“If a petition gathers enough online signatures, it will be reviewed by policy experts and you’ll receive an official response.”
- Katelyn Sabochik, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Digital Strategy, September 22 2011
This was (and remains) the promise of “We The People”, the official online petition website of the executive branch of the U.S. Government under President Barack Obama. It’s an important promise, too. The First Amendment to the Constitution grants us the right to peaceably assemble and petition the U.S. Government for redress of grievances, and the “We The People” petition site promises to grant Americans an avenue to express that right.
Yet in some instances that promise remains unkept.
As Joseph Marks of NextGov reported last week, two long-standing petitions have languished without a response for nearly two years despite having quickly met the Obama administration’s declared threshold for a response. They are:
Having decided that too many petitions were reaching the threshold for earning a response by the White House (“too many” being 30), the Obama administration raised the signature threshold to obtain a response in October 2011. On January 15 2013, the White House raised this threshold further, from 25,000 to 100,000 signatures. These aren’t just drive-by clickers who are being counted, mind you. People have to register for, verify, and sign in with an account to add their signatures, and what’s more these signatures have to be collected within 30 days, making the 100,000 mark difficult to make. In nearly two years, only seven petitions have surpassed 100,000 signatures. News reports verify that at least three of them surpassed the 100,000-signature mark before the end of their 30-year deadline. They are:
Neither President Obama nor any member of his administration has responded to these petitions. Answering questions is something that the White House does on a professional basis; this is the privilege members of the large-scale news media are granted at every press conference. It is a right that everyday people are being denied.