Quick, what’s the address of the White House? You know, the big one in Washington, D.C., where Michelle Obama’s garden grows? Think you know? Not so fast. A D.C. councilman has just launched a petition to rename Pennsylvania Avenue “Let D.C. Vote Way.” Seriously. Don’t like the ring of it? Then go ahead and vote for “Free D.C. Avenue” or suggest another name. (Don’t bother submitting “The Daily Caller Boulevard of Broken Dreams” — done and done.) Much as I hate to sound all D.C. and jaded (read: I’m D.C. and jaded), I don’t believe that any president of these United States is ever going to live at 1600 51st State Way. Petitions rarely accomplish their stated causes. Makes me wonder what the point is of all this signing and filling out of forms.
To the naked eye, petitions are just a waste of ink and an exercise in avoiding the eager hippie with a clipboard between me and my Starbucks Trenta, but really they’re an important tool for organizations to gather lists of supporters and potential donors. Think about it: you fill in your name and email address to prevent toddlers from wearing tiaras and the next thing you know, you’re inundated with junk mail and sub-par mailing labels from Amnesty International.
Organizations know that people will sign a petition to ban almost anything, and the more money a non-profit organization needs to keep running, the greater the number of petitions it circulates. Look, for example, at Change.org. A lofty-sounding site built on the back of President Obama’s Change.gov transition site. Rather than pigeon-holing themselves as one kind of social progressive, the people behind Change.org welcome almost anybody on the left and then take credit for their successes. Want to take down a pro-life billboard? 237 people said do it! End Domino’s “30 minutes or less” pizza delivery guarantee? In South Korea? 175 people agree! Legalize urban bee-keeping in Santa Monica?! Now there’s something 192 people can get behind.
Change.org’s pledge stencil is currently getting a workout with a petition aimed at shutting down for-profit colleges. This, even after multiple questions have been raised about the credibility of organizations and individuals looking to cash in on these colleges’ failure and a GAO report was found to be so riddled with errors that the investigators were banned from further analysis of the issue. Even Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, another left-leaning group, is questioning the motivations of the profiteers trying to bring such colleges down. House Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus, have voted to block tighter regulations and a Senate hearing convenes this week.
But because anyone can write anything and get signatures, the petition, aimed at stopping recruitment by promising a future job and the ability to pay back loans, is alive and well on the site. Golly, a job after college? If only all the philosophy, English and film majors had been the benefactors of such heady grassroots efforts, perhaps we, too, might all have ended up gainfully employed and not still paying off our college loans.
In the end, the motivation of many such sites and “non-profit” organizations comes down to only one thing — money. Where to find it, get it, spend it and ask for more of it. They capitalize on our goodwill and open minds, exploit our fears and then pull the old bait and switch, wasting our time and capital without ever having a rational debate on the real topic. That actually makes me kind of angry. I’m wondering, maybe I should start a petition to….?
Natasha Mayer is a political consultant in Washington, D.C.