Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., two heavyweights from opposite sides of the political spectrum, see eye to eye on a new way to respond to constituents.
Countless sites crowd the Internet, asking its denizens to sign petitions, but Change.org’s “Decision Makers” wants to give teeth to an online petition system that previously relied only on signatures to prompt action.
On Wednesday, Change.org announced its new service, where politicians can respond to and interact with the online petitions directed to them. The group has in its corner Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, and Warren, a champion on the left.
Change.org, a 6-year-old organization that hosts online petitions for nonprofits and political campaigns, wants to funnel the demands of its nearly 50 million participants directly to members of Congress. Petitions addressed to specific politicians will be aggregated on pages where those lawmakers can respond and even initiate a conversation with users. Ryan and Warren are early adopters.
Thinking about the “black hole of inboxes” where thousands of emails from constituents go, Jake Brewer joined Change.org in June to work on the project.
If people from the same district email their representative, there’s no way for them to know if the issue they’re raising is systemic, Brewer said. Online petitions allow people to see that other users are having similar experiences and then advocate together publicly.
Adding the “Decision Makers” feature completes the circle by providing a way for politicians to reliably respond to petitions, Brewer explained.
“It’s one more way to make government accountable to the people, and I’m proud to join the effort,” Ryan said in a release.
The organization hopes that the support of Ryan and other Republicans in the future will clear up the false sense that online petitions are largely used for liberal causes.
“There has been a bit of a misperception about who uses tools like this,” Brewer said.
He said Change.org wants its users to make issue-based petitions, not partisan ones. The group has been in talks with other members of Congress, governors and mayors about signing up within the new few weeks, Brewer said.
“The funny thing is ... how quite excited all the members of Congress have been,” he said. “They get thousands of emails from their constituents and there’s not an effective way to respond.”
(CQ Roll Call offers services for online advocacy with its CQRC Engage platform.)
In the future, Change.org will look to expand the feature for CEOs and other leaders, Brewer said. The group is also hoping the move will add a new level of legitimacy to the online petition site.
Many sites ask Internet users to voice their opinions, but not all those opinions are serious. In 2012, for example, more than 34,000 people signed a petition on the White House’s “We The People” website calling for the construction of a Death Star for national defense. The outpouring prompted a White House response, which lauded the job creation potential but noted that the “administration does not support blowing up planets.”