I think when I finally write that book (the one I’ve been threatening to start for five years now) I’m going to include a chapter on petitions.  Everywhere you look online in the political sphere, there’s a petition for something.  Petitions to impeach the president.  Petitions to demand a thorough investigation of the events at the consulate in Beghazi.  Petitions to defund ObamaCare.  Petitions to demand border security.  Petitions to bring a civil rights suit against George Zimmerman.  There’s even a petition to demand Warner Brothers fire Ben Affleck as the new Batman.

(Sorry @NJ_libertarian, I wish I could have your back on that one.)

It isn’t that some of the above items aren’t worthy causes.  A few of them are.  Especially the Batman one.  But is a petition the best way to go about changing things?

Here’s a quick contrast that might illustrate the value of petitions:

In my Facebook feed today I saw this image:


This comes from the Facebook page of Texas Senator John Cornyn, currently residing in the shadow of the junior senator from Texas, Senator Ted Cruz.  The “Keep It Red” image is in response to the very public (andoft-discussed in these #FRN circles) Battleground Texas campaign that Democrats are launching in Texas (for at least the third election cycle) to “turn Texas Blue.”  Accompanying the image are these words:

Show the Democrats that this is OUR state, and we won’t just sit back and watch them turn it into California. Take the pledge to Keep Texas Red today!

Worthy goal, yes?  If you’ve followed national electoral politics at all, you know that if Texas votes Democratic in a presidential election, there’s no math to get a Republican (and thus nominally more conservative) candidate into the White House.  So veteran Democrats from previous successful campaigns around the country are working in Texas, organizing and collecting large databases of voters whom they can turn out in ALL future elections.

But if you follow the link from the image and go to the page, you end up at a site with fields to fill in with your contact information, and then waaaaaaaaay down at the bottom you see this:

Paid for by Texans for Senator John Cornyn, Inc.

which LinkedIn shows to be the Cornyn Campaign Committee (as if there were any doubts).   So to whom, exactly, is this petition directed?  Apparently to the campaign mailing list of Senator Cornyn’s re-election efforts.

How, exactly, does this “Keep Texas Red”?  And why, exactly, do I need to petition my SITTING SENATOR, one who has been in leadership of the NRSC, to keep Democrats from taking over Texas?

Well, let’s contrast that with another effort.

Freedom Works has been hosting several “Come and Take It” meetings throughout Texas, one of which I was privileged to attend.  I got to see the itemized list of proposed activities and spending that Freedom Works intends to unleash in the effort to fight back against Battleground Texas, totaling (if all the donation goals are met) nearly $8 million.  They are naming regional directors of the “Come and Take It” effort, hosting conference calls, and organizing a major push on the ground and on the internet to recruit conservatives and activate them.

So you can sign up at the Come and Take It site to participate in the overall effort, or you can sign a petition that puts you on a politician’s mailing list until you die.  Which one do you think will more likely accomplish the stated goal?

There’s nothing wrong or unethical about this practice.  Essentially, it’s an easy way to gather data from people passionate about an issue or cause, which a politician or candidate can then use to target the signers with messaging and fundraising appeals.  Where I get off the petition drive is that it encourages people to believe they are doing something, taking an action that will help solve a problem in which they are interested.  It’s a one-minute rally online, and about as effective.

Your best bet is to initially assume any petition online is primarily geared towards increasing a mailing list, not organizing for action.  Before you sign an online petition, ask yourself if this organization or individual is someone you want blasting donation e-mails at you on a regular basis.  Also ask yourself whether it is indeed a call to action with further obligation on your part to stay involved; or whether this is another feel-good, one-and-done gimmick that is designed to take your information and subsequently hound you for money.

And if you’re just dying to sign a petition, I’ll put one up (maybe even on Batman) and you can get daily e-mails from Free Radical Network.  Deal?