“It’s the Whole Earth Catalogue for politicos.”Wes “Scoop” Nisker, author of Crazy Wisdom
To translate online outcry into offline action; to make mass public opposition unavoidably visible to a campaign target.
Online petitions are an effective way of spreading information, raising an outcry or putting pressure on a target. But online actions alone are easily ignored by targets. To translate virtual signatures into real-world action, a number of netroots organizations have developed the art of creative petition delivery. While publicizing your message and the support it has garnered, creative petition deliveries put public pressure on your target.
It’s helpful to find creative ways to physically quantify the number of petition signatures. A number of well-labeled boxes rolled into a target’s office is a tried and true approach, but other tactics can be effective as well. For a petition asking the World Health Organization to investigate and regulate factory farms, the international multi-issue campaign organization Avaaz set up 200 cardboard pigs — each representing 1,000 petition signers — in front of the WHO building in Geneva, providing the media with a visual hook on which to peg stories about factory farms and swine flu.
But you don’t have to physically occupy the same space as your target. Attracting media attention can be an effective way to reach a target as well. Avaaz sometimes places ads in newspapers that both their target and supporters are likely to read. In one instance, to deliver a petition against nuclear energy to German Chancellor Andrea Merkel, they purchased an ad in Der Spiegel, the German paper of record.
Or try a more outlandish media stunt. To deliver a petition against deepwater oil drilling in the Arctic, Greenpeace International sent its executive director to a controversial oil rig in the middle of the ocean, where he trespassed onto the rig to deliver the petition to the ship’s captain — at which point he was arrested and held for four days. Between the unusual way it was delivered and the media coverage that resulted, the petition was difficult for the target to ignore.
Sometimes less public tactics can be equally effective: to deliver a petition about cluster bombs to a UN conference debating arms munitions treaties, Avaaz first digitally delivered 600,000 petition signatures to the head of the conference, and then quietly distributed 1,000 fliers to conference attendees, describing the issue and listing the number of people who’d signed the petition. Even the subtle hint of public pressure created a stir in the often obscure world of UN diplomats. The delivery had a big impact on the eventual outcome of the conference, which did not adopt a draft treaty to allow stockpiling of cluster bombs.
Creative petition deliveries allow organizers to turn online outcry into offline action. By becoming unavoidably visible to a campaign target, creative deliveries make sure the voices of thousands of petition signers are publicly heard.
Creative petition deliveries give an abstract issue a physical and visual presence. Public figures and decision-makers can afford to avoid listening to public outcry as long as it remains distant and exclusively online. By bringing the voices of petition signers to a target (and the media) in a way that makes them impossible to ignore, creative petition deliveries amplify the effectiveness of online organizing efforts.