This marks a departure for me. For years, my stance was, “There are two ways to do nothing about a problem. Do nothing, and sign an online petition.” An online petition seemed to have all the binding impact of announcing your intention to move to Canada if X was elected. Be the change you want to see in the world? Nonsense. Just click on it and hope. “It can’t even get Bert and Ernie married,” I muttered.”What good can an online petition possibly be?”
But then Bank of America announced that it would not be pursuing its intended $5 debit card fee. Everyone who noticed this development cited the 300,000 online petition signers at Change.org. “The people won!“ they crowed.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this was the beginning of a brave new era of online petitions.
I dashed to Change.org to see what kind of difference I could hope to make in the world.
There were all kinds of possibilities!
Petition: “Arapahoe Community College: Quit taking attendance at a College, and losing points for class.” This seemed to lack an antecedent, but I couldn’t disagree that “This is important because college students have lives.” Click it and make it so!
I could sign a petition to “reinstate multi-tapping on NPCs” in Evony, whatever that means. This is important because “Removing multi-tapping from the servers greatly alters the game and reduces it to no more than a ‘farmville’ state game.”
And don’t forget the petition for “The President of the United States: Will you share the real story of Thanksgiving with your Friends?” which urges “Thanksgiving and Capitalism. ... a history lesson that every American should know well, if their education was provided by Americans who truly care about America — the story of the origin of Thanksgiving and Capitalism, as described by Governor Bradford, Thanksgiving, 1623...This is the real story of Thanksgiving, a holiday grounded in Capitalism, and the root cause of our country's great success. ((110) With an introduction written in religious terms to best explain the interconnected moral attributes of the lesson.)”
So far, it boasts six signatures!
And those were just a few of my options. I could also petition a man’s ex-wife to let him visit his kids more often, petition Urban Outfitters to stop whatever exploitive new thing it is doing, or petition some T-shirt-selling Web site to remove a T-shirt for being offensively unfunny — always frowned on by Change.org members, who seemed indignant about more things than I knew existed between heaven and earth. As someone whom some would say is offensively unfunny for a living, this trend worried me. First, they came for the crude T-shirts. Then they came for the caged eggs. Next — who knows?
And I am informed by Change.org that we are making strides all the time. People are being freed. People are being fired. Urban Outfitters just ditched its Navajo line.
I am excited by all this change.
But gradually I became a bit disillusioned. I kept reloading the page to see if I’d made an impact yet. But nothing had happened.
It seemed that for every petition that made a real impact, there were dozens of tiny, stagnant clumps urging President Obama to Set The Pilgrim Story Straight. It wasn’t the clicks that did it. It was something else.
Maybe this wasn’t quite the revolution I’d hoped. More than 300,000 signatures on the Bank of America petition certainly helped. But more important surely was the demonstrated willingness of people to put this into action, with more than 20,000 planning to close their accounts — and the fact that other banks quietly surveyed the situation and withdrew from their own fee-charging plans.
And the presence of the Occupy Wall Street Movement can’t have hurt.
“Thousands of people sign a petition?” bankers once chuckled. “Hey, as long as they don't come to your house.”
Occupy Wall Street implied a willingness to come to your house.
“Yeesh, okay, okay," Bank of America muttered, "just get off the lawn.”
This wasn’t some new wave of mouse-click change. This was just the traditional way public opinion has always made itself heard — with the ominous shutting of wallets and pounding of shoe leather. How disappointing.
Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for them to reinstate the multi-tapping. Get on that, Evony.