“The will of the people has been heard,” said President Joe Biden in his inaugural address on January 20, “and the will of the people has been heeded.” Later in the speech, Biden told us that “the American story” depends on “‘We the People’ who seek a more perfect union.”
At some point on that same day, Biden’s incoming administration shut down “We The People,” a section of the White House web site launched by the Obama administration.
“We The People” brought the First Amendment’s right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” into the digital age, with the promise of official responses to petitions receiving 100,000 or more signatures within 30 days.
So, why is it gone? As of this writing, I’ve been unable to find any public comment from the administration. They seem to have simply memory-holed “We The People.”
Maybe they’re just working on a site upgrade, but if so one might reasonably expect a placeholder page saying so. Instead, visitors to the site are redirected to the main White House page.
Or maybe the administration considers listening to “We The People” and responding to our concerns an embarrassment and/or a waste of time.
Granted, some past petitions have been a little silly (for example, one urging the US government to build a Star Wars-style Death Star), while others have been embarrassing to the president in power (more than a million signers sought the release of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns).
That last one may be a clue as to the administration’s motives. If Americans have an easy mechanism for demanding a presidential response to our grievances, and if the president doesn’t want to do what we’re asking of him, it puts him on the spot. He can tell us to buzz off, which no president really wants to be heard doing. He can offer a response that says nothing but feels good, or just ignore us, but we’ll notice.
For all his “We the People” guff, Joe Biden seems far more focused on “unity,” by which he seems to mean everyone doing what Joe Biden and his party tell them to do. In this, he’s not unlike his predecessors.
My columns don’t usually include a call to action, but this one’s an exception. I’ve created a petition at Change.org asking the Biden administration to restore “We The People.” I hope you’ll sign it at Change.org/RestoreWeThePeople.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida. This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.