There has been no little debate on the subject of online petitions following the one circulated opposing the proposed Ugandan anti-homosexuality legislation. Rob Shepherd does a good job of explaining why it’s a cop-out here: http://bit.ly/l0epvM. I should like to go further.
Rob’s right, but not right enough. The online petition, whether ‘it worked’ or not, is a very interesting piece of social legislation (and I say social in order to differentiate it from governmental legislation). Rob’s analogy with the miner’s strike was intriguing, not least because then, as now, there has been a fair amount of cyber-bullying going on. ‘Just sign it’ and similar has been tweeted and facebooked and amounts to coercion, an attempt to guilt you into signing, an interesting movement considering the petition’s target.
Rob may or may not be onto something when he asks:
So where are the other marches and demonstrations of old? Where are the spirits of Jarrow, Aldermaston and Greenham Common? We’ve recently, potentially started our latest Iraq- or Afghanistan-style war, with narry a trickle of protest. We’ve just had the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster, but where are the anti-nuclear marchers of the 60s and 70s?
Safe in their comfortable 21st century homes, clicking on ePetitions.
Perhaps this e-petition is the spirit of Jarrow, though the Jarrow marchers necessarily had somewhat more time on their hands, and the Aldermaston and Greenham Common camps not only took place in a different world, but were rather skewed towards middle-class ‘alternative experience’ seekers, who wished to ‘protest’ in a politically comfortable manner. After all, I don’t recall them having much success. At the risk of sounding trite, being the world’s worst nuclear disaster when, if you discount those bombs, there have only been three, doesn’t say much.
The issue is two-fold. Firstly what is effective, and secondly what is an acceptable way of approaching it. When is ‘direct action’ (which is a euphemism if ever there was one) acceptable, and when is it merely an excuse for a good dust-up (and on a separate point, I don’t recall the Police being armed when confronting the miners, other than with truncheons. It is a matter of record that concrete blocks were dropped on vehicles carrying miners exercising their democratic right to work by the strikers – and here I make no political point, merely point out that one has to be careful with the mode of protest lest one surrender legitimacy)?
Either one protests within the rule of law – the law which one accepts as valid when entering into the social contract we make with each other on election of governing bodies – or one foments revolution. Work within the system to change it, or smash it. Anything else is hypocritical.
I recently protested myself against the strange preponderance of ‘celebrities’ doing ‘charidee’ in such a way as it merely coincidentally keeps them in the public eye. No, I do not want a fucking candle to illuminate parkinson’s. Stick it up your arse, if it’ll fit next to all those ever-so firmly inserted heads.
Online petitions and most all charitable donations are designed to benefit one individual, the signer/giver. They are the new indulgences. Salve your conscience and save your soul with a tenner and click. And here’s the rub. My totally scientific in-depth survey and statistical analysis says it makes it worse.
Don’t treat the symptoms, treat the cause – change the way people think, don’t tell them what they can and can’t do. If we leave the world to carry on being as arrogant, narcissistic and selfish as it is now, we’re all fucked. And it’ll be a miserable death to our pitiful yet beautiful ‘civilisation’. Will twitter let the internet allow for revolution in the way the printing press did? Maybe, maybe not. But it really is a cop-out to ‘sign’ a petition via it.
All this, of course, makes me wonder what possible good writing a blog about it can do. But, then again, you’ve read this far, so perhaps there is hope. Just make sure that, if you choose revolution, you only cite me as an influence when you’ve won …