We the People have spoken, and according to the White House’s citizen-driven petition site, the most important issue in America is: the legalization of marijuana.
The White House launched We the People last month as a way to provide commoners like you and me a “direct line to the White House on issues and concerns that matter most” to us. So far, a petition to legalize pot is the top performer, according to The Hill. The call for decriminalization has attracted over 50,000 signatures. It also illustrates nicely why the site is such a waste of time for serious advocacy campaigns:
[National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Executive Director Allen] St. Pierre said online petitions help spread the word and generate supporters who can call and write Congress, but they have not translated into the real-world pressure — and money — needed for his side to win.
St. Pierre is right: online petition campaigns are an excellent way to find and recruit audience. So how many supporters did this online petition generate?
To sign the petition, site visitors had to create an account on WhiteHouse.gov. That means that the White House has their contact information (along with whatever issues are important to them) but NORML gets nothing. Had NORML hosted the petition on their own site, they might have been able to collect signers’ contact information and email address, which would have allowed them to go back to those folks later with calls to action – such as calling or writing Congress.
At least NORML got some good press out of it, which could indirectly recruit grassroots support. But if NORML – or any other issue advocacy group – wants to generate real impact, pointing people to the White House’s petition platform isn’t going to work.
Online petitions can recruit and mobilize supporters, but they’re better as a starting point, rather than a finish line. Since We the People doesn’t allow for the next steps, NORML’s apparent success is actually a wasted effort.