Do Online Petitions Work? Experts say Yes and I am Counting on it!

BY ON June 20, 2011

This piece was cross-posted at Proactive Black Parenting  Gina Carroll

Do online petitions work?  Do they effectuate change? Yes, they do. Jane Cravens of discusses the evolution of online petitions from the early form of email petitions that proved to be unreliable and ineffective to the newest website-based versions that have impressive track records. Cravens highlights the online petition successes of that are numerous and impressive. Randy Paynter, founder of, defends online petitions against charges that they are nothing more than feel-good perpetuators of a new “Slacktivism” trend. Paynter says online petitions are very impactful tools. He lists a number of petition successes that include a 90,000 signature petition that was instrumental in the release of imprisoned journalists in North Korea, and a 70,000 signature petition that influenced the military to spare the life of an abandoned puppy brought home from Baghdad by Sergeant Gwen Beberg. There are lots of examples of favorable petition outcomes– high profile and low, big petitions and small.

And so with success in mind, here are three results I hope that my African-American Moms for Clean Air petition will achieve:

1.  Inform– Despite the fact that my Houston is one of the most polluted cities in the nation, creating a population of sick adults and children and putting a drain on our health providers and health care dollars, most Houstonians only think about the air when it’s high pollen time and everyone is miserable. They don’t think about it because, I suspect, they don’t feel they can do anything to make it better. I hope by reaching out to mothers, I can spread the word about just how bad the air really is—how much it is impacting our health—and I hope I can let moms everywhere know about efforts to make a change for the better.

2. Motivate– Activism often begins small. As Randy Paynter points out, “Ask any hardcore activist you know – their first action probably wasn’t storming the White House. Usually, activists start with simple steps…”  The first steps need to be about informing and uniting those who have a vested interest in the cause. African-American mothers should know about the pressing need to clean up the air. Their children are the most negatively impacted by pollution. Starting out with a petition, I believe, is a way to take a step toward making a difference at a critical time. Letting the EPA know that we care about their toxics rules; that we are watching; and that we vote, is an important message to send at this point in the EPA’s rule making process.

The moms I spoke to about activism lamented that they have so many competing interests and time commitments. In order to get involved, they say, they need a pressing cause and an easy point of entry. So voila– here is a petition you can sign right on Facebook. Points of entry don’t get any easier than that! This petition will be delivered to the EPA by email and post.

And if I know my sister-friends as I think I do, once they are hot on a mission, they are warriors. Paynter asserts: “A recent independent study showed individuals who first signed an online petition associated with a nonprofit were 7 times more likely to subsequently donate to that organization than those who had not signed.” Neither I nor the Moms Clean Air Force are asking for money. Just simple action. And I believe that once African-American mothers know the facts, they will be concerned enough to continue to act. As Tyler Perry likes to say, “Don’t make a Black woman take off her earrings!” There are some things that should rile up a mom enough to take off her earrings and prepare to fight. Her children’s health is one of those things!

3. Be Counted–  Now that the EPA has published its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards,  it will receive public comment until July 5th. And the standards will be finalized in November 2011.  We Black mothers, whose families have the most to gain from higher standards and cleaner air, need to be heard and counted among the voices calling for high standards. When we speak out, we empower ourselves and those fighting to improve our lives.

We have so much we African-American mothers are fighting for, so many battles on behalf of our children—for equal education, against the pre-school-to-prison-pipeline, to end our own unemployment rates… I could go on and on… just about the issues unique to our communities. But none of these problems are isolated islands. They are all related and interconnected— education is related to jobs, which is related to access to resources, which is related to better education and more effective advocacy. The only time we can really choose one over the other is when the timing for action on one is more pressing and immediate. This is where we are with clean air right now. The Mercury standard rules have been 30 years in the making and the moment is now to make them meaningful and beneficial to everyone.

So I am confident African-American moms will step up and represent for our kids!

Sign the petition here!

TOPICS: Activism, African-American Community, Economics, Politics, Pollution, Social Justice