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On Petitions and Grizzly Bear “Actors”

The proposed budget cut in the State of Florida that would have involved a dramatic reduction in funds for foster youth and emancipated foster youth has been rejected, in part (from what my contacts tell me) due to the overwhelming response from Floridians, like me, who signed a petition and called legislators to register their discontent. Over 2,500 people signed the petition! my contact enthusiastically reported.

Wow. 2,500.

That doesn’t seem like a lot to me, considering the millions of people since I became an "animal rights activist" in 1986, who signed petitions to stop the seal slaughter. And who continue to sign.

I have had numerous petition experiences with positive outcomes when the issue had to do with humans, and particularly if it was an election year. I signed a petition a couple of years ago to ban gestation crates (yes, that was me, thinking the elimination of gestation crates would lead to veganism, mea culpa, mea culpa), and I know that similar welfare reforms that are a win-win-win (allegedly) have succeeded.

However, I have yet to see a petition produce any change that I would campaign for. (And I welcome suggestions, as it’s not as if I have a list in front of me so I could be missing something.) It makes sense that no abolitionist measure would come from a petition, as the economic reasons underlying the use of animals will always prevail, for now. And then there’s the reality that legislators are supported by the animal-exploitation industrial complex.

The fact that it only takes a couple of seconds to sign a petition isn’t a plus, in my mind. Everyone knows it’s a no-risk venture, it takes virtually no time, there’s no commitment attached to it, and no money. It does make a statement when delivered, I’m sure, particularly if it has hundreds of thousands of names on it (or even thousands, as with the Florida budget petition). But how strong can that statement be when it took so little to create it (especially if it was created on the Internet)?

When I first started working with nonprofits and raised the meager $3,000 it would take to go, with two other teachers, to Haiti to deliver medical and school supplies in 1991 (can you say coup d’etat? And debacle?), I was given a bit of advice I’ll never forget. I was collecting clothing to bring to the children and amassed so much I had to ask the people in the community to stop sending me clothing and give it to a certain local church that served homeless children. A nun at the church wasn’t surprised by all of the clothing. She said (after she expressed her gratitude): "That’s what you get in middle class neighborhoods. They give you clothing–and anything else they don’t want–and they sign petitions. That’s what they think supporting a cause is. Just don’t ask them to do anything that would actually cost them something."

A nun said this. Ouch.

This is probably me being cynical again, but I have the old-school notion in my mind that when you believe in something and you want to change the way things are, there must be sacrifice. I don’t find in this lifetime that you get something for nothing. And I find it difficult to believe that massive social change of the variety I’d like to see is going to come from signing petitions.

But I could be wrong.

I already know what some of you think because you e-mailed me and made me want to write this post, and I thank you. I suspect a lot of people will disagree with what I’ve written.

But I could be wrong.

Finally, I was going to post about "Hollywood Grizzly Bear Kills Trainer," but I have little to say other than: What did you expect?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I too don't think that petitions (alone) do much of anything either…. I agree that they require little committment to either create or sign – Especially via the internet. However, any effort is better than no effort. I believe that if changes are to occur – if a fight is to be won – it's done so on many fronts. It takes activism on all levels – reaching as many as possible.

    Those "reached" (conceding that a signiture costs nothing)…. have had seeds of interest and concern planted. Petitions get people talking – and thinking. It matters to people that sign petitions – For those few minutes that it takes – they are saying that they have an opinion and want their voice heard. Further, this segment, small as it may be, may contribute lasting change in regards to possible legislation. While at the polls, one may be more supportive of a measure if they already "voted" by a petition signiture. They, through their signiture, have already chosen a "side".

    I think whatever furthers a movement – or brings attention to a cause (short of acts of violence) is good. In the end – positive energy has been invested – Someone "believes" enough to do "something"….. I think that's good too. The efforts spent might only be time otherwise wasted – so what's the harm? Even though petitions aren't "social system toppeling revolutions" – they ripple change in many (immeasurable) small ways –

    Goliath issues (such as abolitionism) needs constant attack with diverse strategies. But if anyone has the "one battle winning stone" to animal rights – please throw it already.

    April 26, 2008
  2. I'll make this one short.

    So many of the traditional activist techniques make me *feel* very small.

    Writing checks, signing petitions, writing letters to politicians, holding a pre-made sign and uttering cliché chants… all make me *feel* like someone or something has hijacked my agency.

    April 30, 2008

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