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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.

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.

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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Holly the delivery nurse.

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Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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