Say you’re sitting around at home, perhaps drinking a few beers, when all of a sudden it hits you. The best idea ever. The idea that would solve all our problems, if only you could somehow gain an audience with the president, who would clearly be swayed by your genius and use all the powers of his office to let everyone know about your best-idea-ever, when leaders of both parties would be struck by the awesomeness of it all and pledge to work together for the betterment of all mankind forever and ever.
Or maybe you just adamantly believe every state should have an official Pokémon.
Either way, you can go to the White House’s official “We the People” site and start a petition. If you can convince several thousand others of the brilliance or necessity of your idea, the administration will respond (except for the Pokemon thing, which was removed for violating the site’s terms). They probably won’t respond the way you’d hoped, but they will respond.
When the site first came online, petitions required 5,000 signatures in 30 days to get a response, which was quickly raised to 25,000 to deal with larger-than-expected demand. This month, the threshold was raised again, to 100,000 people in 30 days.
The move to raise the limit comes as participation has boomed. The spike in users and signatures neatly coincide with President Barack Obama’s re-election, which led to a number of petitions from people who were unhappy with the result asking for states to seccede from the Union in response – and a flood of online coverage in those petitions, which led to more people creating more petitions. And some of those petitions put forth ideas which were, perhaps, something short of brilliant.
Here are five petitions which met the old mark of 25,000 signatures and earned a response from the administration (5 of the 9 reasons why the petition threshold was raised):
The idea of an outlet for direct democracy, even in this limited fashion, is an appealing one. But it also leads to the predictable consequence of giving a platform to those who think the president is not just wrong, but dangerous. Such as this petition, calling for the impeachment of Obama for disrespecting the constitution, among other things. The petition earned just shy of 50,000 signatures, requiring an official response. Spoiler alert: the administration didn’t agree with the call for impeachment. But someone in the administration was required to craft this polite reply, which can’t be an easy job.
After the last election, there was a vocal segment of the losing voter base who decided the best response was to secede from the Union, and eight succession petitions (as well as a counter petition to deport the signers of those petitions) had enough support to earn a response. Again, the official reply was quite polite and measured, although it did point out that secession had been tried before, and it didn’t go well.
This is more like it. Once word got out that the White House was brewing its own beer, curious beer-drinkers everywhere wanted to know how they could relax with a presidential brew. This petition pushed the White House to release the recipes for two varieties, a Honey Ale and Honey Porter.
Despite the best efforts of conspiracy theorists everywhere, the administration didn’t take the opportunity to declassify its alien reports as the petition demanded. Instead, the White House continued to deny knowledge of intelligent life – but SETI is still looking.
Outside of perhaps the secession petitions, this has to be the most publicized petition and response out of all of We the People’s efforts. Disappointingly, it turns out the government has no intention of building a Death Star. Although it’s hard to argue with the facts behind the decision:
- The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
- The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
- Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
Those are hard acts to follow, but there are a few open petitions still looking for signatures which could be just as effective:
Officially recognize the Sasquatch as an indigenous species and have them lawfully protected by laws banning any hunting
This petition snuck in just under the wire before the threshold was raised, so it only needs to reach 25,000 signatures in order to protect the noble Sasquatch. It faces an uphill battle, though, as barely 1,000 people are willing to protect “this unique rare species.”
These other open petitions are subject to the new, more stringent requirements:
I suppose this was inevitable. Although it might undermine the petition backers’ argument that this petition is about to reach the 100,000 mark with more than three weeks to go.
It’s also an interesting use of the petition site to create a petition to shut down the petition site. Again, this petition has just a few hundred people to go to reach 100,000. I’m not sure what the combination of these two petitions proves, other than no matter what the government does, someone will oppose it.
The petition asks for a “show of American ‘Pirattitude!'” This seems well-meaning and light-hearted enough, but it does point out one more flaw in the We the People system. Many petitions ask for things the president doesn’t really have the power to give, such as this one. After all, it’s Congress that has the power to designate federal holidays (although I suppose Obama could personally observe the holiday on Sept. 19. It would make international diplomacy far more fun.)