Petitions at LHS: Are They Effective?

Tasneem Ghadiali

Petitions are a straightforward way to engage with an issue you’re passionate about — but are they truly effective? I’ve seen many people reshare a petition on social media or tell a friend to sign one during passing time, but are they really making a change? Or is petitioning just another form of ‘slacktivism’?

Slacktivism refers to “helping” a cause by putting in little effort (such as, say, clicking the sign button on an online petition). As physical petitions have become obsolete with the advent of accessible online platforms and the global pandemic, online petitions are on the rise. These online petitions greatly diminish one’s emotional commitment to a cause. It’s easy for high schoolers to call themselves activists, but are they actually contributing to the cause? With petitions rarely impacting their intended demographic, are they even an effective form of activism? 

I believe so because when you sign a petition, your information goes to the source, and petitions have historically been used in recruitment. Petitions can be integral to finding ardent supporters and proponents of a cause (some people actually read the email blasts and click the links on the website). However, just signing petitions is insufficient. They have to be paired with other actions such as writing letters to higher-ups and communicating with influential figures and institutions. For example, over the summer, I’ve signed online petitions for national issues (such as the Black Lives Matter movement). Yet, I haven’t seen any real change come from these online petitions. Any change is typically the culmination of activists and organizations lobbying for change and perhaps, the petition.

At Lexington High School, there have been a few petitions, created mainly by the Student-Faculty Senate. A common issue of these petitions has been publicity. Many students don’t know what is going on with student body groups and the administration, which leads many students to feel disconnected from the school’s efforts. This year, Senate is working to prioritize communication with the student body, which is critical in the context of petitioning. However, the Senate has limited power, particularly since there is only one active faculty member (there are supposed to be ten). One petition that the Senate made last year was directed to the health department regarding changes to the health curriculum. It encountered a lot of adversity and, ultimately, was not implemented. Only around 100 students signed, and I wasn’t one of them mainly because I didn’t know about it. A lack of communication among the larger student body prevented the petition from gaining potential supporters. A larger base could have sent individual letters, shared the petition with their friends, and even involved their parents. Therefore, good publicity and exposure are integral to getting petitions across and involving more types of activism, eventually inciting change. 

Overall, effective petitioning lies in effective messaging, effective marketing, and most importantly, effective recruiting. Although petitioning can be ‘slacktivism’ if you choose it to be, it can also be a meaningful way to engage with community issues. If you know about a petition, support the cause, and are ultimately inspired to do more than write your name or click a button, petitions can be extremely useful to create change, especially here at LHS.