In 2011 Whitehouse.gov included the “We The People” section, more commonly known as the “Whitehouse.gov Petition.” This allows serfs to petition their feudal lords, slaves to ask permission of their masters. The idea is that if your petition receives over 100,000 signatures then the White House will issue an official response. In practice, this has not been the case. The most important issues have been ignored or denied a response, under the pretext that they involved “ongoing investigations.” Most of the outrage regarding the unchecked spying of the National Security Agency, for example, has received this response via “We The People” petitions.
The White House has given token responses to other petitions that have received over 100,000 responses, but little in the way of actual change or policy has been derived from this tool. In effect, Whitehouse.gov and the “We The People” petitions are another way of manufacturing the illusion of political participation. For the virtual absence of change and policy derived from the petitions, their use has become ubiquitous on the Internet. It is hard to come across a major cause, issue, or news headline, without finding some persons or groups providing a link to a “We The People” petition.
As long as people continue to trust political promises they will be distracted from engaging in behaviors that actually force change. And the “We The People” petition is a distraction and a political promise. The petition is also a cathartic exercise. When we sign the petition we feel as if we have “done something” and, thus, we are absolved from responding to the abuses that surround us. What more can one man do? The masters prefer to be asked politely for freedom. Then they can decline, or promise and defer. They don’t want the slaves to rise up during the night and burn down the plantation.
Like most political promises, despite their inefficacy, the authority-given pledges associated with the petitions have been broken, as mentioned above. Nonetheless, there may be even further manipulation involved. When the Administration cannot dismiss a petition based on an “ongoing investigation” technological means may be used to silence dissent. This is what is being alleged right now by Natural News, regarding a petition by “anti-vaxers.”
“Anti-vaxers,” if you don’t know, are those persons who oppose vaccinations in some way. I don’t oppose vaccinations. You could say I am decidedly pro-vaccination, but this is beside the point. The point is that, if Natural News is correct, the Administration has frozen the “anti-vaxer” petition and is no longer counting new signatures.
The petition itself does not seem unreasonable, either:
PROHIBIT ANY LAWS MANDATING THE FORCE AND REQUIREMENT OF VACCINATIONS OF ANY KIND.
No human being should be FORCED to be vaccinated against their will and/or personal/religious beliefs. I petition against making vaccinations of any kind mandatory. This includes forcing children to be vaccinated to attend public schools, activities, and daycare centers. This also includes adults working in the public or private sector.
To digress a moment more, I am fine with vaccinations; I would prefer to be vaccinated over becoming ill. I also understand the importance of herd immunity, also known as; we all really need to be vaccinated for this to work. Yet, there is a strong moral argument against forcing medical treatment of any kind. There is an even stronger argument against an authoritarian state doing the forcing with threats of legal violence. When I first saw a link to this petition I almost skimmed over, as I am wont to do with anti-vaccination articles. It isn’t a movement I am sympathetic too. When I read the petition itself I found myself sympathetic and in agreement, however, despite being pro-vaccination.
Returning to the topic at hand, if the Administration or staff at Whitehouse.gov has manipulated or censored the petition this undermines its function. No, it would be more accurate to say it undermines the illusion of its function. The petition itself is only used to create the perception of participation in politics, but the perception is not reality. All we can say are two things: the Administration (specifically, Barack Obama) promised to respond to “We The People” petitions with over 100,000 signatures and the petition plus a response may bring a topic into greater dialogue. The purpose of censoring a petition, then, would be to keep the topic out of public discourse.
This is not the only instance of dirty deeds going on at Whitehouse.gov. That’s fortunate, in a way, because the anti-vaccination movement is difficult to relate to. On Reddit the first comments on the submission titled, “4 More Victims Come Forward from Chicago Secret Prison, Man Tortured Over Weed” have made similar allegations. This is about the secret interrogation center in Chicago being used for low-level criminal suspects and political protesters.
There are a few important facts that can be gleaned from the comments. First the petition behavior has been modified. Previous users of Whitehouse.gov noted that the counter would uptick immediately after a signature. It no longer does, the petition appeared to be frozen.
A Reddit user speculated that the petition may no longer update immediately, due to a desire to control groups that sign the petition at once. This is another way to manipulate discourse. A petition with more signatures, rather than less, will accumulate further signatures at a more rapid rate. It’s saliency and the bandwagon effect at work. A petition that has few signatures will flounder. The same is true if the petition has many signatures, but seems to have few signatures.
Another user found that not only did the petition not update, but also that in daily searches for the most popular petitions it did not appear. Hiding the petition, keeping it out of popular view while the story of Chicago’s domestic black sites is hot, functions as censorship. It keeps the information and the story out of public view, to the extent that is possible. The end goal here would be to wait until the story blows over, or to diffuse public awareness of the story itself.
Censoring a petition outright may be obvious, but temporarily freezing a petition, even hiding its signatures, is sufficient to have an effect on discourse. It buries the issue.
Many comments also express the awareness that the petitions do nothing. The Administration has not acted on any of them to date. Unfortunately there are also those who still talking about the law (“it’s illegal”) and the Constitution. The law, the Constitution, are about as useful as a “We The People” petition. If the people with power, the people in positions of authority, don’t want to follow a law or a document then it is not worth more than paper and ink. The mere existence of a law or a document means nothing if it not followed. The violation of a law or a document by the only authority given a legal monopoly on violence (police, politicians, military) effectively means it cannot be enforced except by extralegal means.
Extralegal means are the only way to effectively combat legalized oppression, or to correct the failure of legal authorities. Or, as one Reddit user put it. Think on that and decide what needs to be done, friends.