Politicians and activists alike have a nasty thing in their toolboxes. It’s called the petition, and it really does nothing. Here’s why.
How often do you find yourself swamped with political emails?
How many times this election season have you checked your inbox and noticed that a good number of the incoming messages are asking for money?
How many times have you wondered how you got onto so many politicians’ email lists?
Let’s take a look at how that often happens.
Meet Glenn Hegar.
Glenn was a state representative, and then was elected as a state senator in Texas until a few years ago. Then he decided to run for the office of State Comptroller. He won that position in 2014. And for those who don’t know, the Comptroller’s office reports on fiscal issues for the state.
So when I saw this appeal on Hegar’s campaign page, I had to comment.
You can see that Hegar is deeply concerned about the fiscal issues of the state of Texas.
‘Dump CBS’? My state’s comptroller posted a petition to ‘DUMP CBS.’ What does that even MEAN? Nobody can tell me. But over 3,900 people shared that, thinking that they were accomplishing something. And those 3,900+ people just landed themselves in a consultant’s database, where they’ll be listed as people to whom Republican candidates should market Facebook ads. And worse, if they clicked over and actually signed the petition, their inboxes will be flooded with mail from Republican candidates as well.
Not content with the hard issues of media bias and his comprehensive plan to ‘Dump CBS’, Hegar made a new appeal on his page three days later:
So far that one has garnered only 75 reactions, one comment, and one share. But you can bet that those names, too, have been added to the consultant list. And for Hegar, he’s moved from the Texas House to he Senate to a statewide office. You can bet that he’s positioning himself for a run at something else, maybe US Senator or Lieutenant Governor. And that’s what you’re getting for your petitions.
I’ve written about petition drives before, but it bears repeating. The chief purpose and use of petitions these days in political causes is to capture your information and spam your email and social media. Tea party groups do it, candidates do it, political parties do it. And as a tool for collecting supporters’ information, it’s standard practice now.
But what irks me to no end is the pretense that signing these petitions is an effective form of activism. So I need to repeat it…
SIGNING A PETITION IS NOT TAKING AN ACTION TO CHANGE YOUR WORLD.
And anyone trying to tell you otherwise is lying to you, including the politician or group sharing the petition.
The sooner that anyone interested in political causes understands that, the sooner they can discover more effective ways to accomplish their goals. After all, the point of building a database of supporters is to MOBILIZE them to do something. If you teach supporters to believe that adding their name to a database equals action, you’re creating ever higher hurdles for them to overcome when you need them to write letters, or knock on doors, or call their representatives.
Furthermore, when politicians like Glenn Hegar do not, in fact, ‘Dump CBS’ in any meaningful fashion because they cannot, in fact, do so; people will begin to suspect that doing ANYTHING is fruitless. Their expectations will have been built up to the point of expecting impossible things from their elected officials. And then they will begin to wonder why they ought to bother with politics at all, when every action they’ve been baited to take returns exactly no gains.
I’m not telling you never to sign petitions. What I am telling you is exactly what that accomplishes. If you’re lonely and like a full inbox, by all means, sign away. But never mistake that for activism.
And if it bothers you as much as it does me to see people exploited by campaign consultants and politicians, spread the message to people who haven’t learned this yet.