If you are active on the Net at all, sooner or later, you get them: you stumble across one, or a friend forwards it to you. You know what I’m talking about: a petition, usually an “urgent” petition, intended to accomplish just about anything you can name. One exhorts the FDA to release an orphan drug, one stamps its little foot and tells members of the Republican Congress to lighten up on Planned Parenthood (rotsa ruck), one asks a rural judge not to euthanize a little kid’s pet hen.
I sign a lot of these things (even the pet hen one, surprisingly). There are quite a few started by real people, who are not after your wallet or your loyalty; they just want to stop a pig fight or spare a pit bull. Some of them are obvious harvesting devices — a candidate for office or a political asks for your signature and then up pops a screen asking you to donate. Others lie in wait. A week or two down the road, your mailbox is full of stuff from the League Of Environmental Hand-Wringers or the Send A Gay Kid To Camp Committee, advising you discreetly at the bottom that you are receiving this mail “because you signed up for updates from us.”
The one I just deleted stated candidly that by signing the petition I was requesting updates from the League Of Conservation Voters. Wonderful group I’m sure. Doing good work. Lots of groups like that out there. I’ll gladly sign any petition instrument they circulate that I consider worthy of attention, but please, please don’t send me all this goddam mail.
Can we make a deal? Seriously? I’ll sign if you promise to never send me anything else unless it’s another petition that addresses some action of consequence that you want taken or prevented. You know, a piece of legislation or a commutation of sentence or something. I have already decided who’s getting my charitable money and I don’t have time to delete mail from forty-seven different committees, or even unsubscribe from all their mailing lists every time one circulates a petition that I actually think is worth supporting.
The Internet is a mighty engine and it has given small movements the power to create great change, but in the great tradition of this land, both politics and now activism are becoming indistinguishable from marketing.