march-on-washington1

The beauty of grassroots activism lies in its ripple effects — the signature of one person can, at least in theory, catalyze a subsequent outpouring of thousands of signatures with the hope of bringing change. Eliciting an official response from these bottom-up campaigns, however, is sometimes damn-near impossible.

That hasn’t stopped Change.org from trying to come up with new ways to tackle grassroots petition-making. Today, the online petition platform is announcing a new feature, one that may help get more people on board. It now provides a tool that allows elected officials to respond publicly and directly to Change.org campaigns.

Politicians are coming on board, too, and from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Already former Vice Presidential nominee and current Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have signed up.

Since its launch in 2007 the platform has amassed, according to Change.org’s external affairs lead, Jake Brewer, nearly 50 million users, and that number is steadily growing. It has hosted some influential petitions.  One demanded the formal prosecution of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman (of course, that didn’t lead to a conviction) and another asked Congress to stop exorbitant bank fees.

The website is hopeful to have more of these success stories. Starting today any elected official who is petitioned can sign up to use Change.org’s “Decision Makers” tool, which aggregates all the petitions being thrown the official’s way, as well as allows them to respond directly.

Brewer says that soliciting a politician is no longer a one-to-one action where you call an office or send an email; it is now public knowledge who participated, as well as the fact that the official saw the petition. Brewer believes Decision Makers gives Change.org petitions more ammunition because it forces the politicians to see what people are upset about, and publicly demands a response.

Or, if you are a cynic like me, you could argue that Decision Makers simply gives these officials another way to provide lip service to constituents: “I hear your complaints my fellow Americans, but the opposing party has tied my hands. Blame them!” Well, at least the politician responded, right?

Brewer thinks the beauty and potential impetus for political change with this new tool lie in the “response to the response.” Even though a politician can trot out the usual empty rhetoric, at least you know he hears constituents’ concerns and, one would hope, is working toward a solution. If he doesn’t the public can call him on it and that response could provide more political traction to the cause.

This, Brewer said, makes political advocacy work “a much more transparent action.”

So if more politicians have a direct line to their constituents, they’ll be more likely keep their campaign promises. Oh wait, sorry. We’re talking about politicians. Never mind!

[Image via archives.gov]