Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

White House Begins Responses to 'We the People'

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, October 26 2011

When the White House announced "We the People," an online petitioning platform, activists were cautiously optimistic.

Whether the platform turns out to be a new way for average people to have a two-way conversation with the White House — on a topic of their choosing, not restricted to White House talking points — depended on how seriously administration officials take their promise to respond to any petition that passes a threshold for signatures, activists told me. That threshold started at 5,000 signatures and was raised soon afterward to 25,000.

Today, the White House has released its first response to a petition submitted through the platform. In a written response to a petition calling on the White House to forgive student loan debt, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy Roberto Rodriguez outlined President Barack Obama's plans, released yesterday, to pursue programs to lower monthly loan payments for some students and even partial debt forgiveness for others.

In the Times article, White House Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes framed those initiatives as part of a feedback loop created by We the People:

Ms. Barnes noted that over the last month, more than 30,000 people had signed a petition on the We the People platform at whitehouse.gov, asking for relief on student debt.

“It’s a message heard loud and clear,” she said.

The high cost of college and the growing debt burden of student loans have become increasingly potent political issues in recent years, high on the agenda of Occupy Wall Street and related protests across the country.

Jim Gilliam has lately been working on his online-political-tools-for-everyone startup NationBuilder, but he's a longtime online activist and Internet person. One of his experiments was White House 2, a proof-of-concept site for the way a new online presence for the White House might look and feel.

I asked him what he thought of this first response to a petition.

"Note that the NY Times piece quotes Melody Barnes about how 30k people signed the petition," Gilliam wrote to me in an email. "This is masterful."

Later in the email exchange, he explained:

It's not like Bill Daley sits down in the morning looks at the top petitions and then decides what policy will impact that, but as a means of amplifying citizen's voices, when they coincide fundamentally with what the President wants to do, it can definitely have an impact on actually getting something done. Using the will of the American people as a cudgel in the fight against Congress is something he should have done before he was even inaugurated.

In this case, an online petition gave the Obama administration some ammunition in an ongoing battle over jobs and the economy — and the opportunity to pluck an issue from the nebula of Occupy Wall Street protesters' demands. The promise of conversations outside of the White House's favorite list of topics remains unfulfilled — but it's fair to say that between this, legalizing pot and cracking down on puppy mills, all of which are among the most popular petitions right now, the administration has jumped on the issue most significant to this particular political moment. On the White House blog, administration Office of Digital Strategy Director Macon Phillips wrote today that all 77 of the petitions that have reached the petition threshold was due for a response — including, presumably, at least one answer on legalizing marijuana in the United States.

"Over the next few days, we’ll be posting even more responses," Phillips wrote.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More