’ donation to the two girls out there, in Africa. Lately, even this little gesture doesn’t make any change inside me, like peace of mind and conscience. Still I feel uncomfortable. On Saturday I red an article in FT about ‘petitions’ and something moved inside me if nothing else a hope, a light in the tunnel. And I am thinking again how many times I receive a message in my e-mail asking to sign and pass on but most of the time I overlook it or delete it because I was thinking that one signature doesn’t make any difference or I was not sure about the organization which initiate the petitions. Of course I know that the vast majority of the petitions do not achieve their goal because it is hard to tell whether it has moved legislators towards action. But at their best, I believe, petitions are a potent expression of ‘people power’, and more so than ever in the online age. One example is the petition of the Jubillee 2000 debt relief. On May 16 1998 supporters gathered in Birmingham to present to the G8 leaders the first signatures collected demanding debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries and so far they achieved their first goal –debt cancelation-and less the second, to prevent such high levels of debts.. Paula Goldman journalist in FT on the base of this petition gives some steps and guidance how a successful petitions works :
1st. Be part of a programme. Before putting pen to petition make sure the campaign is multi faceted-because it’s not just size that matters with petition it also skill and strategy.
2nd. Tell your friends. Yes do press’forward’. Even if the next recipient doesn’t sign it right away it will make them much more likely to do so when they about it a second or third time from someone else.
3rd Be sure about the big idea. Make sure you agree not just with the change the petition is pushing but with the theory of change implicit the petition. When petition fail it is often because the aim to high or too low, or target the wrong person or institution.
4th Keep the pressure . If you really care about an issue, expect to come back to it repeatedly, signing on to multiple petitions and campaigns.
5thThe medium is the message. When an online petition is on a third party site such as Facebook or on a site where government set the rules, you should moderate expectations accordingly. Internet isn’t make always things easy. Think of alternatives sending by post or leaflets etc..
Most of the times petitions don’t succeed for different reasons but there are examples of successful one, like the mentioned above. So next time you get forward a petition, ask yourself if you trust the organisation promoting it and if you think its strategy has a chance of success. If you don’t then pass if you do then forward it. I will do it for sure! It will make a difference the success of an issue you care about it. Or you can think about start a petition and it is easier now with the increasingly sociability in the internet - blogs, facebooks etc. Petitions remain one of our most important tools for making cracks to the seemingly unbreakable walls of our democratic systems! And yet as Paula Goldman says the petitions remain one of the most effective ways for citizens to make their voices heard.
P.S. in the Jubilee website http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/ you can find quite a few information like 'how to... campaigners guide'.... etc.