The Power of the Petition

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Activism doesn’t always have to mean attending a protest or a rally- and in fact, such a narrow definition of activism is limiting, exclusive and can be inaccessible to many people. Besides just geographical distance, not everyone can afford to take the weekend to march, even if the cause directly affects them. While showing up for such demonstrations is important, the Internet has made activism much more accessible and far-reaching.


I’m going into my third year at Georgetown University, and during my time in the nation’s capital, I’ve been able to attend a fair amount of protests and rallies for progressive causes. The Women’s March, March for Peace and Civility, March for Our Lives, and some smaller pop-up protests, to name a few.


However, while I was working in D.C. for half of the summer, I spent the other half visiting with my family on Long Island. I would hear about important protests and counter-protests happening and feel all of the fomo since I couldn’t participate. I felt far away from the “action” so to speak- and I wanted to show up for the issues I cared about, such as gun control, women’s rights, and immigrants’ rights.


Even if I heard about a protest relatively close, I had a job with weekend hours and didn’t always have access to transportation to get to demonstrations. Additionally, local protests often are not as publicized as national ones; I might hear about something only after it had passed.


Which leads me to want to talk about the show, Insatiable, on Netflix, as a perfect example of remote activism. The show stars Debby Ryan, who portrays Patty, a fat high school student bullied for her weight. After breaking her jaw leads her to lose weight over the summer, she returns to school and seeks revenge on those who bullied her.


After outrage sparked over the fat-shaming in the trailer for Insatiable, for instance, those who were angry didn't just sit back and stew. Instead, they engaged the issue and took back their power as consumers by creating a petition to shut down the Netflix show’s release.


One of the issues that got me interested in feminism was my fascination with the media representation of women, girls, and gender, so I quickly searched for and signed the petition. It was through signing this petition that I realized the power of remote activism.


Signing a petition takes mere minutes, but its impact can be far-reaching- whether it attains its original goal or not. Though there is an argument that petitions and other forms of “clicktivism” really do anything other than make a person feel like a do-gooder, discrediting remote activism excludes those who cannot, for whatever reason, engage in social justice otherwise. Petitions and other forms of online activism- like the #MeToo movement- have the power to call for change and raise awareness around issues that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Though Insatiable is currently on Netflix, the petition framed the conversation around it and posed questions that the showrunners had to answer (albeit unsatisfactorily).


Moreover, an individual who signs a petition affirms their values. By signing a petition to make Starbucks cups more sustainable or stop the release of Insatiable, consumers took action to show corporations and media alike what they would and would not accept.

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You don’t have to be protesting every weekend to engage in activism. Conscientious consumerism, such as supporting ethical brands, and signing an online petition are just a couple ways to make change. You can check out Change.org for petitions around the issues you care about, and call your senators when you have a concern. Join activist Facebook groups like ACLU, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, NAACP, to name a few, to stay up-to-date on what you can do.


Click here to start a petition on Change.org and here for resources on what makes a petition effective. If you want some ideas of where to start, click here for a petition supporting legislation around sexual assault, and here for a petition opposing the execution of a woman for self-defense against her rapist, and here for a petition to help homeless women.

Author: Caitlin Panarella