We the People: Seceding from open government?

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The petitions for Texas and other states to secede from the U.S. on the White House’s "We the People" site have drawn a great deal of attention in the past couple of days. I find it highly ironic that people are protesting following the re-election of the Administration by using the very platform set up by said Administration for grassroots advocacy. That being said, it’s also a testament to the idea that open government works—even for those who believe it doesn’t.

Let’s recap.  

In September of last year, as part of its open government initiative, the White House set up a website called "We the People" that allows users to ask the Obama Administration to take action on an issue by creating or signing petitions. If a petition reaches 25,000 signatures within 30 days, policy officials from the Administration will review it and issue an official response. The White House has addressed petitions covering a range of issues from puppy mills to online piracy. Within one year, the platform generated 3.4 million signatures by 2.8 million users, and the White House open sourced the application, which is built on Drupal.

Last Friday, a user identified as "Micah H." from Arlington, Texas submitted a petition asking the Obama Administration to "Peacefully grant the State of Texas to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government." Within three days, the petition had reached the 25,000 signature mark and several copycat petitions were created for various states. 

While these petitions make great talk show fodder, policymakers don’t take the secession discussion very seriously. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry, who once joked about his state withdrawing from the union, has come out publicly against the idea. "But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government," according to his press secretary in a statement to the Dallas Morning News on Monday.

But that’s the beauty of technology and open government initiatives like We the People. After a contentious election, voters frustrated with the outcome felt the need to vent their anger with the results. While Google+, Twitter, and other social media allow individuals to express their views (and clutter up your newsfeed), We the People allows those individuals to come together to amplify their voice in a peaceful forum. It’s one thing to see 20 of your more volatile Facebook friends threaten secession; it’s another to see that more than 80,000 Americans have signed a petition to that effect. We the People is helping the White House take the public pulse on issues that resonate with a large number of the U.S. population and provides a measure of accountability for the government to respond to those issues.

Practically, there is a chance that the White House may choose not to respond. The website terms state: "To avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition." The Administration could arguably decline to address these petitions as a matter for the courts, since the question on the legality of secession is somewhat murky. Not to mention that there are more weighty issues on the government’s plate right now (fiscal cliff, anyone?).

However, as an advocate of open government, I hope the Administration will respond regardless of that loophole. While I personally think the whole secession idea is nutty, responding to your naysayers is an important part of living the principles that We the People espouses. Setting up the technology and open sourcing the White House beer recipe is all in good fun, but these petitions are a truer test of open government.

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Melanie Chernoff | As Public Policy Manager for Red Hat, Inc., Melanie monitors, evaluates, and works to influence U.S. and international legislation and government regulations affecting open source technologies and open standards. She also serves as chair of the company's Corporate Citizenship committee, coordinating Red Hat's charitable activities.


Why is secession nutty?
The US has encouraged and armed many a country to do this very thing. Its a goose vs gander kinda thing.

Besides, its not like Texas has a long history of american rule.
For 300 years its been spanish and mexican and about half that time american. Its not like its some god given right that it has to be part of a union.

Respecting the right of people doesnt limit itself to only the things that you find comfortable.
If Texas was to hold a referendum and voted to leave the union, that should be their right.
Otherwse you are simply a big hypocrite.

I'm not proud to say I am a californian and I would like to be the first by electronic signature to respectfully submit that california should secede from the union. Thank you very much. A proud conservative.

The only way that I could see the state of Texas being able to secede is by the same process as ratifying a Constitutional Amendment. However, probably very few people in Texas actually want independence. People who are mad tend to be the loudest. I suspect that few of the 25 million Texans actually want to give up their national rights.

Secession actually sounds like a good idea right now. We know the election was not carried out properly (thank you desperate Chicago machine), as evidenced by more than 100 links at http://www.ObamaVoterFraud.com. It's not just the federal budget going off a fiscal cliff. The balance sheets of businesses, families, and individuals are all suffering under Obama's extreme policies.

The White House petitions are a great way to vent, but those who are serious should be speaking to our Governors.

In the face of a clearly stolen election with up to 12,000% fraud in some precincts (precinct 93 in St. Lucie County, Florida, for example), it is clear that the Obama regime is not taking democracy seriously.

It should be mentioned that it is not just a few copycat states. All 50 states have petitions well underway to 25,000. Many have passed that mark.

If people want to vote to secede, I never said I wouldn't respect their right to do so (as I pointed out, though, there's some question as to whether we do, in fact, have that right). In the same vein, I respect people's right to free speech, but I may disagree with what they say. I don't find that stance hypocritical.

To Jed's point: You are correct that there are now petitions for all 50 states. That was not the case at the time the article was written. Thank you.


I am not going to really respond to your points. They may be valid. But I would ask you to keep in mind that you must also question their validity. The same things were said after the 2000 election. It happens anytime the presidential race is so close. I would also ask you to remember that things weren't all peaches and cream when GWB left office. This country has been heading the wrong direction under both parties so you really can't blame one side or the other. We live in a country of freedom. And along with that gift comes the responsibility of fixing it when its breaking. Not running away to stick your head in the sand.

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