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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.