Recently, a couple of online petitions requesting the removal of ABC’s “The View” host Raven-Symone and CNN personality Don Lemon from their respective positions were made on the website change.org. Don Lemon was targeted for seeming to justify the brutal assault of a teenage girl at the hands of an officer twice her size. Lemon was also targeted for other past hypocrisies such as endorsing the racial profiling of others while previously filing a complaint against a retailer for racially profiling him when he was a local Philadelphia news reporter. Symone, an African-American with a unique name, was targeted for advocating discrimination against African-Americans with unique names. The Lemon petition has garnered 36,000 signatures while the Raven-Symone petition has garnered around 135,000 signatures as of Nov. 9th.
These petitions have been widely panned by a number of different people. FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly said of the petitions that “freedom of speech in this country is under attack,” and that they signal “the beginning of a totalitarian society.” Others have questioned the effectiveness and usefulness of creating such petitions. Partly, because it seems to be a long shot that ABC Studios would actually fire Raven and that CNN will do the same to Lemon, and also because it is counterproductive to go after these people and to try to take them out of their respective positions. Finally, many believe that these petitions are a distraction from other issues, as if people do not have the ability to do two things at the same time.
The problem with these assertions is that they seem to miss the point of why petitions are so important. Not only is the right to petition something guaranteed to us in our nation’s constitution under the first amendment, it also happens to be very effective at getting messages across to different groups. Oftentimes, the messaging embedded within these petitions are meant to hold more weight than the content of the petition. The petitions against Lemon and Symone illustrate just that.
One of the most recent examples of the effectiveness of our right to petition is the 2012 Scott Walker recall petitions. This petition was signed by over a half-million people in the state of Wisconsin. This effort was effective in both messaging and substance because it forced an election for governor in the middle of June and also sent a clear message to Walker that an immense amount of people disapproved of the job he was doing. As far as these petitions go, the one regarding Raven-Symone has already elicited a response from ABC studios.
Petitions signify a purely grassroots voice that can be utilized by entities who want to see change enacted. To not use this incredibly powerful and liberating tool to send a message to individuals who represent us on a national scale is truly the only wasteful and neglectful thing about this situation. No one bats an eye when certain people petition the White House to build a Death Star or to make the Remix to Ignition our national anthem. The people who support this petition want media figures to be held more responsible for the things they say and for the blatant hypocrisy of their statements. Why all of a sudden are these petitions now useless or counterproductive?
The truth is, putting energies toward doing something that provokes substantive action and actual dialogue (like petitions) is a heck of a lot more effective than complaining on Facebook for the thousandth time. So think about that the next time you criticize one of these change.org petitions.