September 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Petitions are often attacked as cold data-gathering operations engaged in by unscrupulous non-profit machines to grow their email lists and donor base. Undoubtedly, some organizations use petitions in unethical ways for fraudulent purposes. Even worse, some organizations use petitions quite successfully to promote evil agendas. But many organizations do not. As a long time pro-life activist, I have experienced both, and I can attest to the fact that well–run petitions are an essential aspect of effective public advocacy.
As the director of advocacy at LifeSiteNews and LifePetitions, I see petitions that make a real impact almost every single week. At LifeSiteNews, petitions are an integral part of our ability to identify, inform, mobilize, and stay connected with our supporters. On pressing matters where public support can make a difference, petitions work.
To get an idea of how a petition comes to life at LifePetitions, consider how one of our most shocking petitions came to be.
Late last year, one of LifeSiteNews’s columnists, Jonathan Van Maren, reported on the gruesome story of a teenage girl who was sex trafficked and was only rescued after the girl’s mother saw the abuse displayed on some of the world’s largest pornography sites. A few months later, LifeSiteNews partnered with the Personhood Alliance in an investigative report of public police records. Those records exposed the fact that the young sex trafficking victim had been further victimized by being coerced into an abortion by her captors.
This led LifeSiteNews and the Personhood Alliance to join together in launching a petition. LifePetitions brought together 25,000 signers on the petition demanding that authorities in Florida open an investigation into the abortion facility that had not complied with state and federal mandatory reporting laws. Even after delivery of the petition had been complicated by the coronavirus lockdown, and after several conversations with members of the Florida government, Attorney General Ashley Moody responded directly to the petition with an official letter announcing her order to local law enforcement to open an investigation into the forced abortion.
The petition in this case allowed LifeSiteNews to put the necessary public attention and public pressure on Florida authorities. The petition also allowed for a practical collaboration between two organizations that were then able to reach out to their respective members to put more pressure on public officials. Lastly, the petition allowed us to identify those of people who are interested in staying informed about this issue and yes, if they believe in the value of the reporting, to support both organizations through their donations.
Petitions at LifeSiteNews are never one-off efforts. They usually start with a news report on a topic important to our readers. But because LifeSiteNews is a non-profit with the specific mission to advance the culture of life, we don’t just report the news, but try to find ways to have a direct impact on the side of life. We don’t write a petition for every story – only for those where we think the voice of our readers could impact a situation. If that is the case, the petition not only helps us give our readers a voice, but also allows us to know which stories the signers are most passionate about, and if they give us permission to communicate with them, we follow up the petition with ongoing reporting on the same topic. In other words, our petitions are an integral part of ongoing coverage and advocacy.
The impact of LifePetitions is truly something of which we are proud. Looking at petitions that have made a real difference recently we count the following successful petitions:
- 65,000 people signed a petition in support Father James Altman of St. James the Less parish in La Crosse, Wisconsin, after his bishop penned a public letter warning of possible “canonical penalties” against the courageous priest. Fr. Altman is the priest in the viral video, “You cannot be Catholic and a Democrat. Period.” LifeSiteNews has covered the story of Fr. Altman from every angle, from the time Fr. Altman’s video started to go viral to this weekend’s prayer vigil outside the cathedral in La Crosse. When the persecution from the Church hierarchy started, we launched our petition, mobilizing our own members (people who are already on our email lists) to show support for Fr. Altman. Because of our reporting and with the help our members, we were also able to connect with parishioners and local supporters of Fr. Altman who helped us boost attendance for the prayer vigil and record a video with the beautiful testimonies of the wonderful people who came out to pray for Fr. Altman. LifePetitions has been in contact with both the chancery and with Fr. Altman, and both will be presented with physical copies of the petition with every signer’s name and state of residence on them.
- 46,000 people signed a petition to support Father Theodore Rothrock, a priest persecuted by his bishop for speaking up against Black Lives Matter. As a result of the petition, we formed a relationship with local parishioners and supporters of Fr. Rothrock and delivered a physical copy of the petition to Bishop Timothy Doherty’s residence. The video of the petition delivery went viral on YouTube and helped the local group communicate their support of Fr. Rothrock to almost 150,000 people on YouTube.
- When the Navy’s Southwest Region announced it would be rescinding the contracts of its on-base Catholic priests, LifePetitions wrote and sent out a petition to its members to demand the rescission of this discriminatory order. Within a day, over 10,000 people signed the petition, which we sent directly to the Trump administration. Thanks to this and other actions by other concerned Catholics, the president quickly overruled the Navy’s order and assured the American people that priests would continue to be allowed to offer Mass on Navy bases.
- When American governors started to mandate the wearing of masks in public spaces against all scientific and public health data, LifeSiteNews launched a petition sending a strong message of rejection to these governors. Although we were heavily censored on social media, the petition went viral and over 100,000 people signed it. It is being delivered to the governors’ offices in all 50 states. LifeSiteNews then continued to cover events related to medical freedom, including on–the–ground coverage of medical freedom protests in Virginia and Idaho. Thanks to the petition, this important on-the-ground coverage was able to be shared with all the petition signers.
- When Raygun, an Iowa kids’ clothing company, gave funds to promote abortion, Iowa pro-lifers reached out to LifeSiteNews and LifePetitions to run a local petition asking distributors to boycott Raygun. The petition reached hundreds of local activists, who were given instructions on how to contact the distributors to voice their concerns directly. This petition shows how a petition, far from being a way to monopolize contacts, can actually be a way to build constructive collaboration among national and local organizations.
- Last month Big Tech companies completely censored the frontline doctors who were trying to alert their fellow Americans of the benefits of current treatments for the coronavirus. But LifeSiteNews and LifePetitions were ready with a petition to support them. Almost 90,000 people signed the petition. They were able to directly receive information in their email inboxes that Big Tech, the liberal mainstream media, and many members of the U.S. Congress are trying at all costs to censor.
- As the push for the development of a vaccine against COVID-19 continues, we launched a petition alerting government authorities around the world that under no circumstance should a potential coronavirus vaccine ever be mandated or forced upon unwilling citizens. This petition has been delivered to the White House, and to the governments of Canada, the U.K., and Australia. The petition went viral and gathered the signatures of over 866,000 people around the world. It made a very strong statement to the governments that if they attempt to impose mandatory coronavirus vaccination, they will be met with stiff resistance. It should be noted that these signers had the option to opt in or out of receiving news related to the topic of the petition, and a majority of them are in fact receiving the news and video reports related to medical freedom.
The success of these petitions does not mean that every petition is heeded by its recipient. But as shown by the petitions that we choose to do and those that we choose to pass on, as part of our process of determining whether to do a petition, LifeSiteNews always considers the likelihood of the petition making a real impact.
As can be seen from the above examples, petitions don’t just make a real difference on any particular campaign. Petitions also help us identify supporters to our cause, inform them of ongoing news stories that are of interest to them, and organize them into action.
Petitions are tools for identifying, informing, and mobilizing people. Used ethically, petitions can be and are an incredible tool for evangelization. But petitions can also be used, and are used every day, for evil and fraudulent purposes; one need look no further than liberal petition platforms like MoveOn.org to see the nefarious impact petition platforms can have.
To completely reject all petitions is to reject a tool that can be used for the greater glory of God.
LifeSiteNews takes seriously our responsibility to use our LifePetitions platform ethically.
We will continue to fight with every tool at our disposal to advance the culture of life. Whether it is through our ongoing news reporting at LifeSite or through LifePetitions, our promise to our readers is the same: leave no stone unturned in the search for the truth, and seek to restore a culture of life using every legitimate Christian means possible.