To some people, mass signings of petitions may well evoke memories of a bygone era, but actually it is still a highly effective tool here in the digital age

“To sway decision-makers, we need more than just good arguments and well-founded analyses. The only thing politicians truly respect is the judgement of voters. This is precisely why it’s so important to show that the Danish people support us and demand action,” explains Director of Public Engagement, Annelie Abildgaard, from Oxfam IBIS.

And we do not need several hundreds of thousands of signatures to make an impression. Getting elected as a Danish MP takes in the region of 20,000 votes. So even if collecting 15,000 signatures does not sound that remarkable, it can make a world of difference for politicians.

“When, for instance, we hand over a signed petition to a minister, he or she usually knows that we hold the upper hand,” says Annelie Abildgaard.

Moreover, our experience shows that many people contribute actively by sharing the message on social media after they have signed. In this manner, we reach more people, and it enables us to engage even more Danes in the struggle against poverty.

“We find that a signature is a good starting point for a talk about how to do even more to exert pressure in favour of a particular cause. And this is regardless of whether the talk takes place on Facebook or through our call centre staff,” says Annelie Abildgaard.

Becoming More Important

There are many signs that petition drives are moving towards playing a more formal role in the various political systems. With the Lisbon Treaty, the EU introduced the rule that a million signatures from four different countries can force the European Commission and the European Parliament to raise an issue. A similar proposal to validate citizens’ initiatives has been debated several times in the Danish parliament. And as late as April 2016, the Municipality of Copenhagen decided that 5,000 signatures behind a political proposal oblige local politicians to
discuss it.

“Online media have made it easier to enter into a dialogue with those in power. Citizens demand answers from politicians who fail to act on important issues. Politicians know this. So I believe we’re going to see more of these types of initiative, where we as an organisation and a movement can help give ordinary people a voice in the political system,” says Director of Public Engagement, Annelie Abildgaard.