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We the People Want a Death Star

We_the_People_logoIn a democracy, people are supposed to be able to tell the government what they want and how the country should be run (organized and managed). In reality, that’s not exactly how American democracy works.  However, on September 22, 2011, a new feature appeared on the White House website that gives Americans a new way to give the government their two cents (opinion). It is called “We the People.”

This website allows Americans to write an electronic petition and to gather (collect) signatures. A petition is a written request to the people in power who can make the changes or do the things you request.  A petition usually states what the petitioners (people asking) want and also contains the signatures (hand-written name) of the people who want to show their support for the petition. “We the People” is an opportunity for citizens (people who officially belong to a country) to send in their ideas and to provide solutions to a number of different political problems in the country.  Petitions have long been used in the American political system, but in the past, petitions were written or printed, and people had to sign their names to it in person.

On this website, any American can start a petition, but it must get the support of other Americans. First, for it to appear on the White House website and be searchable (able to be found by doing a computer search), it must receive at least 150 signatures within 30 days.  Second, to receive a response from the White House staff (workers), the petition must get at least 100,000 signatures within 30 days. (Before January 2013, that number was just 5,000. I guess the website has become too popular and there isn’t enough staff to respond to all of the most popular petitions.)

As you can imagine, there are serious and not so serious petitions. A not so serious petition was submitted in 2012.  The petition asked the government to construct (build) a Death Star.  If you have seen any of the Star Wars movies, then you know what the Death Star is.  It is a fictional (not real) space station the size of the moon that is armed (supplied with) many weapons and is very powerful, powerful enough to destroy a planet, like the Earth. Creating a Death Star, the petitioners said, would stimulate (cause something to work better, more, and/or faster) the economy and create jobs.  The petition received enough signatures to receive a response, which the government released in January of 2013. It was a humorous (funny), tongue-in-cheeck (using irony (using words that mean the opposite and not showing seriousness or respect)) letter.

First, a Death Star could not be built, the letter said, because the cost is estimated to be 852 quadrillion dollars ($850,000,000,000,000,000).  Second, at the current rate of steel (strong metal) production, it would take 833,000 years to construct. Finally, the letter said: “The Administration (government) does not support blowing up (causing to explode and to be destroyed) planets.”  You can the read the entire response here.

So, the answer was no.

Some people have criticized the “We the People” website saying that the petitions are not taken seriously and that they don’t really cause any change. In fact, there is a petition asking the government to shut down (close) the website because it is “worthless.”

Still, there are many serious petitions.  For example, there are petitions asking the government to reexamine (look again at) gun control (allowing people to buy and own guns and other weapons) laws and to establish new federal (national) holidays. You can see current petitions by clicking on “view the petitions” here.

Are petitions used in your country to change the government?

~ Lucy

P.S. To learn why the website is called “We the People,” listen to English Cafe 92, in which Jeff talks about the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

 

11 Responses to “We the People Want a Death Star”

  1. Peter Says:

    Hi my dear professor Lucy,
    Interesting take on the website you wrote about.
    I didn’t know much about the website I assume ,it is some domestic website for just people holding an American citizenship status.or, perhaps the website counts in the opinions of all people dwindling in the U.S.
    Whatever it is , domestic or global ,the website could be controversial.
    I don’t know ,how the system works. Is there any screening process involved,or it is : a free for all.
    I mean, there must be a limit to it ,right?
    It is not like whatever you put in on the website, no matter wether it is politically right or not , finds its way on the websit ,in other words, get approval.
    For example , sb may make a petition suggesting fundamental changes in respect with government domestic and foreign policies , or even further , a petition requesting the president to step down.
    Now , tell me one thing,what if the change at the persedntial level get signed ,rather ,approved by millions of Americans. What happened then.
    Is the idea even looked over or just overlooked by very people who care enough to answer some frivolities.
    Don’t you think things sometimes take an ugly turn in such a drastic approach to democracy and freedom.
    Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea. But , don’t you think the idea of having a free for all forum , or petition as it is titled is more suitable for a futuristic society more receptive to the idea of modern democracy than a society yet bond to its forefather traditions.

    Pete.

  2. Lucas (BRAZIL) Says:

    Yes, we also have public petitions. The most famous of them originated the “Clean Record Act” which prohibits people convicted in court to be elected to public office. The movement for “Clean Record Act” gathered over 1.3 million signatures (1% of the electorate in Brazil). Moreover, our Constitution guarantees as inalienable individual right of every individual to petition the public authorities, in defense of individual or collective prerogatives or merely for information, with the correlative right to obtain well-founded response (administrative silence is not allowed or evasive responses). The citizen has the right to obtain a certificate stating the government’s response. In theory the Brazilian Constitution is very thorough in creating a democratic state, the problem is that is not always fulfilled.

  3. HILARIO Says:

    ILP’s in Spain.- At this side of the Atlantic pond, in our sunny and picturesque country, so it is Spain at least during the summer or at least during eight months of the year in the deep southern tip of Europe, we don’t have such a sophisticated democratic “gadget” as it can be the online governmental´ petition access as you have it in the States, but we have a democratic mechanism called ILP which stands for Popular Legislative Initiative. The initiative consist of presenting at least 500.000 handwritten signatures, and ID numbers on a given government office’ window in order to register it and wait if the popular initiative is going to pass it through first filter, get voted by the deputies, and then to be taken into debate it national congress session or to be turned down. The current context down here is one of indiscriminate and massive eviction in Spain. As the Biblical curse says: …they shall come from out, to evict to you from your home. The ones coming from outside are the banks brandishing an obsolete Eviction Law from a century before that allows the bankers to execute the loan mortgage after two failings in monthly payments, leaving the family without the house and beholding an increasing banking debt for life. Most of the times evicted people are people that found themselves jobless in a sudden, ordinary workers that were enjoying economic stability. “We The Spanish People” as we could call these brave people around The Anti-Eviction Platform gathered 1.400.000 As their motto comes on the streets: Many people with no homes in a country plenty of houses with no people inside.

  4. sutisha Says:

    Dear Lucy,

    The greater resourceful you are, the more voracious reader I become!
    Have you ever heard or wondered why the government in a country far away from yours never spare their time
    to consider the real citizens’ rational petitions, but earnestly care for the (known whose) mob which is less than
    one percent of all the country’s population? I believe that petitions are for any clean democratic nations, not in a
    seemingly democratic realm!!

    Best regards
    sutisha

  5. Peter Says:

    Dear Lucy ,
    As u know ,I m leaving in U.S. neighboring country,Canada. I don’t think the canadian Government not at provential level nor at federal level has lunched such websites yet.but , chances are , Canadian authorities follow U.S. step and start sth similar here. But,I highly doubt it that such approaches recieve much of an attention here merely because people here are from four corners of the world and don’t really interested ,rather , pay attention to the government and its policies. They don’t even bother. After all, they see Canada as their second home.
    They pay attention more to the political and social changes in their home land than Canada.
    I noticed most people here just follow the news from their back home , watch TV channels in their own Languge , and read newspapers written in their own language that covers the news from their country of origin.

    Pete

  6. Bakhtiar Says:

    Hi Dr.Lucy, thank you for bringing this topic on our website blog. In northern of Iraq that rule by Kurdistan Regional Government. Recently presidency office encourage initiations that strive to conduct reform and change in governnance of the region legal and political system. Therefore petition by the people that is through personal initiative not through official website run by the presidency of the Region, people can make their voice be heard. Council of Ministers established following up department to watch over governmental agencies performance which is doing very well so far. However the things is , since the region ruled by former Ba’th regime which mostly been supported by western countries, it is caused mistrust between ruled and rulers, in other words although government has clear and good intention to conduct reform in economic and political system people are reluctant to cooperate with.

    Recently in the Juvenile Justice System sector Kurdistan Regional Government has action plan to reform the system in line with International Juvneile Justice Instruments. Major priority is to put in plance inspection mechanisms and complian technics . Therefore the cases in the corrections can write a petition to their lawyer of public prosecutor about any case of violation and abuse. In my perspective in developing systems exposing the identity of victim or petitioners to related authorities is kind of running the risk, since this right is not protecting legally and does not become a custom. So it is better in early phases to be secret and find out new mechanism for further keeping confidentiality.

  7. Giovanni Says:

    A few days ago I received a message from Sea Sheperd which says that US has a quick and easy way for the people’s voice to be heard even you aren’t a US citizen or resident: We the People. Anyone over age 13 can sign the petitions. I subscribed and signed two petitions, but I’m not American. I hope I didn’t do a mess!

  8. emiliano Says:

    Dear Lucy,

    nothing to add Hillario´s note, here this is the way but just to say by my own that all this work means for nothing after all.
    Too many promises when there is an ellection but words goes with the wind after they get the Congress or Senate´s chair.

    Lately I have signed lot of demands knowing it serves for nothing.
    Sorry but this is my point of view after seing the results.

    Good words, yes, but actions about the problems tp resolved the demands…….it is for see, it is not till now.

    My best dear Lucy.

    emiliano

  9. Betty Says:

    Dear Lucy

    Thanks to you, I have visited The White House this morning.

    Not in my wildest dream would I dare to expect to step into the place where the US presidents live.

    I am not interested in petitions, but I am interested to learn more about The White House while the chance is here.

    The wikipedia has a good account of The White House and I am glad I read it.

    Honestly, I am skeptical about this kind of means for people to express their views.

    Like the title of this article suggests, some people were making fun of this website and petitioned for a Death Star.

    Sometimes when real life is so grim, people or even the government welcome some jokes to lighten the atmosphere.

    I would like to thank you again for giving me some good reading to look forward to everyday.

    By the way, is Jeff busy writing the News letters to us and has no time to write articles in this blog?

    Tania is right in asking “Dear, dear Jeff, where are you? We all miss you”.

    Till next time.

    Betty :)

  10. Lucas (BRAZIL) Says:

    Dear Dr. Lucy,

    Dr. Jeff “The Cricket” McQuillan is our English conscience, always telling the truth about getting “comprehensible input”, always in our ears.

    I suggest a petition to bring him back to the Blog.

    By the way, I love your scripts, Dr. Lucy and want to really see you in the next anniversary video.

    Best regards,

    Lucas

  11. adaiiting Says:

    Hi Lucy,
    Thanks for your blog.
    Here in China, Citizens don’t have the right and power to change the administration of government.
    We can only impress discontentment via internet, usually post on a information sharing platform called “Weibo”
    which is extremely popular recently in China.
    Have you been heard of it?