Do Petitions Need Money? Does It Really Help?


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Online petitions have recently increased remarkably as America experiences the most powerful racial justice advocacy movement since the 1960s. Many of these petitions request a donation after you’ve signed. But why does a petition need money? Does a donation really make a difference for a petition?

Petitions do not need money to be effective. A donation to a petition site can help to promote the petition. But there are other ways to spend your money, time, and effort if you want to make an actual difference.

There are many ways to become an activist. This article will discuss several ways to make a difference in the racial justice movement. We’ll start with a quick look at the importance of petitions in the process of racial justice advocacy. Then, we’ll examine why some petition sites, like Change.org, ask for donations.

Why Are Petitions Important in Activism?

Online petitions serve an important role in activism. A petition is often the initial action of a movement – the first spark that spreads light along a path. A petition can raise awareness, prompt action, and get your voice heard outside the voting booth. But none of these things require a donation to take place. You only need to be willing to get involved.

Signing a petition does not require a lot of action. Anyone can sign into a website and leave a name and email in support of a cause. It is so easy to do that this kind of easy activism has been sarcastically labeled ‘slacktivism’. But dismissing online petitions with trite terms ignores the real value that online petitions can have.

Women typing on a laptop.

Petitions Raise Awareness

It’s unlikely that anyone hasn’t heard about the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. That event made mainstream news for months, and the details are hard to ignore by even the most oblivious citizens.

But do you know the details around the deaths of Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, or Stephon Clark? Those deaths did not receive the same mainstream attention, but they were no less important.

Starting or signing a petition can help raise awareness of your cause in a few different ways:

  • They educate about a topic. A petition is a source of information and spotlight on a social cause. It draws attention to and allows people to learn about racial justice advocacy opportunities. Creating and publicizing a petition sheds more light about causes and educates more people about their importance.
  • They show the cause to other activists. In many cases, a petition may be the only way someone finds out about a cause. It pops up on their Twitter or Facebook feed. They click it and read about the events that have prompted a request for action. Even if the people who read the petition do not sign it, they have gained education about the cause.

If you’re using a petition to serve as the first place a person finds out about a cause, try to share it with a large audience. After all, the more people see the petition, the more it raises awareness. Signing the petition and asking others to join you is a good way to draw attention to your cause and alert others to the importance of the cause.

Petitions Prompt Action

The benefit of a petition is often seen in the action it prompts from the people who sign it. When you sign a petition, you give your name and email to the petition’s promoters, thus joining a cause. You will get more information about the cause and gain the ability to learn about other important causes. You may go on to join an organization or donate your money where it can do the good you want to do.

There are a couple of ways that signing petitions help to prompt action, such as:

  • They find ways to contribute to your efforts. If you’re looking for ways to get involved in racial justice advocacy, a petition is a good place to start. By participating in the cause, even at this rather noncommittal level, you’re opening the doors to further education and action. Signing a petition is a great way to start learning about opportunities to attend protests, volunteer your time, or donate money where it can do some good.
  • They find like-minded followers to help. Because many people will find their way to a cause through a petition, creating a petition is an excellent tool for recruiting activists to your cause. Those who sign your petition volunteer their contact information, and that information can be used to spread the word.

The more you become involved in a cause, the more people you will find to join you. Signing a petition may be only the first step, but it can lead to much more. When you find petitions related to causes that are important to you, you open yourself up to more activism down the road.

Woman sitting at a table with coffee cup while working on her laptop.

Petitions Get Your Voice Heard

For most citizens, opportunities to appeal to policymakers are painfully limited. You can vote, but elections are not held every day. Even when elections are held, your options for expression are few and far between. Being able to pick between two people you barely know is not the same thing as being able to demand the arrest of a perpetrator of a violent hate crime against a person of color.

A petition is not an official act. It does not force a change in the way a vote does. Yet, in many ways, it is more focused than a vote because it does allow you to point to a specific action and tell your elected officials exactly what action you want them to take. Unlike a vote, which extends a very real and undeniable mandate, a petition requests action.

Petitions in Action

Although a petition may be little more than a request for a specific action, it can still be a powerful tool. Over 19 million people signed the petition at Change.org requesting the arrest and prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd. A petition with 200 signatures might not raise many eyebrows, but when 19 million people demand action, things tend to happen.

In the case of the petition demanding the arrest of the officers who participated in the murder of George Floyd, for instance, a real change took place. Not only were the officers charged and arrested, but the city of Minneapolis pledged to change the way they manage the police department in their city.

The city of Minneapolis’s decision to redefine the police department was also prompted by the protests that were seen around the world. Still, the petition made it clear that people were not going to sit idly by as social justice was denied. This is just one example of how a petition can make it clear to policymakers what people expect of them.

This particular petition was able to influence direct action because it was specific in its request and was seen – and signed – by an incredible number of people. For perspective, the population of the United States is about 330 million. With 19 million people signing the petition, nearly 1 in 17 people in the country expressed their desire to see justice for George Floyd. It is hard to ignore that many people.

Make Your Request Specific

If you are signing a petition, it is essential to understand what you are requesting. It is also important that the petition have a specific request. A petition demanding that a company or political leader put an end to systemic racism and discriminatory policies may be loud and angry, but it is unlikely to have the desired effect because it is vague.

A more valuable petition is one that asks for a specific and reasonable course of action. A petition that demands the release of COVID-19 numbers from the CDC, for instance, is specific and actionable. A petition that demands that the killers of Breonna Tayler be arrested is also specific and actionable. These petitions are likely to have a great deal more impact than a general request for sweeping change.

Why Does Change.org Ask for A Donation?

The biggest donation site is Change.org. After you sign a petition, the site will ask you for a donation. If you are not reading carefully, you may believe that donating will send money to families in need or otherwise support your cause.

However, your donations do not go to the cause you are supporting. Change.org gets the money, and in exchange, the petition you signed will be promoted on their website. This can result in more signatures, but you could accomplish the same goal by promoting the petition on your social media accounts or simply sending the link to your friends.

When you are swept up in the emotional response to an outrageous act, you are angry and ready to act; it can be exciting to find further ways to engage in racial justice advocacy and activism. That emotional response is powerful and should not be ignored. That emotion leads to action, and action leads to change.

But as important as it is to embrace the anger and outrage of the moment, it is still important to take meaningful action. If you are beginning your path to becoming an activist for racial justice, you need to be sure that the actions you take are furthering your goals. This is especially true when you are donating money.

Not Every Petition Needs Money

It is important to note that not every petition asks for donations. While Change.org is the most recognizable name in online petitions, this is largely because they spend the most money on marketing. They get money to spend on marketing by asking you to promote petitions.

Other websites that have petitions may also ask for donations.  For example, the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter, direct you to a page asking for financial help after you sign their petitions.  There is nothing wrong with donating in addition to signing a petition, especially if they are helping to promote the change you want to see.  But you should be clear on whether the donation page you land on or the money you donate will be used for the cause or initiative you want to support.

If you would prefer not to be asked for a donation after you sign a petition, there are petition sites that do not ask for donations. These sites have many petitions to choose from, covering everything from racial justice advocacy to environmental causes and public accountability.

Some petition sites that do not ask for donations are:

  • Moveon.org. This activism website sponsors a wide range of petitions that you can sign. You can request justice for Breonna Taylor or ask to extend unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID pandemic.
  • Care2 Petitions. This is one of the oldest petition sites, and it hosts a huge variety of petitions. Hit the Browse button to look for causes such as renaming the Edmund Pettis bridge for John Lewis or helping immigrant children abandoned at the border.

What Actions Help Further A Cause?

Activism is, as the name suggests, taking action. But knowing where to spend your time and money can be difficult. Spending your resources wisely can make an impact on your cause. Signing a petition is just the first step.

If you want to take additional action to further your cause, you can do the following:

  • Donate money directly to organizations.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Attend protests.

Donate Money Directly to Organizations

Donating to Change.org to promote petitions is not necessary, but donations can directly help organizations immensely. Many non-profit and advocacy organizations survive on donations, and arguably, they need your money for advocacy much more than Change.org needs it for marketing.

If you are looking for places to donate to further the cause of racial justice advocacy, look specifically for organizations that embrace that cause.

Here are a few great places to donate that are fighting for racial justice every day:

  • NAACP: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded over 100 years ago and works to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure equal rights for all individuals. 
  • ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) champions many causes in addition to racial justice, including free speech and criminal law reform.
  • Black Lives Matter: It’s not just a slogan or a hashtag. Black Lives Matter is an organization specifically working toward racial justice.
  • National Bail Fund Network: Cash bail is only one of many tools of systemic racism. The National Bail Fund Network tries to offset the inequity by providing bail for those who need it.

Donating to one of these causes can have a much more direct impact than giving money to a petition website. You can also find smaller, local organizations that can help impact your local community.  Just do some research, both at the organization’s website and around the web, to make sure that their goals align with yours.

Volunteer Your Time

Many of the organizations fighting for racial justice are understaffed. They may have excellent orators, attorneys, or organizers, but they still need accountants, web designers, social media managers, or copywriters. No matter your specialty, the racial justice advocacy organizations in your area could use your help.

How to Find an Organization to Volunteer With?

Finding an organization can be daunting, especially for the smaller groups who may be operating with just a Facebook page.  A good way to begin is doing a Google search for ‘racial justice organizations [your city],’ and you should find plenty of options. 

 To get you started, here are a few racial justice groups you could contact:

  • NGAN: The Next Generation Action Network (NGAN) is local to Dallas but operates nation-wide.  They lobby for social change and equality for all regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, sex, or age.
  • Workers Center for Racial Justice: This organization out of Chicago is working hard for racial justice and an inclusive society.  They focus on addressing the root causes of issues affecting the black community such as high rates of unemployment, low-wage work, and over-criminalization.
  • ACCE Institute: If you are looking for a group in Southern California, you can check out the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Institute.  They work to improve the lives of traditionally underserved residents through policy creation and community empowerment.  
  • BEAM: The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), is an organization in New York that works to improve the emotional and mental health and healing of the black community.

While the organizations in this article rarely get screen time on the evening news, they continue to work for racial justice and equality for every person. Many other outstanding organizations are fighting for racial justice all over the country.  A quick Google search will help you find plenty of options that are a good fit for you.  And as mentioned above, adding your city to your search will help you find volunteer opportunities near you.  (Example search:  ‘racial justice organizations [your city]’).

Attend Protests

When many people think of activism, the first thing that comes to mind is a protest. The power of a protest cannot be ignored. Consider the civil rights movement of the 1960s, where protests were valuable in bringing awareness to systemic racism issues. Of course, you can also look at the protests this year, which have led to policy changes across the country and massive social awareness.

If you’ve never been to a protest, finding one to attend can be difficult. Extensive online searches will often come up empty-handed. To learn about protests and rallies in your area, find a local organization, and join their communication network. Just search for an organization, as noted above. They will be glad to have you.

If you are considering attending a protest, keep in mind that the protests you may have seen on the news are not typical. Protests are usually very safe, and participants do not get arrested as often as the news would suggest. You most likely listen to some speakers and probably march for a while, raising your voice for your cause with chanting and signs.

Become an Advocate for Racial Justice

Now that you understand the power of a petition and what further steps you can take to campaign for equality and justice, the next step is to take action. Find a or advocacy organization in your community and pitch in.

Author

  • I'm dedicated to helping others and using my skill set to help advance the causes I believe in. I enjoy writing articles to encourage others to do the same through advocacy and volunteering.

Shenetta Webster

I'm dedicated to helping others and using my skill set to help advance the causes I believe in. I enjoy writing articles to encourage others to do the same through advocacy and volunteering.

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