Petitions are seldom an effective method of achieving change, unless they are accompanied by other, more effective actions.
No 738 Posted by fw, May 06, 2013
“If on-line petitioners and other organizations are really concerned about the future of the CBC, their time would be better spent developing more effective campaigns. They could form one umbrella movement for a CBC campaign. If they have a difficult time coming up with an effective strategy, an experienced organization like as Greenpeace International would be able to advise them. What is needed is a fully developed plan that has a variety of tactics.” —Nick Fillmore
Activist Nick Fillmore explains why he thinks petitions are a waste of time. Click on the linked title to read his original article or read the reprint below.
Petitions next to useless in campaign to defend CBC by Nick Fillmore, A Different Point of View, May 6, 2013
At least half-a-dozen petitions aimed at stopping Stephen Harper from taking control of the CBC are buzzing around the Internet. Pressure groups are putting a lot of effort into this campaign, but the question is – does sending petitions to Ottawa have any effect on the Conservatives. Are they just wasting everyone’s time?
The many petitions contain all the right language:
“Prime Minister Harper is using his latest budget bill to seize unprecedented power over the CBC,” say Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and LeadNow in a joint appeal. “Independent public media is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy, and we cannot stand by and let the CBC be silenced and controlled for partisan political gain.”
“The government would be able to have dictatorial control over the terms and conditions of employment of non-union staff — and any collective bargaining among unionized staff — at the CBC and Radio Canada,” says a petition started by SumOfUs.
These and other petitions rightly attack the federal government for brazenly over-stepping its mandate in regard to the CBC, a supposedly independent Crown Corporation. However, both the public and organizations that lead campaigns need to revisit history and be reminded of which tactics do, and do not, work.
Petitions delivered to the government in the House of Commons are seldom an effective method of achieving change, unless they are accompanied by other, more effective actions.
Conservative groups do influence the Conservatives on right-wing issues. The way the Canadian Taxpayers Federation bombards right-wing governments across the country pays off.
Internationally, groups such as Avaaz, with 21-million members worldwide, claim that the huge petitions they circulate, concerning issues such as helping to save elephants in Thailand, are effective. Celebrities such as Al Gore say their work is important.
In Canada, petitions supporting progressive causes do not count for much in Ottawa unless the public also happens to strongly support the same cause. LeadNow and SumOfUs have channeled more than 86,000 messages to Harper opposing the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement. At the same time, tens-of-thousands of Canadians have expressed their opposition to the deal in other ways, so the messages may not have been very influential.
Harper has had the destruction of the CBC high on his ‘To Do’ list for decades. Diminishing the power of what Harper sees as an aggravating, liberal-minded, taxpayer-funded force would be a viewed by right-wingers as a great victory.
Organizing only petitions is a half-hearted measure that does a disservice to the progressive movement.
Unfortunately, poorly thought-out petitions can have a negative impact on some people who really care about issues. Those who sign on are hopeful that they have made a contribution to the cause. But, in the case of the CBC petition, it is false hope. When the petition has no impact whatsoever, they’ll resign themselves to defeat.
If on-line petitioners and other organizations are really concerned about the future of the CBC, their time would be better spent developing more effective campaigns. They could form one umbrella movement for a CBC campaign. If they have a difficult time coming up with an effective strategy, an experienced organization like as Greenpeace International would be able to advise them. What is needed is a fully developed plan that has a variety of tactics.
For instance, if some of those same people who signed the CBC petition clogged up the communication lines and shut down the government for a day once a week for a month – I bet Harper would pay attention!
Footnote: When most Internet campaigning organizations launch on-line petitions they’re concerned about more than bringing change. They also want to collect the names and email addresses of as many people as possible so they can contact them later to ask for donations to support the group’s activities. For some groups, there must sometimes be the temptation of launching petitions that are particularly popular with the public to make sure new names for fundraising are generated.
Nick Fillmore is an award-winning investigative reporter and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Nick was a news editor and producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for more than 20 years.
- “We’ll be honest: we won’t win the campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies with a global million-strong petition alone” – 350.org Posted June 2, 2012 — Two weeks ago we joined a diverse coalition to launch an all-out offensive to end fossil fuel subsidies, and we weren’t quite sure how it would turn out. Well, we’ve currently got 958,422 signatures on our combined global petition — almost a million people strong!…. Once we get a million signatures, we’ll move on to phase two: a surround-sound campaign to put the pressure on world leaders at the G20 Summit in Mexico and at the “Rio+20 Earth Summit” coming up in Brazil.