I haven’t had time to post anything new here lately, but I’m glad I’ve been writing lots of cool stuff for work. And one thing I love about working in communications is that I always learn something new with every project I participate in. That was the case with this post on the effectiveness of online petitions, originally published on the Ecojustice website.
In my research for that post, I learned that petitions really do work, and now I sign every single petition I come across for causes I support. Here’s why:
Do petitions work?
All over the Internet you will find petitions asking for signatures in support of all sorts of issues. There’s no doubt adding your name to an online petition — like the advocacy actions Ecojustice hosts on our website – is a quick and easy way to support a cause, but do petitions really make a difference?
We get asked this question a lot, so in this post we explain how signing an online petition can help advance the causes that matter to you.
Yes, petitions can be effective
Petitions existed long before the Internet, when organizers knocked on doors or stood in busy areas trying to get people interested in their cause.
Online petitions can help advance a cause by:
- Raising awareness and signaling public opinion to decision-makers, influencing their decisions;
- Showing the media that there is a story worth covering;
- Helping organizations gain supporters and identify people who may want to get more involved on an issue; and
- Providing an accessible avenue for activism and civic engagement, inviting people who might not otherwise get involved in those spaces to participate.
The difference today is that any organization or individual can create a petition online and reach thousands of potential supporters in minutes — which is exactly why so many people are skeptical about the effectiveness of this type of activism.
At Ecojustice, we view petitions — or as we call them, advocacy actions — as an effective means of amplifying the voices of people in Canada (that’s you!) and providing a platform for supporters to speak truth to power, influencing the decision-makers whose choices impact all of our lives.
You may notice that many of the advocacy actions Ecojustice sets up focus on getting members of the public to call on elected officials to make a specific decision or to address a wrong in our laws or policies. This is because we don’t simply want to raise awareness about an issue. Our goal is often to offer these elected officials concrete, enforceable solutions to the problems they’re tasked with addressing and demonstrate to them that the public expects that to take real action.
How Ecojustice supporters make a difference
By signing our online actions, Ecojustice supporters have helped advance important causes to protect nature, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and defend Canadians’ right to clean air, safe water, and a healthy planet.
Here are some recent examples of the impact Ecojustice supporters have had by engaging in our advocacy actions:
- Defined Canada’s new climate law. Ecojustice supporters pushed the federal government to introduce legislation that would hold them and future governments accountable to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Supporters like you successfully pushed the federal government to table, strengthen and pass the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act into law.
- Ushered in a death knell for thermal coal in Canada. Ecojustice supporters urged the federal government to accelerate the phase-out of thermal coal mining, leading the government to designate all new thermal coal mine projects or expansions for a federal impact assessment.
- Reversed poor environmental oversight. Ecojustice supporters helped strengthen the federal Impact Assessment Act and a new Fisheries Act, undoing some of the harmful environmental law rollbacks introduced by the previous Conservative government.
- Strengthened protection of wild salmon. In response to the thousands of supporters who signed an advocacy action, former Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan announced that all fish farms in B.C.’s Discovery Islands must be phased out by 2022.
What to consider before signing a petition
Not every petition is effective, but the ones that are share two common traits:
1) A clear demand statement. Petitions need to be timely and have a measurable and achievable goal to give decision-makers something concrete to work with. For example, instead of asking the government to “combat climate change,” Ecojustice has encouraged our supporters to ask for a total ban on thermal coal, the leading cause of the climate crisis.
2) Target someone who has the power to act on the demand, such as a government, organization, company, or individual who will receive the petition and can act on it.
In addition to the petition itself, it is also important to pay attention to who created the petition and what their interest is. By signing, you are showing that you support both the cause and the petitioner, as well as giving them access to some of your personal information, such as email and phone number.
You signed a petition. Now what?
Petitions are an important first step in raising awareness and support for a cause. But keep in mind it is just that – a first step. A petition typically needs to be complemented by the activities and efforts of many people to achieve lasting change.
On a personal level, other actions you can take to amplify your contribution to a cause include calling or writing to politicians and decision-makers, participating in protests, organizing social media movements, volunteering, fundraising for organizations you support, and doing your own research to help spread accurate information about the causes you believe in.
Still have questions about petitions and their effectiveness? Check out these helpful links: