#FreeSentsov: How White House ‘We The People’ petitions are changing the world


#FreeSentsov is one of the most rapidly signed petition on the White House website. And it is not just a hashtag. #FreeSentsov became a slogan for all those fighting for Democracy in Europe right now.

Who is Sentsov?

Oleh (a.k.a. Oleg) Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker and writer. He was born in Crimea. Following Russian illegal annexation of the peninsula, Sentsov has been sentenced for 20 years in prison on charges of plotting a terrorist act. The court process has been described as massively fabricated by most international observers and lawmakers. He is one of the four famous political prisoners of Russia, together with other Ukrainian activists Afanasyev, Chirnigo and Kolchenko. The latter is famous for his antifascist, ecologist and pro-trade union position. On May 14 2018 Sentsov went on hunger strike to protest the incarceration of 65 known Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia. His health since has completely deteriorated, but he hasn’t stopped the hunger strike.

So how can a simple petition help the matter?

White House petitions are mandatory for the administration to respond to a petition once it’s reached 100 000 votes. Thus, the least the petition can do is raise awareness and bring an issue up for top officials’ attention. And this, sometimes, is already a lot. On the other had, once a petition has been signed by 100 000 votes, White House administration has to thoroughly examine the issue and give a comprehensive answer as per what and how it will be felt with. Thus, in the case of Oleh Sentsov and other Ukrainian prisoners kept in Russia when the injustice is evident top US officials will have to publicly announce their position and therefore put pressure on Russian counterparts.

This may not seem like much, but it is least that the people of the free world can do. And if you would like to sing the petition just do it so here.

How do White House ‘We The People’ petitions work?

Everyone can create and sign a petition. The hard part is to get to 100 000 signatures. It is virtually impossible without the help of mass media or influencers.

How White House petitions work
Credit: petitions.whitehouse.gov

Examples of successful petitions:

  1. Cell phone unlocking bill – one of the most successful and famous White House petitions. Sina Khanifar, OneSignal co-founder and activist started the petition that would allow US citizens to unlock their cell phones with legal consequences. Two weeks after the 100 000 signatures threshold was reached, Obama administration responded requiring FCC and Congress to take action to legalize call phone unlocking. Congress then passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. It was the first to be driven by an online petition ever.
  2. College graduates loan break – in 2011 White House agreed to reduce the burden of college graduates with loans. The petition called to do so and thus stimulate the economy, assuming the money will be sent in the country, thus increasing consumption and overall GDP. An average college graduate accumulates a debt of more than $20 000 in student loans. And that money, according to the petition should rather be sent on goods and services within the US.
  3. Antifa petition – started in August 2017 petition requested that “AntiFa” be classified as a terrorist organization by Pentagon. Media than discussed that the whole point of the petition was for the matter to be discussed rather than call for specific actions by the government. The White House later responded to the petition stating that law enforcement officials have many tools to address violent individuals and groups.
  4. Yogi Berra Award – petition called to award a professional baseball player Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was due to his military service and activism that the people demanded so. Later the same year, Presidential Administration awarded Berra with the highest possible civilian honor.
  5. Freedom of speech protection – in 2012 petitioners called for White House administration to protect the First Amendment and respond to two pieces of a controversial anti-piracy legislations. More specifically, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. The White House then responded that it acknowledges the legislation’s concerns about piracy. At the same time, it could not support reduction of freedom of expression, increase in cybersecurity risks and undermining of innovative global internet.



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