Stop Telling Supporters to Sign Your Ineffective Petitions

Stop Telling Supporters to Sign Your Ineffective Petitions

Stop Telling Supporters to Sign Your Ineffective Petitions

Your petition to Congress won’t stop Trump’s Cabinet nominees from being confirmed and your supporters know it.

This goes for your donation asks too. Don’t ask for someone to donate to support the opposition of a Cabinet nominee if the funds you raise aren’t actually going to help.

There is a time and a place for strategic petitions with an effective theory of change to mobilize supporters against a target who will respond to the tactic. But it’s time to stop pretending your petitions to Congress are helping move the needle on their own and actually do the work that is needed to stop the Trump agenda.

If you actually want to make a difference, you need to start using the tactics that will work to move Congress:

  • Attend Town Halls with Members of Congress
  • Attend Local Events with Members of Congress
  • Schedule In-person Meetings
  • Coordinate Phone Calls to Congress

As the former Congressional staffers who compiled the Indivisible Guide share, members of Congress only care about your issue when you force them to pay attention by making them respond publicly, or getting them to listen to you by phone or in-person. And with more than 1.5M downloads of the guide in the last 6 weeks, your motivated activists likely know this to be the case, so stop treating them otherwise.

Your ineffective online petitions aren’t just not helping, they may actually be hurting the cause. By making your supporters who don’t know better think they are taking a meaningful action by signing a petition, you are preventing them from doing something that would actually help. When they eventually figure this out it will undermine their trust in your organization, their willingness to take action on your behalf, and their belief in their own ability to create change.

A well thought-out petition with a strong theory of change and a high possibility of success can be a great way to build broad support quickly and create a supporter base for your campaign, but rarely will petitions be successful on their own. And implausible petitions only serve to undermine the validity of petitions that are part of a broader campaign strategy.

Instead of, or in addition to, sending out petitions to your members targeting Congress, here are some things you could be doing:

  1. Help your members create local action groups
  2. Ask your members to set up meetings with their Members of Congress in their district offices
  3. Ask your members to organize groups to attend upcoming town hall meetings
  4. Ask your members to call their Members of Congress
  5. Start recruiting candidates to run against your Members of Congress

If you want to create local action groups, you might want to think about leveraging the power of the ControlShift platform for supporter-led actions. If you are thinking of driving phone calls to Congress, I’d recommend starting to collect phone numbers and building an SMS list. We’ve found SMS to be the most effective way to drive phone calls. If you don’t know where to start, try emailing your super volunteers and ask them if they want to lead a local action group and start equipping them with the knowledge and training they need. Training and support for local volunteers can be essential for longterm engagement and building effective local groups.

In the weeks since the election, groups like Swing Left and Indivisible have built a base of hundreds of thousands of supporters without a petition in sight by asking people to do things that will have meaningful results. If you’re going to use an online petition, make sure it can credibly have an impact. And please make sure you are actually delivering your petition signatures. While a petition may help you build your list, let’s only use them if they can contribute to the shifts we need. For example, targeting local elected officials or corporate leaders can still be an effective use of an online petition.

Whether you are working to prevent the confirmation of Trump’s disastrous Cabinet nominees, oppose discriminatory Executive Orders, or stop the rollbacks of important legislation, we need to get real about how we are going to be effective. In this moment, when people are energized and willing to take the actions that are needed, let’s ask people to do what it’s going to take. We need to match our tactics to our desired outcomes, and that likely means thinking about escalating tactics. Your online petition to Congress isn’t the answer, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Austen Levihn-Coon @austenlc is Chief Innovation Offer of Fission. Reach him at austen [at]

This post has been edited from the original to clarify that petitions should only be used when they are plausible, part of a broader campaign, and there is a viable theory of change based on invaluable feedback from many amazing practitioners.

Photo source: Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP, public domain image.

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