I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the petition to preserve West Point Lake (http://www.change.org/petitions/us-army-corps-of-engineers-change-operating-rule-curve-for-west-point-lake). You’re probably wondering how effective these petitions are. After all, there are a lot of petitions out there, thanks to the Internet. One requests that Vice-President Joe Biden have his own reality show. Another one calls for the states to leave the Union. Yet another petition insists that Piers Morgan be deported, for being liberal. One even wants Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to keep his crazy loopy signature on the dollar bill, if he wins.
The White House made headlines by responding to the petition that sadly informs us why we won’t be building a Death Star. It’s a bit of overkill too, especially when fighting the Taliban. Then there’s that debt thing too.
When I was young, my mom was into the petition-thing, trying to get people to adopt a number of causes. Are we saturated by petitions? Do politicians really take these things seriously? Actually, they do take it seriously when it is a serious effort.
Americans easily outclass their rivals from other countries in terms of organizing and signing petitions, as well as contacting their elected officials in a variety of ways. When it comes to expressing their opinions to politicians, nobody is close to us, even among rich developed countries.
Then why don’t our elected officials always seem to pay attention to what we want? There are many examples where public opinion differs from what public servants do, right?
This is where the petition comes into play. There are a number of cases where people tell someone from Gallup what they think on an issue, but that doesn’t really show any passion for it. But a petition shows anger, enthusiasm, even desperation. A person who organizes or signs a petition on a narrow, focused concern is much more likely to be a likely voter.
Having worked for a Senator, I can tell you that you don’t need 50.1 percent of the location to sign it to have an effect. It takes a lot less to get someone’s curiosity, and a little more to get someone’s attention. I remember a state legislator from Georgia tell me “30 letters is like an avalanche.” That’s what we learned during the state battle over the Tuition Equalization Grant.
So look into that petition about the Chattahoochee River and West Point Lake. It is due Monday, January 14, 2013. And don’t forget to sign it too. I forgot myself, until Page Estes with the Troup County Chamber of Commerce sent me that friendly reminder (even though I had written a column on the subject!). And while we’re at it, contact our local officials and tell them to support State Senator Josh McKoon’s ethics reform, limiting lobbyist contributions. They’ll listen if you show you care for about ten minutes.
Sure there are some fairly silly petitions out there (see the cases listed above). These petitions, and the attention they get from the media, may actually be hurting our power of the petition. Ignore them if you care about making an impact in Washington, DC, the Gold Dome in Atlanta, or your local county government. But do pay attention to the serious ones that matter.