a term formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. (Thanks, Wikipedia)
Ohio government is now firmly controlled by Republicans. With that power, they’re doing exactly what everyone feared, which is writing incredibly bad legislation and passing it into law. Laws that we may not be able to wipe off the books for decades—perhaps ever.
You may be angry. You want to do something—anything—to stop them. But what to do? Often, you will be asked to sign an online petition. I have a message about petitions.
Petitions are—quite literally—the least you can do.
By all means, sign one when asked if you support the cause. But don’t think your job is finished. Petitions are just the start.
The way to fight back is to make passing bad bills so uncomfortable for legislators that they have to back away. And even this very often fails to work (see: SB5). But it’s truly our only real hope of stopping harmful legislation before it becomes law (more on that later).
Look what recently happened in Idaho (Idaho!) in the face of some very organized and pissed-0ff women.
There are recent examples in Ohio where public pressure has gotten legislators to back down. In 2009, amidst a debate about how to cut billions of dollars from the state budget, librarians (librarians!) effectively used email lists and social media to mobilize thousands of Ohoians to call legislators, write letters, and attend rallies to protest a move to drastically cut state funding for public libraries. It worked—cuts to libraries were reduced by over 60%. Way to go librarians!
How did they do it? Library supporters didn’t just add their name to an online petition and walk away. Thousands of them contacted their elected leaders and made their voices heard, bringing legislative offices to a halt and preventing officeholders from focusing on anything else until the issue went away.
Here’s why petitions aren’t enough
What happens when 5,000 people sign an online petition?
The bill sponsor’s phone doesn’t ring. His email is clutter free. His voice mail is empty. Once, one member of his staff will open an email or a package that contains the names of 5,000 Ohioans who oppose his legislation. One message that is quickly logged and never thought about again. With crickets chirping, his bill passes and he schedules a celebratory fundraiser with the lobbyists from the industry he helped.
But what happens when 5,000 people directly engage in direct democracy?
- Legislators’ lines are flooded with phone calls to the point that their staff has to be pulled off other work to take calls and listen to voice mail.
- Legislators’ mailboxes are crammed with letters from voters, each of which must be logged into a tracking system and replied to, taking up valuable staff time.
- Staff has to juggle scheduling requests from groups of constituents who want to meet with their boss about the bill, and manage angry constituents attending their town hall back in the district.
- Committee members get uncomfortable in the face of a roomful of angry citizens, often wearing matching T-shirts, asking to testify on their terrible bills, giving compelling, emotional and personal testimony that gives lie to whatever ridiculous excuse they came up with to introduce it in the first place.
And sometimes it works. The legislation is amended or the bill doesn’t get another hearing and quietly dies. All because some citizens decided to have real impact with their time and make sure their individual voices were heard.
The next time you hear about a bill that sounds horrible, stop. Go back to the article and look up the name of the legislator who sponsored it. Call their office and voice your opposition. Call your representative, too, and ask them to vote against it. Post a plea on social media urging your friends to do the same. Find out if an advocacy group is organizing opposition to the bill and sign up for their mailing list, Facebook and Twitter updates. Go ahead, sign their petition. Attend a rally. Monitor which committee the bill is in and show up for the hearings. Testify. Update your networks about the progress of the bill. Ask for a meeting with a legislator to tell how the bill will affect you personally. Write a letter to the editor. Write a guest post for Plunderbund if you have unique expertise. Just do something.
I don’t care what anyone tells you, it is NOT enough to elect Democrats in the fall. By fall it could be too late. The bad laws will be on the books and regaining a Democratic majority in the Ohio House won’t be enough to undo it. Think I’m kidding? The GOP is set to defund Planned Parenthood and pass fracking “regulation” that doesn’t even require full chemical disclosure. And that’s just the agenda for this week.
You better believe the people on the other side are mobilizing their troops even harder to get the bad bills passed in the first place. They know they control all the levers of power and plan to use them while their window of opportunity is open.
The only way to undo the damage and get bad laws off the books requires having the Governor, House and Senate all safely in Democratic hands. And, unfortunately, thanks to gerrymandered districts, the Ohio Senate is firmly in the grips of the GOP for years, if not decades to come.
So while it is absolutely critical we do the important work of winning back those offices, until then all of us have to work our asses off to stop these bad bills before they become law.