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How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves

Sometimes you just don’t find the right words until it’s too late. This is one of those times. Damnit.

I’ve been plugging the Alexander Aan petition since the Center for Inquiry posted it. (Aan, in case you’ve missed the story, is an Indonesian atheist jailed for posting about his disbelief–on Facebook.)  I didn’t write about it because I didn’t have anything to add. “I agree. That’s bad. Go sign” has never gotten much response when I tried it. Maybe I still should have.

I just passed it around when others did a good job of explaining why the petition was needed. I signed it, as much of a pain as the White House petition system is. And I watched as it spectacularly bombed, attaining only 8,000 signatures.

Now I’m watching as people try to figure out “why” this happened.

  • “Oh, signing petitions is worthless.”
  • “Oh, the system was glitchy.”
  • “Oh, Obama wouldn’t do anything in an election year.”
  • “Oh…oh…oh.”

None of those are the reason the petition gained only 8,000 signatures. The reason it ended up with so few signatures is that next to none of us signed. Around a third of the number of people required in order to put this petition in front of the president got off their asses long enough to make this happen.

Sadly, only now do I have the words to tell you why this is such a problem. Or at least why it’s a problem for anyone other than Aan and those who have poured their hearts into being his champions (thanks particularly to Paul Fidalgo and Michael De Dora).

1. Hey, Look! We’re in the News!
For the first time in forever, what atheists do hits the news regularly.  We’re being taken seriously, and we’re being watched. So, the day after the petition closed, we got this:

What was supposed to be a slam dunk for nontheists has become a slap in the face after a petition on behalf of a jailed Indonesian atheist failed to attract even one-third of the signatures it needed to gain White House attention.

[...]

That failure has left many atheists, humanists, skeptics and other nonbelievers scratching their heads. If, as they believe, their community has grown in numbers, strength and organization in the last decade, why didn’t more people sign the petition?

Yeah! Why didn’t those atheists stand up for one of their own who is in a way worse situation than they are? What kind of monsters are they? Or are they not really as big a deal as they say?

Honestly, I’m asking myself similar questions, and I know this community better than that. I’ve seen what we can do when we care, so when we don’t do anything, it just ends up feeling like we don’t care. Not caring is not the kind of message we want to put across in the news.

2. I’m Ready to Be Used
Is every petition out there for a good cause going to do good work? No. Some of them are bad ideas. Some of them say little more than, “Fix the world now.” Some of them target people who can’t fix the problem–or don’t target anyone specific at all. They’re just screaming to the sky and about as useful as any other method of doing that, like prayer.

Then there are petitions put together by activist groups. I don’t just mean affiliation groups or groups that represent an issue, although activist groups are usually that as well. I mean groups that have a track record of work in their own right to lobby, issue press releases, organize rallies, etc. I mean groups that are themselves activist.

Signing petitions authored by these groups is more than just adding your name to a list. Why? Because the activist group that created that petition has plans for it when it closes. They’re not just going to forward a list of signatures attached to a couple of paragraphs and be done. They’re going to talk to the press. They’re going to lobby. And they’re going to say, “Yes, you’re talking to me, but I’m speaking for all these people who cared enough about this issue to put their name to it. I’m speaking for numbers, and I’m speaking for people who are politically active.” That’s not small.

CFI was ready to run with the petition for Aan. They weren’t simply going to let it go to the President. They were going to do interviews and get Aan’s story out to a wider audience. They were going to use our support to generate more support and more scrutiny of the White House’s behavior on this matter. They can’t do that now, because what that number of signatures says is that no one is paying attention.

These groups do a lot of work on our behalf. The least we can do is make it easier. When I run into representatives from these groups at conferences, I tell them, “I’m a blogger. I have an audience. I’m on a network with a wider audience. Tell me when and how I can help you.”

You don’t have to do that, of course. Not everyone has time to do what I do. However, if you are at all interested in making progress politically, you should find out what these groups want you to do. As Michael De Dora points out, you should sign up for action alerts. Click below to sign up.

Or follow these groups on Twitter or Facebook. Make a list so you see them even on a busy day. Much of what you can do for them takes little time. It just isn’t that hard.

3. Cynicism and Slacktivism: Good for Nothing
Yes, those stupid, “99% of people won’t repost” bits of nonsense on Facebook are, well, nonsense. No, raising “awareness” of the simple fact that child abuse exists isn’t going to make a difference. Yes, posting your bra color to (tee-hee) confuse those guys about the–I don’t know; the fact that breasts exist maybe?–that’s childish and pointless. No, getting a hashtag to trend won’t change the world.

Yes, slacktivism exists.

It’s important to know why it exists, however. It exists because we’re lazy. That’s not an insult as much as it is recognition that there is more to be done than we have resources to do. We try to find ways to avoid over-committing ourselves. We’re lazy, and slacktivism is a trick for allowing ourselves to think we’ve done all we need to do on one of the many, many issues we care about when we haven’t at all. But so is cynicism.

Slacktivism tells us we have accomplished something when we haven’t. Cynicism tells us we don’t need to accomplish anything because nothing can be done. They’re both lies we tell ourselves.

Cynicism in this case is the idea that petitions never work. It’s the idea that Obama never moves on any of these White House petitions. It’s the idea that Obama can’t do anything about religious freedom this close to an election because it would be bad for his chances at the polls.

Petitions do work, of course. They don’t work all the time, but petitions work significantly more often than silence. Obama does follow petitions sometimes, if not always. He isn’t known for a willingness to use his own political capital, but he uses ours. Democrats pushed some of these petitions to show there was a mandate for actions they wanted to take. And I can’t imagine why telling a Muslim-dominated government to protect its non-Muslim citizens would be a losing move in this country right now, particularly for Obama.

Any of these things could have worked in this case, if they’d been given the chance.

4. It’s Time to Start Acting Entitled
Even if we’d made a huge showing on the petition only to have it ignored, we would have won. Aan would not have, but the rest of us would. Why?

Those of you old enough to remember the rise of the Moral Majority to power in the eighties might remember the little joke of resistance, “The Moral Majority is neither.” It was on buttons, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. It was true. The Moral Majority was a very small evangelical minority who won a ridiculous number of concessions from state and national legislatures.

They did this by being loud and demanding and very, very persistent. If there was an issue they were interested in, they were there. If they didn’t show up in force, they were represented by lobbyists who were very clear that the next step toward getting what they wanted was showing up in force. If a legislative body handed them a victory, they showed up for the next fight ready to fight. If a legislative body handed them a defeat, they showed up for the next fight ready to fight. The Moral Majority was inescapable and unflagging, and everyone knew they weren’t going away.

I don’t want us to be the new Moral Majority. For one thing, I’d prefer we be both moral and eventually in the majority. I do, however, want us to learn from the ethical bits of what they did.

Showing up strong at the Reason Rally was great. Doing that and then not following up on such a clear-cut political matter makes it look like the Reason Rally was just a nice party. Parties are good, but they don’t put pressure on the government.

Voting blocs put pressure on the government. Being able to say, “So, you remember those 30,000 people who stood out in the rain for hours? Yeah, we have a lot more people than that who pay attention to their interests. They sign. They write. They call. Most importantly, they vote their interests too. Do remember that.”

Trust me, politicians do remember that. Even if they feel they can’t give you what you’re asking for today, they remember. If you act as a bloc, they remember pleasing you and they remember disappointing you. And they want to keep that in some sort of balance. That’s good for us and good for our interests.

All of that is why, though I’m sick for Alexander Aan, I’m worried by what this means for us as a movement too. Take a little time and go do something for Aan, something that will take more time and more work now that we don’t have that petition to use for leverage. Then resolve to not let an opportunity like this one go by again.

Comments

  1. PatrickG says

    Lot of food for thought there.

    The only thing I’d add is that there are a lot of people who have commented on posts like this (e.g. at Friendly Atheist) who simply hadn’t heard about the petition until it was too late. Fortunately, most of those people also said they would make more of an effort to stay on top of things.

    It seems like there’s a real problem to be solved surrounding the use of action alerts, email notifications, what have you. I, personally, get 30-50 petition requests/action requests a day (I care about too many things, obviously!). I try to scan it every once in a while, but the sheer volume of requests mean I know I miss things I genuinely care about.

    Going back over my folder labeled “Activist spam”, I see I did indeed receive requests there regarding the Aan petition, but I definitely missed them. The fact that I signed can be attributed solely to the fact that I devour FTB on a daily basis. Btw, it startles me that I missed those alerts, so I’ve reworked my spam system.

    People who consume blog posts or social media on a more sporadic schedule probably had a high chance of simply missing the call to action. I don’t have a good solution, but I’m sure better minds than me will figure out a better method.

    Anyway, I agree with the main points of your post, and I’m certainly not trying to defend slacktivism or gloss over the very real failure here. If I’m coming across like that, my bad. :(

  2. says

    Every time I sign a petition I end up on ten mailing lists. I don’t want my inbox bombarded, and it’s become so unpleasant that I generally avoid online activism as a rule. It was especially the constant begging for money that eventually turned me away from online petitions entirely.

    I make just over $12,000 a year, in NW Washington which is not a cheap place to live. No, I cannot afford to give you five dollars for every damn cause.

    I used to be all for helping people online, but it’s honestly just too much hassle. I’ll focus my efforts and time on local issues instead.

  3. says

    I unsubscribe from them but I don’t want to get the emails in the first place. You know what’s helpful, when asking people for help? Not annoying them and giving them a tiresome chore to perform.

  4. says

    You know what really tiresome? An “activist” who can leave comments complaining about being asked to act but can’t be bothered to take the time to go ahead and act.

  5. says

    Of course, what’s even more tiresome than that is being stuck in a jail cell for making reasonable comments on Facebook. So if I don’t weep for you, I’m sure you’ll understand.

  6. says

    I act at the local level. But I am tired of being seen as nothing but someone else to press a donation button by political campaigns and activist groups. I can volunteer in my home town, go home, and not be bombarded by donation requests.

  7. says

    I’m not claiming I got crucified or anything. But this you’re doing? Belittling me and being unpleasant? Not really encouraging me to support any of your causes.

    I’m not asking for a lot. Just, if you ask for my help, don’t harass or be a dick to me. You’re asking for something from me, and I’d just like some basic courtesy in return.

    Let me opt out of getting mails ENTIRELY if I want to, right when I’m signing the petition. Don’t send me five mails right after I click “sign”, from two different lists, both of which require me to go to separate webpages and confirm that I for sure don’t want to get more mails but wouldn’t I rather stay on the list and donate instead?

    I found your petition once. I can find more causes the same way I did that one. If I want you to contact me I will ask you to do so.

  8. says

    “Slacktivism tells us we have accomplished something when we haven’t. Cynicism tells us we don’t need to accomplish anything because nothing can be done. They’re both lies we tell ourselves.”

    That’s the perfect response.

  9. says

    What you’re claiming is that having to deal with the super-duper, huge, horrendous hassle of receiving an email isn’t worth signing a petition for someone stuck in jail.

    So, yeah, go, you. Go home, in fact. I have other things to do than deal with you.

  10. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Well, apparently my ridiculous country doesn’t have an Indonesian embassy for me to write to (I may end up writing somewhere else instead), but I did manage to put something in Aan’s scholarship fund, which I think is an extremely neat idea.

  11. Midnight Rambler says

    Yep, tears, dude. Real rivulets just running down my face. You poor, poor, precious child.

    Wow, you really know how to turn someone off.

  12. Nathaniel Frein says

    Maybe I’m not as active as I should be or something, but I saw the Aan petition multiple times on multiple FTB posts.

    When I see two people plugging the same petition, I look at the goddamn petition and see if I want to sign it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Now, I’m not sure what petition sites you’re using, but I’ve signed numerous petitions on Change.org and have only gotten the occasional email from them. I certainly haven’t wound up on “ten mailing list” for each petition I have signed. And this wasn’t even a Change.org petition. It was a bloody White House petition…I have never ever wound up on a mailing list from signing a petition there and I doubt anyone ever would end up on a mailing list from a White House unless they have some sort of keylogger on their own system.

    Really. It took me two bloody minutes to read the post about the petition, look at the petition, and sign the petition. Whoop-de-friggin’-do. Took a whole thirty seconds more to repost the petition on FB.

    Took me exactly zero seconds to deal with the resulting inbox spam because, oh yeah, it doesn’t exist.

    Hyperbole is not your friend here, Tim.

  13. Midnight Rambler says

    What you’re claiming is that having to deal with the super-duper, huge, horrendous hassle of receiving an email isn’t worth signing a petition for someone stuck in jail.

    It sounds to me that you’re claiming that someone who’s actually out doing things in the real world is a whiner because they don’t sign worthless online petitions that generate time-wasting spam.

  14. PatrickG says

    A little hesitant to jump in here, and does feel like timdiaz is being a bit jumpy, but I do want to reiterate my point from my first comment here:

    Email spam from petitions is a problem. I used to spend a lot of time trying to filter/unsubscribe, and I finally just gave up. From my perspective, a lot of sites back in the day were very bad with privacy settings, and exchanged lists with sister organizations routinely. I still find myself getting new emails that need to be filtered from organizations I’ve never heard of.

    So you know, I found the petition via FTB and I signed it. But I sure as hell didn’t find out about it via email, despite receiving several, because of the sheer volume of random crap I get. (Pro tip: never give your email to a campaign when donating. In my experience, once you give money, you’re DOOOOOOOMED.) I’ve reworked my filter system so I can flag things I consider important and put them into a separate folder.

    So not trying to defend timdiaz per se, but I would argue there is a technical problem here to be solved. Doesn’t excuse/explain slacktivism and cynicism, but it does exist.

  15. PatrickG says

    Thanks Stephanie. :)

    I don’t feel I’m really getting my point out, which is mainly that the strategy of using email alerts to get the word out might simply not be a very good strategy.

    I don’t really have a solution for it, but I’ve seen enough people say “I literally never heard of this” to wonder if there’s a better method. Not an expert in online organizing, so my 2cents are probably only worth $0.01.

  16. says

    PatrickG, I do understand your point. That’s why I recommended following just a few groups–not petition sites, but groups that have targeted strategies that align with your interests and make the petitions worth more than just plain petitions.

  17. PatrickG says

    Stephanie, glad I got across. :)

    Despite being a pretty tech savvy person, I’m not well-oriented in the online activism community. My interests are so across the board that it gets daunting figuring out what few groups to follow. I just care about too many damn things!

    Planned Parenthood campaigns of all colors, Sierra Club campaigns on all sorts of issues, ACLU campaigns all over the board, EarthJustice campaigns, MRFF campaigns (fucking FTB making me aware of new issues to care about), a few local progressive politicians asking for volunteers, action alerts on coal (working conditions, extraction damage, etc., etc.) in Kentucky, action alerts on fracking (legislative campaigns, PR campaigns, what have you) in Pennsylvania/Ohio/Michigan/Minnesota/Virginia/West Virginia, action alerts on educational standards in Kentucky, and more, and more, and more, all while trying to get a local group (Kentucky Health Justice Network) a website and some online presence… which I’ve definitely been slacking on.

    And now, being new to the online atheist community, gotta add things like CFI, Dawkins, so on and so forth. It’s really daunting. And, I might add, sometimes it’s just fucking depressing. Even just the action alerts for things I think are worthwhile and useful can just sort of result in a “I just can’t deal with this, too much wrong in the world” fatigue scenario.

    The outcome of the Aan petition really sucks, and some introspection is required to figure out why/how it happened and what to do better on all sides following up. I don’t know, I guess I’ll just follow CFI’s updates (well, I’ll cheat and follow you probably, in case my filters fail me) and see what the next steps are.

    So there’s my rambling. Sorry for the wall of whiny text. :)

  18. julian says

    “So, you remember those 30,000 people who stood out in the rain for hours? Yeah, we have a lot more people than that who pay attention to their interests. They sign. They write. They call. Most importantly, they vote their interests too. Do remember that.”

    And this is what I can’t forgive. For all the bluster and whining of the people offended that anyone might be irritated over this failure, it all comes down to atheist don’t vote. Atheists don’t fight. Atheists aren’t a notable minority, they aren’t concerned with civil rights, they don’t sign, they don’t write and they don’t fight for their interests.

    That’s the message that was sent.

  19. Erista (aka Eris) says

    I signed the petition. It broke my heart that so many people weren’t willing to engage in even a (according the them) symbolic act* to support one of our own. All I can do is sit here and think, “How must Aan feel that we couldn’t even get 9,000 signatures? How must it impact him to look at those numbers and know that he is so completely alone that people aren’t willing to take a few minutes out of their day to sign a petition to call his plight to the attention of the White House? How much did it crush his hope that we might do more if we can’t even do this?”

    I imagine that I was in jail his place, and I wonder how much I would weep to know that people cared so little about me that they wouldn’t even sign a damned petition to try to help me. I imagine what it must be like to be him and look at those numbers; even if this petition had done thing else else (and it wouldn’t have*), then it would have let Aan know in no uncertain terms that we knew of his plight, remembered him, and cared at least enough to sign the petition. Now he knows that this is not the case. It robs me of my breath just to contemplate.

    And to everyone who is all “Blah blah, it wouldn’t really help, blah blah,” let me make something perfectly clear: being willing to sign the petition and doing something more are not mutually exclusive, and signing the petition won’t stop anyone from doing more.

    *The act is clearly not sybolic in that the White House would have had to deal with it in some manner.

  20. pramod says

    I’m slightly afraid of posting this because I think somebody is going to jump on me for playing the race card but I think it needs to be said.

    Don’t you think that part of the reason why nobody cared about Aan is because he’s a random brown dude in a third-world country? I don’t buy the reasoning that atheists don’t care about online petitions. Plenty of people supported the online petition about removing “under god” from the pledge – to me that’s a fucking non-issue in comparison to a guy in a jail. There was plenty of support for Ahlquist as well – didn’t lots of people even donate to her college scholarship – and didn’t this happen in the middle of a recession?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these aren’t worthy causes or that we shouldn’t be spending our time on supporting them. I admire Ahlquist and I fully support the idea that “under god” needs to go from the pledge. That said, it’s hard for me to interpret these events as anything other than american atheists care about americans and don’t give a shit about random brown dudes. Which is hardly a surprise, tbh.

  21. EdW says

    I think there’s a critical mass moment when it seems like your additional vote / signature / donation will actually help, and sometimes that pragmatic view gets in the way of doing the right thing. I first saw the Aan petition in its last three days, and wrote it off as a lost cause. I didn’t sign, and now I really wish I had. A symbolic gesture is an infinitely greater good than silence ever could be — but that number just wasn’t high enough for me (and I suspect many others) to be bothered to sign. I was wrong about that.

  22. Steve A.E. says

    With so many people who either signed and condemn those who didn’t or who didn’t sign and, if they knew, defend their decision not to, I’m glad to see I have company in EdW as someone who knew the petition was out there, failed to sign, regrets that failure, and says, as I do, “I was wrong.”

    I’ll at least try to hit each of the five points on that linked CFI list this week.

  23. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Yeah, it’s frustrating. I invitited something like 30 friends (i.e. everyone I know who claim to have some interest in secularism) on Facebook to sign the petition for Hamza Kashgari, and as far as I can tell something like 2-3 of them did, or, to put it differently, 27-28 did not. If spending one minute on a petition to protect another person’s life is too much to ask of most people, it’s tempting to ask what would not be asking too much…

    @pramod #28

    I’m slightly afraid of posting this because I think somebody is going to jump on me for playing the race card but I think it needs to be said.

    Don’t you think that part of the reason why nobody cared about Aan is because he’s a random brown dude in a third-world country?

    I don’t find it at all improbable that considerations of race may be part of the explanation, but perhaps not in the way most people think:

    In a letter to the editor in the latest edition of the National Secular Society’s very excellent Newsline, Raymond Carlise writes:

    I have considered Edward Conduit’s appeal to sign the petition in defence of the Indonesian atheist who has been jailed for saying there is no God, but have concluded that I cannot sign [the] Avaaz petition for Alex. There may well be no God for Alex, as for you or for me. With the Indonesians however it’s evidently a different matter. The limits of subjectivity and of objectivity have to be recognized.

    Really?

    Hmm. But isn’t Alex also an Indonesian? What about his culture and opinion? Or does that not count?

    This is the same racist cultural relativism that sees the ‘other’ as one and the same with the state and established religious institutions that oppresses them and ignores and justifies violations of rights and freedoms at the expense of countless dissenters such as Alex.

    In other words: “But it’s their culture!”

  24. BionicWoman says

    Hi Stephanie,

    Very good post (just started reading your blog). You make excellent points and I will be sure to write letters and donate once I’m back at home (I don’t trust public servers with credit cards and all).

    For those worried about spam, I understand… sort of. I hate getting it, and struggling with filters that often don’t work (my school e-mail for some reason won’t block the addresses I tell it to), and unsubscribing. Or even forgetting to uncheck the box that will sign me up for them. But I have a solution, a rather simple one that no one should claim is too much hassle.

    Make a fake e-mail account. Pick gmail or hotmail or some other free e-mail service, sign up for an account, and use this whenever you need to put in an e-mail address to: sign a petition, register for a website, leave a comment on FTB ;). You don’t ever, ever, ever have to even look at this e-mail account again. There’s no spam to wade through, no e-mail lists to unsubscribe from, and you still can make a difference with a petition without having any hassle other than the original setting up of the e-mail address.

  25. says

    I’m sorry… I had seen calls to sign the petition and didn’t do it right away. By the time I finally said to myself, “Oh, yeah, I’d better go sign that!” it had expired. I am a miserable failure. :(
    I hope $25 to the defense fund will at least help partially make up for my laziness.

  26. Infophile says

    There are a few different ways to try to learn from an event like this. One way is to try to reach the potential signers, to scold those who chose not to sign, in the hopes that they’ll put forth the effort to sign future petitions. This could well help, but it could also push people away. Whether or not you’re right, whether or not they’re being petty, human nature is what it is, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some people come out of this even less likely to sign future petitions. (I don’t know if they’ll be in the majority, though.)

    Another way to look at this is, what can people organizing a petition learn from this event? While you may convince the one commenter on your blog whose reasons/excuses you refute, there are likely to be thousands of people who heard about the petition but refused to sign it for the same reason. Maybe you’ve convinced timdiaz of your point, Stephanie, but the vast majority of people will go on with using similar reasoning to avoid signing petitions in the future.

    As wrong as you think that type of thinking is, it’s what you have to work with. If people resent signing petitions because it’s hard to sign up, start a petition on a site where it’s easy. If they resent it because they’ll get bombarded with e-mails, start a petition on a site which promises to send zero e-mails. If they resent it because they don’t see how it will help, be specific about the good it will do. (That part about how CFI planned to use this for campaigning? Mention that in every post pushing people to sign the petition. Make bulleted lists of every way you plan to use the petition.) People don’t think their one signature will make a difference? Make it clear that it all adds up, and when you add together every “one” person who chooses not to sign for this reason, you get a ton of people, whose signatures together will help.

    Or you could spend your energy trying to convince one commenter at a time to change their signing habits.

  27. hymanrosen says

    I hadn’t heard about this case, but even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have been motivated to sign. My reasons are actually close to the “random brown dude in a third-world country” that a commenter mentioned (although not the brown part, of course). There’s so much wrong with so many aspects of that religion and culture (for example, last week a murderous gang massacred 25 people whom they selectively pulled off a bus after identifying them as members of a particular sect) that singling out one particular person caught up in it for help just seems pointless. It’s rather as if we all tried to help one particular person in the United States arrested for marijuana possession.

  28. maia160 says

    Infophile, great post. I agree, dismissing the reasons people give for not signing the petition is self-defeating and not really helping the cause. This is a great opportunity to find out what went wrong and figure out how to correct these problems so that future efforts are successful.

    Scolding people who provide their reasons for not signing the petition discourages others from speaking up about their problems with the system. And, obviously, people are driven away by the scolding. The opportunity to learn, gain supporters, and correct problems is diminished. This is important information to have; don’t casually shoo these people into the naughty box labeled ‘slacktavist’.

  29. Fred Salvador - The Public Sucks; Fuck Hope says

    Okay, so, the title is “How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves”. Then you read it, and it says this:

    Even if we’d made a huge showing on the petition only to have it ignored, we would have won. Aan would not have, but the rest of us would. Why?

    …which gives the title it’s lie.

    This is not about people “failing” Alexander Aan. It’s about a pointless publicity stunt crashing and burning on the American atheist movement.

    Playing politics with causes is all well and good, but if you’re going to do it with issues that actually matter – like, say, the issue of a young man being incarcerated for blasphemy because he lives in a ridiculous theocracy – then you need to do things that actually alleviate the situation. Fuck petitioning the White House; picket the Indonesian embassy. Boycott Indonesian goods. Donate money to his defence fund. Agitate. Get other people to do similar things, things that hurt the sinners and help the sinned against.

    What you mustn’t do is cook up some politically naive pie-in-the-sky petition and then try to mortify people for not taking part in it. That’s not helpful. That makes people think you’re a sphincter and makes them stop listening to you.

  30. says

    Fred, you seem to have missed the part of the post where it talks about not giving the petition a chance to work and the reasons it may well have if we had. There’s no lie here, as much as you might like to have one for an excuse to blow me off self-righteously.

    Also, at no point did anyone suggest that signing the petition was the only thing someone should do, merely the easiest. Follow the links. You’ll see.

  31. Fred Salvador - The Public Sucks; Fuck Hope says

    Fred, you seem to have missed the part of the post where it talks about not giving the petition a chance to work and the reasons it may well have if we had. There’s no lie here, as much as you might like to have one for an excuse to blow me off self-righteously.

    Sanctimony AND hypocrisy – throw in a little Sharia apologism and you’ve got yourself a hat-trick.

    The petition wouldn’t have “worked”. If the ultimate aim in creating this petition was to have Alexander Aan released from custody scot-free by persuading the American government to take some form of action, then it wouldn’t have worked, and it wouldn’t have worked for so many reasons that it’s tiring to list them all. The most pertinent one being the disinclination of Sharia countries with Muslim majorities (i.e, vocal, motivated voting blocks comprised of people who think Sharia law is actually quite a good idea) – or indeed any country over which the US government holds no real power – to listen to sanctimonious American nobodies when it comes to rescinding convictions. Why would they? What are you going to do, sign a petition at them? Complain to your representative so s/he can table a motion condemning their behaviour in a session nobody will ever care about (oh and by the way let’s tack a rider on there to support an increase in fracking subsidies)?

    But of course this petition was never really about helping Alexander Aan out of custody – how could it possibly be? The premise is so naive and idealistic one would hope that nobody who actually signed this thing would ever be deficient enough to believe it would do any good. Best case scenario, it was a politically naive piece of silliness designed to give the indignant slouch a sense of participation; worst case scenario, it was a cynically motivated publicity stunt designed to showcase community cohesion that went tits-up. As I said, playing politics and PR with causes is fine, but try not to do it with causes that actually matter.

    Also, if the petition was merely the easiest thing people could do to help why are we pissing and moaning so fervently about it’s failure to reach a Capitol Hill waste paper basket? Why is nobody encouraging a funding drive for Aan’s appeal fund? Or rather, a donation drive to fund Aan’s flight from Indonesia following his release considering his appeal is unlikely to succeed and his life is going to be worth shit when he gets out? Moreover why is everyone treating this like an isolated case, ignoring the abject tyranny of sharia law as a judicial system which precipitates nonsensical arrests like this, and thus allowing the whole circus to rumble on unabated?

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  1. [...] year. I took the failure of of the petition to free Alexander Aan and turned it into an essay about increasing your political effectiveness that is now part of a curriculum. I still find that a bit weird. I also live-tweeted and collected [...]

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