Comment: Petitions, Parliament and Power – it’s not just about the numbers
Petitions are fast becoming the nation’s go-to place for creating change. If you’re not happy about something you can do one of three things: complain, ignore, or start a petition – sparking a conversation and giving things a turnaround your best shot.
In recent weerks we’ve seen big, breakout petitions gathering signatures at a record-breaking rate. Half a million Change.org users signed Maxine Berry’s petition calling for an animal cruelty register in honour of chihuahua Chunky, while 329,000 are backing mum Marie McCourt’s fight for Helen’s Law.
Meanwhile, Lee Booth’s petition demanding the meningitis B jab for all children is the most signed petition in the history of the parliament petitions site. Lee’s powerful story has shown how online campaigning gives anyone the chance to have their voice heard by the media, politicians and the general public.
But with the news filled with copy about mammoth petitions, it would be easy to assume petitions are just a numbers game, that 100,000 signatures are required for a Parliamentary debate, and that discussion among MPs is the only thing your campaign needs to win. None of these things are true.
From the the media’s point of view, petitions often work as an early warning system for important issues, where the freshness and authenticity of a story beats big numbers.
At last year’s Glastonbury Festival for example, sales of Native American-style headdresses were pulled after a petition on Change.org with just 65 signatures and a haul of media coverage – proof there’s no magic number.
At the other end of the spectrum, more than 257,000 signers helped Simon Andree win his campaign to release his dad Karl from jail in Saudi Prison and escape 350 lashes, and June Eric-Udorie won her campaign to get more female thinkers on the A-Level curriculum with 46,000 signatures.
More than 120,000 people helped halt the deportation of 92-year-old Myrtle Cothill after the Home Office agreed to give her and her lawyer more time to make their case.Crucially, all three petitions won without a parliamentary debate. And where parliament does debate petitions, they certainly don’t need 100,000 signatures or the permission of the government’s own platform.
In January, Stevie Martin’s #SexistSurcharge petition calling on Boots to review its pricing on products for men and women.
She and her supporters used social and traditional media to get the story in the public eye, before it was taken on by campaigning Labour MP Paula Sheriff who put it on the political agenda. Stevie forced a meeting with the CEO of Boots and last week the campaign won with 45,000 signatures on a Change.org petition.
The question shouldn’t be “do petitions work?” but “how do they work best?” It’s all down to the power of a strong personal story that will help you build an army of supporters who you can call on to take action, every step of the way to victory.
If you do that, your campaign will be impossible to ignore – however many signatures it attracts.
(This article was previously published on The Huffington Post website).