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Obama's 'We the People' petitions were unprecedented. These 10 were our favorites.

The petition site is one of the cooler things to come out of the Obama administration.

Obama's 'We the People' petitions were unprecedented. These 10 were our favorites.

A little over five years ago, the White House launched the "We the People" petition platform, creating a unique link between the president and the general public.

The premise was simple enough: Regular citizens could create petitions for issues they'd like to see the government act on, and if they received enough signatures (at least 100,000 names), they'd be guaranteed a response from someone within the president's administration.

This week, the Pew Research Center issued a report covering the platform's 4,799 publicly-available petitions and 227 responses from the White House, providing a fascinating look at what issues matter most to everyday Americans.


Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

While the platform has been used to make some pretty out-there requests — such as asking the White House to recognize International Talk Like a Pirate Day, to have President Barack Obama play in the 2017 NBA All-Star celebrity game, to release the recipe for the White House's home-brewed honey ale (and they did), and to mandate that states have an official character from Pokémon — it also served its intended purpose of bridging the gap between elected leaders and constituents.

The platform is a reminder that good government means that we all matter, as individuals and as groups.

So let's take a look back at 10 of our favorite "We the People" petitions and White House responses.

1. Recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group. (2012)

Coming in at more than 367,000 signatures, the petition to brand the notorious church as a hate group is one of the site's most popular entries. While the White House's answer may not have been entirely satisfactory to some (the government does not keep a registry of hate groups), the administration believes that the popularity of this petition (as well as a number of other WBC-related petitions) should bring its own brand of hope to signees.

"One of the remarkable things about this set of petitions is that it shows just how strong the bonds that unite us can be," the White House wrote in reply. "Together, we’re more resilient than those who would try to drive us apart."

Jacob Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

2. Ban the practice of "conversion therapy." (2015)

Following transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn's 2014 death by suicide, LGBTQ activists renewed a call to put an end to "conversion therapy," the practice of trying to "de-gay" or "de-trans" children. With more than 120,000 signatures, the petition earned an official response from the White House.

In addition to a thoughtful response from White House advisor Valerie Jarret, in which she stated unequivocally that the administration was opposed to the practice (which is, sadly, still legal in all but a few states), it led to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on exactly why the practice is wrong.

3. Make unlocking cell phones legal. (2013)

What makes this one so special? It worked! Cell service carriers moved to make unlocking devices for use on other carriers illegal, and a lot of people pushed back. A little over a year after petitioning the White House, Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law. 114,000 people asked, and the White House answered.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

4. Require police to wear body cameras. (2014)

After an officer shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, more than 154,000 people took to the We the People website to demand action to help hold law enforcement accountable for their actions (as well as protect them). A number of cities and states have since required police to wear body cameras, and the ACLU even drafted sample legislation for states, municipalities, and the federal government to take up should they so choose.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

5. Legally recognize non-binary genders. (2014)

People who identify outside the male-female gender binary are not new. Still, for the most part, non-binary individuals have struggled to get legal recognition of their gender.

Given that estimates of the transgender population sits at 1.4 million (or roughly 0.6% of the U.S.), and that includes those who identify with binary genders, it goes to reason that the non-binary portion of that population is even smaller. Making up just a fraction of the population makes it hard to get the attention of elected officials, and that's why this petition demonstrates the power that the We the People platform has for helping those typically ignored by society.

6. Deport Justin Bieber. (2014)

More than 273,000 We the People users had some rough words for our pop star neighbor from the north, urging the White House to "remove Justin Bieber from our society" for "threatening the safety of our people" and being "a terrible influence on our nation's youth." Harsh.

Having crossed the signature threshold, the White House was obliged to respond. While they did not boot the Biebs from the U.S., they used their clever response to discuss the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. They even compared immigration reform data to Bieber's debut  album sales. The response to the Bieber petition may very well be the best thing on the entire site and is worth reading in its entirety.

Bieber performs onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

7. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. (2012)

"You're right — it's past time for DOMA to expire," began the administration's response to calls to end the 1996 law. "The Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory and should be repealed. President Obama has long supported overturning the law through the legislative process. He also has concluded that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, as his Administration has argued in court challenges across the country."

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is, as the Obama administration argued, unconstitutional. The decision effectively legalized marriage equality nationwide.

Plaintiff in the DOMA case Edith Windsor waves to supporters outside the Supreme Court. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

8. Stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (2016)

More than 378,000 people signed the August 2016 petition calling for the government to put an end to the pipeline planned near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The argument put forth by the petition's authors is that if the pipeline were to leak into the Missouri River, Standing Rock's sole water source, it would make the reservation uninhabitable.

On Dec. 4, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to put the project on hold and explore other routes for the pipeline.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

9. Commute Chelsea Manning's sentence to time served. (2016)

(Update February 2017: In one of his last acts as president, Obama commuted Manning's sentence.)

Currently serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning has endured multiple suicide attempts, extended periods of solitary confinement, and denial of medically necessary treatment related to her being transgender. As harsh as her life has been during her six-plus years behind bars so far, advocates for Manning imagine things will only get worse for her during a Trump administration.

What makes this petition worth following is the fact that while it has surpassed the 100,000 signature threshold, the White House has yet to issue a response.

Chelsea Manning is escorted by military police as she leaves her military trial July 30, 2013, after she was found guilty in 20 out of 21 charges. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

10. Award Yogi Berra the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (2015)

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor and is given out to a handful of citizens each year. In 2015, more than 111,000 people signed a petition asking Obama to give the award to the baseball legend Yogi Berra.

Acknowledging that while the Presidential Medal of Freedom is something awarded at the sole discretion of the president himself, and therefore something that the team at We the People couldn't directly address, they did note that Berra shared a number of qualities with past honorees.

In Nov. 2015, Obama posthumously awarded Berra the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a White House ceremony.

Larry Berra, son of baseball legend Yogi Berra, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his father on Nov. 24, 2015. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Marginalized voices don't always get heard. Too often, it seems like people in government only look out for those whose votes they need when the next election comes around. The We the People platform helps level that playing field because even some relatively niche issues can generate a significant number of signatures.

There's no telling whether or not the Trump administration will continue the We the People platform, but here's hoping they do.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."