In 2011, the White House created We the People, a tool on whitehouse.gov inviting Americans to petition the government to take action on issues ranging from the serious — such as reducing gun violence — to the silly — such as building a Death Star.
After the 2012 election, the petition website jumped into the spotlight as hundreds of thousands of people petitioned the White House for the right to secede from the U.S. on behalf of their states.
Although petitions vary by topic and support, they provide a snapshot of what issues are most concerning to Americans at a certain point in time. From automatic budget cuts — also known as sequestration — to American drone policy, Jurassic Park possibilities and Daylight Savings Time, here's a look at 20 recent petitions.
"Our legislative process has become hijacked by the perverting influence of money," a March 8 petition said. "It is clear that our legislators will never vote themselves off the Gravy Train. Because of this, there should be a national referendum to introduce mandatory public funding of all campaigns for office."
Congress created the public funding program for use in presidential elections, in the hopes of reducing the role of large private contributions, the Federal Elections Commission website said.
The petition would seek to extend that financing to House and Senate elections as well.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama became the first major party candidate to reject public financing and the spending limits that came with it. The decision allowed the campaign to raise hundreds of millions of additional dollars, The New York Times reported.
"We have a right to know how the food we eat and feed our families is produced, but under current FDA regulations, we don't have that ability when it comes to genetically engineered foods," an April 2012 petition said.
The petition sought to require labels on genetically engineered foods and gained 71,101 signatures after it was posted.
Under the administration's terms regarding the website, petitions are required to reach 150 signatures within 30 days to be searchable on whitehouse.gov. When the website first launched, 5,000 signatures were required to receive an official response. As of October 2011, the threshold to require a response was 25,000 signatures gathered over a 30-day period. That number was increased in January 2013 to 100,000 signatures within 30 days.
The new threshold applies to petitions submitted from January 15, 2013 onward.
"The American people, in response to Senator Rand Paul's filibuster, demand a response to this question: Do you believe that it is constitutional for the president, the CIA, or any branch of the United States government to kill an American citizen that does not pose an immediate threat on U.S. soil — using a drone or any other weapon?" a petition submitted March 7, 2013 asked. "If so, how does this not violate that American citizen's right to due process as provided them under the Constitution?"
The petition went on to say, "We understand that you may or may not ever decide to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil. The question is, do you actually believe you have the authority to do this under the law?"
The question — as it mentions — was spurred by a March 6 filibuster, where Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., spoke for 13 hours, seeking a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder that drones could not be used to kill Americans not engaged in combat and on American soil.
Holder's reply to Paul, given in a letter dated March 7, said, "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no."
The president's use of the phrase, "our wives, mothers and daughters" drew the ire of one petition maker in February, who said the phrase is "counterproductive to the women's equality the president is ostensibly supporting."
"Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others," the petition said. "Please embrace inclusive language, Mr. President."
The petition was created in response to the president's 2013 State of the Union address, where the president said, "We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence."
The person who created the petition also took issue with the statement "our wives, et al," saying it made the president appear to be talking to men in America about "their women," rather than talking to men and women.
"The International Olympic Committee has decided to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games," a February 12 petition said. 'However, this decision is not an absolute final decision . . . We must put forth the same effort into getting wrestling reinstated into the Olympics as we do as a athlete in the practice room, a coach in the film room, or even a parent in the stands."
The petition asks for the president to help the voices of those supporting the reinstatement of wrestling to reach the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC voted February 12 to remove wrestling from the 2020 games.
"It's the IOC trying to change the Olympics to make it more mainstream and more viewer-friendly instead of sticking to what they founded the Olympics on," gold medalist Rulon Gardner told The Associated Press at the time.
"We petition the president of the United States to finally admit what we all know: that this platform is utterly useless, and that the responses the president provide(s) are only given to trick people into making them think that the president actually cares about them in any way," a February 17 petition said.
On March 11, the petition had 3,686 signatures of the 96,314 needed before March 19.
A Dec. 31, 2012 petition sought to spur a change from the imperial system of measurement to the metric system.
"Instead of going along with what the rest of the world uses, we stubbornly still adhere to using the imprecise imperial unit — despite the fact that practically every other country that we interact with uses metric," the petition said.
The petition said the U.S. should convert because the metric system is "superior" and "less convoluted," while the imperial system "slows things down for us — not only in terms of education, but also businesses, science, foreign relations and daily life."
The petition reached and surpassed the then-required 25,000 signature threshold, gathering a total of 44,296 signatures.
"We've stopped SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act), but now there's CAS, the Copyrights Alert System," a February 23 petition said.
According to copyrightinformation.org, under CAS, Internet Service Providers are alerted when a file is being shared illegally. The ISP can then make accountholders aware of the unlawful content sharing that may have happened, and then move on to temporarily reduce Internet speed, temporarily downgrade the customer's Internet service tier or redirect the landing page for a set period of time, "until a subscriber contacts the ISP or until the subscriber completes an online copyright education program."
The Week's Peter Weber labeled CAS as "a private endeavor between the ISPs and trade associations," with critics and doubters, who worry about things like due process, fair use and wireless networks.
CAS may eventually be unimportant, Alex Knapp wrote at Forbes on Feb. 26. People aren't pirating music the way they used to, he said, mostly because they don't have to thanks to free music via streaming services like Spotify.
"The White House recently came out in favor of allowing consumers to unlock their own cellular telephones. We are asking the White House to apply the same laws and provisions to eBooks," a March 5 petition said.
On March 4, the administration responded to a similar whitehouse.gov petition asking that the government make unlocking cell phones legal.
"The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," R. David Edelman wrote in the official response. "In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones."
"The purchase of a book, whether online or not, is a purchase, not a license," the eBook petition went on. "Digital books should be legal to read on any device that supports standard text files. Legally purchased digital books should not self-destruct, expire or disappear, except under conditions of damage or obsolescence. Within reasonable limits, book purchasers have the right to lend or give books to friends, charitable organizations and libraries. Finally, libraries should be permitted to lend eBooks under the same rules as physical books."
"Please repeal Obamacare," a Nov. 12, 2012 petition said. 'It is destroying jobs in this country and is already taxing businesses into closing."
The health care overhaul, still as controversial as it was when it was passed and signed into law back in 2009, has led to the creation of a number of petitions on the whitehouse.gov website. According to the February Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll, opposition to the law is at 42 percent and support at 36 percent.
According to the latest Congressional Budget Office budget outlook, around 7 million Americans will lose their employer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and the law will cost about $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years. More employers are expected to pay penalties for failing to offer health coverage, for a total of $13 billion in additional revenue.
"If you care even a little about the middle class as you so adamantly said you did during your reelection campaign, then you will repeal it so the middle class can get back to work," the petition concluded.
The petition reached the signature threshold needed for a reply.
"Eliminate armed guards for the president, vice president and their families, and establish gun free zones around them," a Dec. 23, 2012 petition suggested.
"Gun free zones are supposed to protect our children, and some politicians wish to strip us of our right to keep and bear arms. Those same politicians and their families are currently under the protection of armed Secret Service agents," the petition said. "If gun free zones are sufficient protection for our children, then gun free zones should be good enough for politicians."
The petition echoed similar points made by some gun rights advocates during the gun control debate which sprang to life after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school shooting.
The petition crossed the then-25,000 signature goal, finishing with 35,371 signatures.
A petition created Jan. 8, 2013, suggested a meeting between President Barack Obama and radio host, author and political commentator Neal Boortz.
The purpose of the meeting, the petition said, would be to have the president spend one hour discussing Boortz's book, "The Fair Tax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS."
The petition crossed the then-required 25,000 signature threshold, finishing with 28,709 signatures.
In a petition started nearly one month before Utah lawmakers rejected a tax on e-cigarette and tobacco products, petitioners sought to keep the FDA from denying Americans access to things like e-cigarettes and associated accessories and liquids.
After sharing concerns that applying Chapter IX of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to e-cigarettes would ban all e-cigarettes and other provisions would "decimate the e-cigarette industry, protect cigarette markets and otherwise threaten public health," the petition concluded that, "The FDA should not propose or approve any regulation that would deny cigarette smokers legal or affordable access to less hazardous smoke free alternatives."
The petition reached 25,000 signatures prior to the increase in the signature threshold. The total number of signatures on the petition was 27,974.
A Wildwood Middle School seventh and eighth grade journalism class from New Jersey got involved in creating petitions, filing one on Feb. 13 seeking to extend the current federal 12-week maternity leave to 6 months.
"Twelve weeks is not nearly enough time for a parent to bond or simply spend time with their new child before they are required to go back to work," the petition said. "We think that 26 weeks (6 months) is a more reasonable amount of time for a parent to return to their job."
That additional time would allow more time and choice with feeding and would give the family time to establish a regular sleeping pattern, the petition said.
Decrying the "archaic" practice of Daylight Saving Time, a March 5 petition sought to get rid of the policy, saying the original reasons for it are no longer applicable and energy savings arguments are unproven.
According to a recent study from SleepBetter.org, Daylight Saving Time can hurt sleep schedules and cost money — up to $434 million for Americans.
"The real issue, however, is not the later hours or extra sunlight," the petition said. "Studies have shown that changing the clocks is responsible for health problems (including increased heart attack and vehicular accident risks) and leads to hundreds of thousands of hours of lost productivity in workplaces across the country."
"Also," it concluded, "it's really annoying."
The petition had 21,807 of the required 100,000 signatures as of March 12, 2013.
The Transportation Security Administration recently announced changes to its policy which would, beginning April 25, allow folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or less in length and are less than ½-inch wide. Novelty-sizes baseball bats, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs would also be allowed in carry-on luggage. Items like box cutters and razor blades would still be prohibited.
According to The Associated Press, the policy regarding knives is aimed at allowing passengers to carry penknives, corkscrews with small blades and other small knives.
"There's no excuse for reversal on the policy to ban knives from the aircraft cabin," a March 6 petition said. "Multi-layered security, including prohibition of items that could pose a threat, ensures U.S. aviation is the safest in the world. The ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security."
The petition asks the president "join us in keeping our aircraft cabin safe." It had gathered 20,617 of the necessary 100,000 signatures by the morning of March 12.
Worries about automatic budget cuts — also known as "sequestration" or the sequester — are prevalent on the whitehouse.gov site, with many urging the president to protect the military and first responders while making the required $85 billion in cuts.
"The 'sequester' has been used as an excuse to make cuts to services, benefits and even salaries to those who deserve them the most," a March 6 petition said. "Our real American heroes, those who swear to 'protect and defend' are easy targets as their patriotic sensibilities preclude them from complaining when asked to sacrifice.
"However, it does not take courage, nor is it patriotic, to force others to sacrifice in your stead," the petition concluded. "When our country is asked to make sacrifices, real leaders lead by example."
This example, according to the petition, could be seen if the president "and his nearly 300 White House staffers" cut their salaries to zero before cutting anything from the benefits and salaries of other Americans and the country's defenders.
The White House should embrace solar energy harvested from space like other nations have started to do, a March 4 petition said. The petition also argued that space solar power could supply vast new energy resources.
The problem with pursuing space solar power at the current time, according to the petition, is that it falls between the charters of U.S. technology and space agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
"Only the White House (Office of Science and Technology Policy) working with Congress can change the policy gridlock in the U.S. and develop a plan to lead international R&D in this game-changing energy/space endeavor," the petition argued.
Returning to the sequestration issue, multiple petitions on the website currently urge the president to protect educational benefits from the United States armed forces from the automatic budget cuts.
"On March 8, 2013, the United States Army suspended its Tuition Assistance program due to budget cuts. This happened without warning and is affecting over 200,000 soldiers, according to the Army Times," a March 8 petition said. "Education benefits for our service members should not be on the table."
"This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration," Lt. Col. Tom Alexander told Army Times.
According to Army Times, some 201,000 Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers participate in traditional classroom and online courses at 3,100 colleges and universities. The army spent $373 million for tuition assistance payments during fiscal year 2012.
If eligible, soldiers can still pursue education goals using VA benefits that include the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, Montgomery Bill-Selected Reserve, Reserve Assistance Program and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Army Times reported on March 8.
The country has experienced a bipartisan failure, a March 7 petition said, because lawmakers have not been able to work together to create a National Dinosaur Clone Park.
"We believe one national park should immediately be fenced off and filled with dinosaur clones (no pterodactyls, trust us)," the petition said.
The petition demands one national park — open year round — filled with dinosaurs and optional woolly mammoths, and the creation of cloned dinosaurs.
"Why not take a leap into the future . . . from the past?" the petition asked. "Nothing could go wrong. No unforeseen consequences. Just educational fun for the Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus rex and small tourist children."