From the must-read Beautiful Rising Toolkit
BY DUNCAN MEISEL
Online petitions are an effective way of spreading information, raising an outcry or putting pressure on a target. But online tactics 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 unusual tactics can be highly 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 World Health Organization building in Geneva, providing the media with a visual hook on which to peg stories about factory farms and swine flu.
The location of delivery can also make a huge difference. In protest against a multibillion gas deal with Israel, the Jordan Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement handed the deputy head of parliament a petition to be delivered to the Prime Minister on behalf of the people. Taken by surprise, the PM stormed off during the session and his reaction generated increased public mistrust in, and negativity towards, the government’s narrative.
But you don’t always have to physically occupy the same space as your target — attracting media attention can be an effective way to reach a target as well. In one instance, to deliver a petition against nuclear energy to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Avaaz 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.
To complement this great article, here’s some more on delivering your petition in a way that will hit the spot!
38 Degrees members deliver a petition of over 410,000 names to the NHS. Their message: Save Our NHS
Now that your online petition is a hit, what can you do with it? Unfortunately simply announcing that you have gathered X number of signatures usually isn’t enough to get people’s attention in this age of saturation. So how can you get your members’ names to have maximum impact? Here’s some tips to get your own brainstorm going for an effective petition delivery, with special guest Melissa Byrne.
1) Deliver outside the box. An excellent petition delivery is a short event that reiterates the demands of the petition and provides strong photo ops. Along with one to two speakers, take a few minutes to plan a creative way to showcase the petition. In NYC, Ultraviolet delivered petitions to Macy’s inside their iconic paper shopping bags. At CNBC, Environment Action and Forecast the Facts used umbrellas to carry the petitions as a reference to climate change. A creative visual can make a big difference, especially if it is something that the target might actually keep around to remember you by. If your members are environmentally and/or socially conscious, be aware of not getting something too wasteful or made with poor labor practices that might go against their values.
2) Go live. Since your members took action online, it’s good for them to have a way to participate online in the actual delivery process as well. Plus, we all know that members want to get more than petitions and fundraising asks in their inboxes. Providing a high quality livestream lets them follow along from home, as well as comment and publicize the action on social meeting. Bonus: Media outlets are likely to embed your actions in their coverage. This happened to Forecast the Facts at their Google petition delivery in Washington, DC. Tip: If you can afford to hire a team, check out WeAct. They broadcast on YouTubeLive so it limits intrusive ads and lets you embed the livestream on your own landing page. If it isn’t possible to go live, be sure to take pictures or get the delivery on video, to report back to your members and let them know what happened.
3) Consider other social media techniques. If your target is holding some kind of existing online or public event, you can attempt to take it over while delivering your signatures and taking advantage of their preexisting audience.
4) Get personal. Sheer volume of signatures is fine, but it’s good to have a way to highlight more personal stories. Have a way for people to submit more in-depth responses. You can then tweet those directly at the decision-makers in addition to your delivery, and/or share with the media to highlight the personal side of your issue. Using a newer medium like Twitter or Facebook also increases the chances you will catch the attention of your target, rather than being the umpteenth group dropping off paper signatures or sending emails.
5) Don’t forget the media. If you’re doing some kind of petition delivery event and it’s newsworthy, it may get coverage if you give reporters a heads-up in time. Even if the delivery itself doesn’t get coverage, it’s an opportunity to connect with reporters who cover this issue, and perhaps influence future stories on this topic.
To sum up: whatever you do, you want to make it visual, visible, participatory, and social media-friendly.
There is also good advice on creative petition delivery from CARE2 and from Change.org, two masters in petition based campaigning
And last, some tips from campaigntips :
A petition should always be delivered to the target. The trick is making the delivery newsworthy or an event for supporters. Ask that your supporters come with you. Take a photo. Invite local media. Give speeches. The success of your delivery not only depends on you handing over your signatures, but informing your supporters of how it went – always send them an email afterwards explaining how it went (and include a photo to make it real!). Delivery can also be a chance to do something creative with your signatures and to make your petition stand out.
For example, as a part of the ‘Stop the Super Trawler’ campaign (created on CommunityRun in mid-2012) over 35,000 paper fish were delivered to the Federal Parliament House and released from a net on the front lawns. Each fish represented one of the signatories of the campaign.