Is We the People site a fringe magnet?

Death Star

One ‘We the People’ petition calls on the government to build a ‘Star Wars’-like Death Star. Image: xoque/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Last year the Obama Administration launched a website for everyday Americans to post their grievances and to start petitions for actions they believe the federal government should pursue. Many have used the “We the People” website to start petitions for important issues that are well-worth federal consideration. But it has also become a place for the airing of fringe concerns and frivolous gags.

‘We the People’ as depository of crackpottery

Since the site’s launch, 96,000 petitions have been started, garnering six million signatures. Are the petitions on the website an accurate reflection of the concerns of the American public in 2012?

In the previous month alone thousands of Americans have signed petitions for the Administration to bailout the Twinkie industry, to start construction on a “Death Star”-like space fortress by 2016, to take the Dallas Cowboys away from Jerry Jones and to replace all courts with a national Hall of Justice. And that doesn’t even include the seven state secession petitions.

No-so-deep pockets

One such petition, filed by the anonymous Army National Guard Sgt. Josh B., calls for the military to allow soldiers to use their pockets. As of December 10, it has collected less that 20 percent of the 25,000 signatures needed for it to get White House consideration. B. said, “I’d like to emphasize that this is a brilliant opportunity for service members to affect the way the military is run on a level that hasn’t been available before.” However, he also said that he posted the petition “mostly to be funny,” in the words of Military Times.

No wonder B. wants to keep his identity safe from his superiors, who may not look so kindly on his cavalier attitude.

Jury still out

One petition, that has only collected about 1,000 signatures so far, is for the abolition of the “We the People” site  as “ultimately worthless.” The jury is still out on that one.

In defense of ‘We the People’

However, some Americans have started petitions for very defensible concerns, such as increasing funding for NASA. Two petitions earlier this year opposed separate legislative efforts that would require websites to track the personal information of users. Both bills were later dropped.

According to Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital strategy, “We the People” had a direct result on that result. He said, if not for the petitions, “I don’t think the administration would have weighed in as quickly.”


Military Times
Journal Gazette
NBC News

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