Saturday, 19 March 2016

Petitioning LA Metro: some reflections on digital activism

My petition is specifically about Metro’s Fiscal 2017 Budget and the need to prioritize increased frequency on key bus routes. In addition, I urge Metro to prioritize capital investments to decrease headways on the rails. Take a look, and sign here.

Developing this petition felt second nature to me, as my previous post was in advocacy work, and the readings provided a critical scaffold around my own personal activism. In my professional life, mobilization and advocacy toward social change, felt increasingly seamless between on and offline experiences.

I began in D.C. as a digital manager for a small advocacy shop in 2005, and at that time, we still had a fax blast system that sent legislative alerts to local chapters to prompt call-ins, petitions, and letter-writing. We had also developed an active email list, and soon introduced online letter submission to congressional officials. Kreiss’ (2012) piece about the digitization of Obama’s voter mobilization strategies provided fascinating depth and contour to their work, but the findings were not surprising, per se.

I think the most valuable takeaway, was the deliberateness with which he found the campaign identified and cultivated key behaviors from targeted audiences—the criteria for each would be idiosyncratic, it seems; but their matrix of media, based on “audience size and demographics,” informed the navigation of those political networks who made up the electorate, both in the priamries and the general election.

I selected the LA Metro as the social change I wanted to pursue, because, as a new resident of Los Angeles, I am surprised at how infrequently the buses run. I even grew up in Ottawa, with a much smaller population base, and found its standard of service to be higher. Californians are seemingly on a rail kick specifically because of traffic congestion. For some amateur history of public transit in LA:

Even though a few of the articles point to significant challenges that online activists can have in making true social change (Rainie 2012; Cadwalladr, 2013; Wihbey, 2013) I have also attended the very service council meetings where budget recommendations are offered to the Metro staff. 

Attendance is low for routine business like an annual budget; though my sample is admittedly only three meetings ever. Cadwalladr’s and Rainie’s conclusions suggest that the fragmentation and deeper focus of specific initiatives on social media are necessarily tied to the potential impact of these activist efforts. This resonates on my own experiences in DC, where advocates and individual calls or emails regularly upended policy proposals and, as research showed, in fact overwhelmed public officials (Fitch & Goldsmith, 2005).

So for my petition, I chose a narrow focus, where I knew my meager set of signatories would potentially have an impact on the Metro budget committee’s decisions.

A look at my initial promotion on Facebook:


Cadwalladr, C. (2013, November 13). Inside avaaz – can online activism really change the world? The Guardian. Retrieved from

Fitch, B. and Goldsmith, K. (2005). Communicating with congress: How capitol hill is dealing with the surge in citizen advocacy. Congressional Management Foundation. Retrieved from

Kreiss, D. (2012). Acting in the public sphere: The 2008 Obama campaign’s strategic use of new media to shape narratives of presidential race. Research in Social Movements, Conflicts, and Change, 33, 195-223. Retrieved from

Rainie, L., Smith, A., Schlozman, K. L., Brady, H., & Verba, S. (2012). Social media and political engagement. Pew Internet & American Life Project, 19. Retrieved from  

Wihbey, J. (2013, March 5). Pew research: Twitter reaction to events often at odds with overall public opinion. Journalist’s Resource: Research on Today’s News Topics.

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