It can be hard at times, fitting Zeroism into a busy life. Turns out this whole masters thing is less about watching Supermarket Sweep and more about reading every word ever written about social work. Meanwhile the world’s missed out on a blog entry and my usual epic do-gooding, delaying the revolution for 7 days and putting us back to October 2014. But while changing the world from the confines of the library is not without its challenges, it can be done. I’ve spent the week signing online petitions.

I assume you just raised your eyes and thought about smirking but bear with me here. Petitions don’t have the greatest reputation in the world. They whiff of vanity, of active-looking inaction where people who know nothing about an issue sign their name, do nothing else and figure they’ve fixed a problem. They whiff of pettiness, of overuse that attaches them to a range of causes meaning for every ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ we have a ‘Free cocktail sausages for overworked backing dancers’. A quick trawl around Facebook and Petitions Online flags petitions demanding a Primark be built in Warrington that The People might buy cheap clothing, a Street Fighter mixtape be released that The People might boogie, and a non-animated 3-D Pokemon movie be made for some reason. There’s a petition calling for us to worship Lucy Lawless’s feet and toes, and millions of petitions demanding paedophiles be tarred, feathered, burned, skinned, raped, tortured, told off, killed, shot, stabbed and banned from swimming pools, biscuit factories and Wii tennis tournaments. There’s no denying it. Petitions are the A-bombs of activist tools: they’ve been useful, but now they’re in the hands of complete dickheads things are getting scary.

If petitions are going to work – and they can, sometimes – they need to be credible and have a route to the people who can actually bring about change. With that in mind I started with Save the Children’s ‘Press for Change’ thing. They were looking for 100,000 signatures for their petition calling on the UK government to kick ass at the UN summit and big up tackling the preventable diseases that kill about two million children a year in developing countries. They managed 63,000 signatures and were aiming to take them to Nick Clegg to ensure the government sticks to its part for the Millennium Development Goals and tells everyone else to do that same.

That done, I visited Amnesty International. They’re always good for a petition. They offered me the case for Ramze Shihab Ahmed who is being held in detention in Iraq without charge. Amnesty reckons he’s one of about 30,000 who’ve been imprisoned, tortured and generally dicked around. We can email William Hague and have him tell Iraq to cut that shit out. Then there’s the case of Patrick Okoroafor, sentenced to death for a robbery at the age of 14. Amnesty says they’ve helped reduce the sentence but he still faces 24 years in prison. We can contact the Nigerian authorities and tell them we’re not having that either.

Still, it’s hard to know if these things make a difference. When he hit New York, Nick Clegg told the UN, “We will keep our promises, and we expect the rest of the international community to do the same.” Save the Children took the credit and thanked its supporters for saving millions of lives. Seems a bit specious to me; two things happening doesn’t mean one causes the other but we can agree even if we can’t connect specific results to specific petitions we can connect progress to movements, and keeping the Million Development Goals talked about is a good thing. Nick Clegg said something nice, whether we can take credit for it or not.

It’s just a shame he was forgotten slightly after some gobby maniac from Iran mouthed off about 9/11, nuclear weapons and Lucy Lawless’s crap feet, but as with our petitions it’s the thought that counts.

Photo credit: National Records and Archives at Wikimedia Commons