We have all seen them. The wide-eyed and bushy-tailed 20 somethings braving the Pullman winter with an arm outstretched to hold a clip board. They shout things like, “Do you care about the environment?” or “Do you have a minute for your future?” and other rhetorical platitudes.
I once made the mistake of humoring one of these clip board jockeys to kill some time before class. All I got for my trouble was a lecture and a sticker that said “I support (some cause I do not remember).”
Now President Barack Obama has chosen to streamline the petition process by creating a website where citizens can post and sign petitions that go straight to the White House for official consideration.
While it is true that political petitions are nothing new, this online system allows Americans the joy of signing a petition without having to deal with the over-zealous hippie holding the clip board.
In theory, this is a great idea. People can communicate their ideas in a clear, coherent manner that can be easily accessed by all. Unfortunately, this system involves humans on the Internet – and in a political context, no less. The list of petitions reads more like a YouTube comments section than a place for serious political discourse.
Here is a sample of some of the most popular petitions as of this column's writing (spelling is correct): “crack down on puppy mills,” “formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race – Disclosure” and my personal favorite, “Actually take these petitions seriously instead of just using them as an excuse to pretend you are listening.”
According to the site, puppy mills are the most important issue on the minds of Americans, or at least those who are active on this site. Not the deficit, not abortion or gay marriage: puppy mills. I love dogs as much as the next guy, and hate puppy mills as well, but I think we can all agree that we have bigger problems at the moment.
Here is a hint: if you want to be heard in government, learn where your shift key is. It is just like the stoners who expect to be heard while wearing their matching Bob Marley T-shirts and beanies. Appearances matter in politics.
Of course, I selected some of the more outrageous petitions to prove a point, but I would be remiss to not admit that some of the petitions are very good ideas that we can all get behind – and many already have. Here is the problem though – petitions are still a waste of time.
While petitions have had some moral victories in the past, they have done little in terms of actual legislation. At best, a petition can show those in power just how many of their subjects are willing to back an issue. Really, you may as well be praying to God to fix the deficit because that will do about as much good.
That is not to say that people should not create or sign these petitions. Just realize that it is mostly an empty gesture. It is much easier to sign a petition about fixing world hunger than it is to go out and volunteer your time at a homeless shelter. If you really care about an issue, you can make the time to act.
In the end, my advice is to do what you should already be doing to those clip board jockeys. Keep your head down, say “no, thank you” and keep on walking. You have more productive things to do, like staring at a wall for an hour.