'No On SB 5': How we got 1.3 million signatures
One at a time, that's how.
I know that's a flippant way to put it, but all the big picture stuff risks losing sight of the most important thing of all: This happened because passionately committed individuals took it upon themselves to get the training and put themselves in a position to ask their friends and neighbors to support the referendum.
Yes, the organization was phenomenal, and yes a remarkably disciplined coalition sprang up with almost no notice. Yes, there are a huge number of people who greatly oppose the GOP's union-busting law, and in many cases actively sought out petitions to sign. But what it took to connect leaders with the citizens who want to veto SB 5 was a small army of activists making sure popular sentiment had a chance to be expressed.
To any volunteer who has ever felt discouraged after pitching in on an initiative that didn't go as well as expected: This is why you keep at it. You don't know at the start how it will finish. You don't know how many other folks are going to join in, or what kind of critical mass it takes for something to catch fire. You just get at it and keep at it, and every now and then you'll be part of something that almost takes on a life of its own - and wildly exceeds even your most optimistic hopes. And it just feels great.
OK, so big picture. When the campaign began, the goal was to get around half a million signatures. We needed a little over 231,000 and the idea was to get more than twice that in order to have a generous cushion for the inevitable disqualifications. A couple weeks ago We Are Ohio announced it had collected 714,137 signatures, which was remarkable; we had over three times the number required and we still hadn't gotten to the final push.
At that point the effort could have eased up considerably. The campaign had gotten almost half again the number it was aiming for. If not another lick of work had been done, it would have qualified as a remarkable achievement. But everyone involved in the campaign knew they could do more than just get the citizen veto on the ballot. They knew they could send an emphatic and unmistakable message by going way over the total.
Based on my own observation and general sense of how it was going, I pegged one million as the upper limit - the dream big and swing for the fences number. I didn't really think it would happen because time was so short, and I figured anyone who wanted to sign already had. Still, I volunteered a few hours at a local fair over the weekend to sit in the local Democrats' booth and collect signatures.
We didn't just have people showing up, either. In a number of cases they stuck around to speak about how important it was to overturn SB 5 and how this was not just an attack on unions but an attack on everyone who isn't independently wealthy. There were a lot of folks who either hadn't gotten around to signing or just needed a little time to come around. Either way, there was still a high level of interest even a few days before the deadline. That was my tip that maybe a million wasn't such a reach after all.
So the final number of 1,298,301 was a shock in the best way. It beat the previous record of 812,978 signatures by 60% - a stunning margin. The degree of support is literally unprecedented, and I think it is safe to say the message has been sent. Progress Ohio was in Columbus Wednesday for the delivery of that message, and here are two pictures from its photo stream. The first shows the petitions being unloaded:
Ohio has never seen anything like this. But none of us knew that at the beginning. That's why you jump in, even if it looks uncertain and even if you feel beaten down by prior disappointments. You just never know when something like this will happen, or what exactly causes a ripple to turn into a wave. We do know how these things start, though:
One at a time, baby.