The 12 most signed clemency petitions on change.org.
The 5 keys to success.
Petitions on change.org are a powerful tool for people seeking clemency. The site currently has 2.2 million signatures supporting about 40 clemency petitions.
The Clemency Report asked Jon Perri, deputy campaigns director at change.org and a drug reform advocate, how to make a petition work for those seeking freedom. Here’s what he told us.
What’s your background, Jon?
I started working on drug policy while at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. I worked at Students for a Sensible Drug Policy for several years after college.
So drug policy reform holds a place close to your heart.
Definitely! Right now, it’s one of the most important issues in the country and we’re at a tipping point, not just for marijuana but for drug policy generally. There’s just more compassion for non-violent drug offenders than before and the momentum is growing.
How can a change.org petition help?
The petitions can help people see the human face of misguided drug policies. The backbone of a change.org petition is personal stories, almost always shared by loved ones.
What should a petition say?
Be a story teller. The best petitions put a human face on a policy issue. That’s what drives change. Tell the person’s story or how it’s affected a family. Touch people’s hearts. Even if the goal is to reduce the 18:1 crack to powder cocaine disparity, you want to focus on someone who has been harmed by the law, not the issue in general or legalistic way.
How should the petition be written?
The petition should be from the point of view of a family member, a loved one, rather than an organization. Direct it to the right person — the decision-maker who actually has the power. For example, a clemency petition should be directed to the president or governor, not the prosecutor.
Make sure you include important facts, such as if a pardon applications has already been filed, what the crime actually was and what the sentence is. Keep it short. Make your key point clearly and succinctly.
Dana Jackson in Louisiana is a great example. He’s been in prison for 15 years on a life sentence for $100 worth of drugs under a law that doesn’t even exist anymore. People can easily understand the injustice of that.
Dana’s petition has a family photo. What art should be used?
You always want a high quality photo that shows a person’s humanity. A short one- or two-minute video can work well, too. We don’t allow more than one photo or video because we want as few distractions as possible. We want to drive visitors to the signature button.
Where does a change.org petition fit in to a broader clemency strategy?
You want to ask for something that’s achievable. What makes clemency a popular topic for petitions today is (Attorney General) Eric Holder’s new guidelines for clemency. People can see the path to success. Nothing is going to replace the hard legal work that Clemency Project 2014 is doing, but a petition can bring media attention and momentum to the effort.
Further, families are now realizing that they are not alone. Some people have not spoken publicly for decades about a parent, brother or sister serving a life sentence for drugs. Now, they realize many people are in the same situation and support for themselves and their loved ones is much broader than they ever imagined.
How many clemency petitions does change.org have?
We have about 40 petitions related to non-violent drug offenses. These petitions have 2.2 million signatures from 900,000 people. This group is deeply invested in the issue and a good place to start a campaign for support. I’d love to have more clemency petitions — thousands! I’d love to see more petitions for women. (The Clemency Report has a petition for 25 Women Deserving Clemency.)
What’s it cost to start a petition?
How do you get signatures?
Very few petitions go viral, so don’t make that your goal. Share your petition on Facebook. Ask your petition signers to share the petition. And feel free to share it more than once. Ask friends and family members who know the person to write specific comments of 100 to 200 words that will show up on the petition page and be read. These comments can be very powerful. (See Willie Jones’ comment on Robert Shipp’s petition as an example.)
Take the petition to the local media. The local media love a good petition. You can also pay to promote your petition to potential supporters who’ve signed similar petitions on change.org. (Prices start at $10 to show a petition to 50 supporters. Change.org is a for-profit company based in San Francisco.)
Have you had any clemency successes?
Small ones. Clarence Aaron‘s petition started to take off just before he got clemency last December. We’re hoping to see more sentence commutations this December.
Thanks for the help, Jon.
1. Speak from the family’s perspective.
2. Tell a story.
3. Use a great photo.
4. Share the petition, especially Facebook.
5. Ask the right person for something achievable.
See all clemency petitions on change.org.