Reality check: Why sign a petition?

Here’s a phrase that’s like a porcupine in a field of fresh, hopeful, rising advocacy balloons: “Petitions don’t work. Petitions don’t work. Petitions don’t work.” Eeek!

As someone who is dedicated to mobilizing people to act on their values, I beg to differ. Petitions aren’t all it takes to make change. Nor is a first step equal to a marathon. A party list is not the same as a party and a flirtatious wink does not make a marriage. But where would be without winks, invitations and first steps?

By all means, pick up the phone! Write a letter! Your voice as a voter or constituent is your power and your privilege. Barney Frank speaks truth when he says that electeds really care about constituents who take the initiative to make personal contact. And even when you know your elected is on your side, it does a world of good to let them know you’re happy.

Do yourself a favor: take the time to sign a petition that captures your heart and moves your mind.

Here’s why:

A first step leads to a second one: It’s science, my friends. Social scientists have shown time and again that when people sign a petition, they are far more likely to make a bigger commitment when asked. When you agree to make your signature public and visible, you’ll be even more compelled to make a bigger commitment. So if you’re not ready to leapfrog this baby step and make a phone call, think of the petition as a commitment to yourself to follow through in the future.

This invitation may be the party of a lifetime: Signing a petition with your best friend and your brother may not make a huge dent in decision-making. But when you are one of thousands standing shoulder to shoulder with superstars and superpowers, it certainly sends a strong message. Even if it doesn’t change minds directly, it can put an issue on the radar screen of news media and decision-makers.

A wink can lead to a relationship: Oregon Environmental Council and other earnest, tenacious advocates want nothing better than to be your partner. We want you to know when critical decisions are being made. We want to give you the support you need to weigh in on those decisions when it matters most. And we want to celebrate with you when we succeed in making change. But first, we need a hint that you care about the issue. Signing a petition helps us know you care.

Petitions may not be the sole reason that these campaigns were successful, but I have no doubt they were one of the critical tools in the tool box.

Our friends at Renew Oregon are collecting signatures on a pledge to support a path to a clean energy future. Will several thousand signatures get us fuel and energy choices, green jobs and polluter accountability? Not alone. But when our advocates testify in favor of a bill, we can tell lawmakers with confidence that we speak on behalf of Oregonians united around this issue. When lawmakers want to talk to a parent or a business owner or a doctor, we know where to look for people who really care. And when push comes to shove and you have a chance to make a really powerful push—we know where to find you.




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