On Petitions

Many of us animal activists spend quite a bit of time signing and promoting petitions.

Unfortunately, most of our efforts in that regard are a total waste of time and energy, and take away time from actually helping animals or working on productive campaigns.

Remember that a lot of petitions are created for the sole purpose of gaining email addresses and other information on animal activists. Sometimes this is done by worthy organizations for worthwhile purposes, but is often just a fund raising tactic designed to build databases.

Most petitions can be evaluated immediately as to their validity.

Any asking for petitions to governments or elected officials, whether domestic or foreign are usually a waste of time. Governments and elected officials are sensitive to their own citizenry and constituents, but even then only in terms of votes. If you can’t vote for the official you are petitioning, you are pissing into the wind.

Similarly, if the person you can vote for has nothing to do with what the petition complains about, it was likely designed to build an email list. For example, I recently saw a petition asking for signatures to urge the president to end kill shelters. A worthy objective, and one I support. But the president has nothing to to with local kill shelters. Nor does the federal government. State governments could ban kill shelters, which would impact cities and counties in those states, but the federal government is powerless to order cities and counties to ban them. Just as the federal government couldn’t establish local zoning ordinances.

However, petitions to government agencies, appointed officials, and judges can be effective. Primarily because they are very sensitive to public relations and media attention.

The most effective petitions are ones that are directed toward businesses or individuals who are sensitive to public opinion. Businesses dislike being involved in controversies, boycotts, and social campaigns. They do not wish to be a polarizing influence in society, as that translates into the loss of customers, the need to involve damage control professionals, and, if a public company, the need to deal with angry shareholders ( who can force boards of directors to fire management).

Many times the issue raised by the petition is sufficiently important to share with folks who do not know of it that we share the graphic or post pushing it. And that is undoubtedly easier than redesigning the graphic and deleting the petition. But often the most effective thing to do is something other than sign and promote a petition. Sometimes signing a petition actually hurts the animals because we feel we’ve done something and do not do other things that would be much more helpful (like send emails or make phone calls). If we all came to understand that the petitions are largely useless, we would be much more effective in the use of our time.

There are exceptions to all of this, but the general caveat is valid: petitions are usually not worth the time and effort to sign and promote. And if a signature would actually do some good, a phone call or email is more effective by orders of magnitude.

The animals only have us. What we do for them should be the most effective use of time and resources we can expend.


3 thoughts on “On Petitions

  1. I disagree, I feel if you can’t do anything but sign a petition you should, and to tell people otherwise is not a good idea.
    Petitions alert us to things we did not know about and get people talking.
    I have seen it work first hand and it’s better than doing nothing.


    • Signing petitions is lazy activism. And because it is, petitions are worthless in impressing anyone to whom they are directed.

      One letter is more powerful than a petition with thousands of signatures.

      Signatures on petitions aren’t worth the time it takes to sign.

      But an actual letter is like yelling in church!

      Most petitions are database-building scams. They are stalking horses for fundraising, cheap theatrics at best, a waste of activists’ time and energies at worst.

      If a petition is aimed at a government, foreign or domestic, it is a scam.
      If a petition is directed at a legislator, it is a scam.
      If a petition is aimed at a business, it is probably legitimate, but is still a waste of time.

      There are exceptions, of course. But they are few and far between,

      Send an email! Make a phone call! Write an actual letter!

      If a petition is worth signing, it is worth a phone call or an email. Phone calls and emails are more effective by orders of magnitude.

      And an actual typed, stamped letter is equivalent to a tactical nuclear device.

      Letters have to be dealt with. They have to be answered. They sit in someone’s inbasket. Records are kept. Supervisors are notified, reports are made. People are copied. Letters rattle around inside the halls of bureaucracy.

      They are all the more effective now that fewer people employ the medium.

      Letters are serious weapons!

      When we are fighting for the animals, we need to use the most powerful weapons at our disposal.

      Petitions are like shooting blanks. Emails are more like rifle fire. Phone calls are like lobbing grenades at our enemies. And snail mail is like dropping bombs!


  2. Reblogged this on Armory of the Revolution and commented:

    One of the biggest drains on activists’ efforts is the waste of time in signing and promoting totally worthless petitions.

    This article was published two months ago, and should be bookmarked, shared, and shared frequently. I reblog it to revisit the issue and to reach those who have not read this piece.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.