On "We the People" and Token Participation

We the People, the White House's new website dedicated to "[providing] a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country," has been around long enough now to actually send out responses to many of the initial petitions set up on the site - 26 official responses have been uploaded to the site and emailed to the signers of the petitions they were replying to. 

And they have, to a one, been useless, campaign-speak restatements of the Administration's official positions on the issues the petitions covered.  Not a single one has actually offered commitment to action.  All they have done is reaffirm the Administration's positions on things and offer detailed justification for why they hold the positions they hold.

For example, the response to the petitions which asked for removal of the phrase "In God We Trust" from the currency and removal of "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, we (I had signed both of these, go figure) received a patronizing restatement of the Obama campaign's usual "God is in the mix" platitudes, echoing right-wing talking points about how such "generic" (HA!) references to religion are simply recognizing the "important role religion plays" in this country and therefore, fuck you, we don't really care what you think.  The petition to retain 6-day mail delivery from the USPS received an in-depth explanation (and possibly spin job, I don't know this issue well enough to gauge the accuracy of the statements they make), titled "A Balanced Approach to Reforming the Postal Service" (oh, goody, more artificial "balance", gods know we don't get enough of that in the President's usual speeches), of how insolvent the USPS apparently is and exactly how they'll be transitioning down to 5-day delivery in 2013, because fuck you, we don't really care what you think.  And just a few days ago I received by email the Administration's response to a petition to abolish the TSA and spend their budget on homeland security measures that *actually work*, citing their 70% undercover-test failure rate and its Constitutional abuses of American citizens; it was a long, useless bullet-pointed list that could be summarized as, in essence, "BUT THE TERRORISTS WOULD WIN!", because fuck your Constitutional rights, we don't care what you think.  Check out the "responses" page for more useless replies (each links back to its originating petition(s) at the bottom of the response as well) if you want to have some frustrating fun with it.

Allow me to go on a personal tangent here.  For about five months while I was living in Tennessee, my then-girlfriend got me a job working with her at an inbound call center.  It was a shitty job, but the reason this silliness with the We the People site is bringing it to mind is because it absolutely epitomized the cold, sanitized, vaguely-ironic feeling of Corporate Cares (or rather, wants its automatons to think it cares) so well.  There was the monthly "employee appreciation day" for those of us in the call center, which you would think was a nice thing, right?  Except it consisted of the designated HR drone pushing a cart up and down the aisles of cubicles, giving each of us some cheap plastic trinket - keychains or some other nonsense - and allowing us to pick a piece of candy from the bowl on the cart.  We all rolled our eyes about it, and one day she - who was studying industrial-organizational psychology in college at the time, and who would often explain to me the principles of her classes as applied to our shared workplace - explained to me how shitty token rewards like that, as opposed to gaining even a meager token amount of loyalty from the employees in return, actually do more harm than good.  Because calling something a "reward" or "bonus", then having the reward in question be something painfully token, is not only insufficient as a reward, it's insulting, because it's basically rubbing their nose in how little you think of them. 

The We the People website?  Is a cheap mass-produced plastic sandal on a keyring and a stale miniature Twix.  It makes grand claims and promises about the First Amendment and the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances, saying "We created We the People because we want to hear from you."  But when you actually try to participate, they send you away with a patronizing pat on the head and a "There, there, dear, run along now." Which is worse than if they'd never made the offer of petitioning and being heard, offering us a reward that turns out to be no reward at all.

I'm not the only one who's noticed, either.  One of the newest petitions on the site is a petition to "Remove the word "petition" from this website as it is misleading and untruthful. Instead, use, "Request an Explanation."

If you happen to be in the US, I highly recommend signing it.  We all know what the response will be, but I think it would be deliciously meta to have their "response" to this particular "petition" be yet another explanation.


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