A petition is a list of names, usually with signatures, that are collected together to show a support for an idea or decision. Petitions like these are used in order to show those with power relating to the issue that a large selection of people feel strongly about a certain issue. The petition in this way suggests that there will be a large amount of opposition or dissatisfaction should the controlling party decide to act against the wishes of those on the list. Petitions have been around for a long, long time and can be used for almost any matter be it political or just a bit of fun. They have the power to change the course of history, facilitate democracy and sway gigantic decisions, or just to force producers to release the musical score from Transformers on CD.
Like so many things, petitions were perhaps used earliest in China during the pre-modern imperial era. Here petitions were sent to an 'Office of Transmission' where they would be read aloud to the emperor. Petitions could be sent by anyone from officials to peasants giving Imperial China an element of democracy ahead of its time. This system also court on in England during the 18th and 19th centuries where petitions served a popular form of protest and request in the British House of Commons. The most famous of these was the People's Charter in 1838, which stipulated that every man should get a vote (at the age of 21 at the time), that he should get to use a ballot, that parliaments would be annual and that the constituencies should be able to secure the correct amount of representation and choose who represented them and who made up their number. Eventually, through four separate petitions in total, the charter was successful and in this way petitions lay the foundation of democracy in Britain. In the US the 'Petition Clause' in the First Amendment to the US Constitution gave all people the right to petition the government for all matters pertaining to the 'redress of grievances'. This extends to the right to file lawsuits against the government. In Victoria, Australia women's suffrage even took the form of a successful petition which won a vital victory for women's rights.
Today the use of petitions is common place in politics, a recent and well-known example being the 2003 recall election in California that resulted in Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship which occurred after he US Representative Darrell Issa gathered millions of signatures to bring about the election. Petitions are now used more casually too however, and can be sent to television and film producers to request storylines or DVD releases, or to music producers. Petitions are also common in offices and schools to make changes to the internal workings of these smaller organisations and are encouraged in schools as a way to teach children the fundamentals of politics.
With the advent of the internet and today's large amount of connectivity, petitions far more quickly and easily be created for minor grievances and for fun. Facebook has seen the birth of thousands of petitions where joining a 'Facebook group' indicates support for matters as small as which soap characters should be brought back or cancelled and as large as ending genocide in Burma. Unlike traditional petitions these are not 'sent' anywhere but act more as a way of raising issues and venting frustrations. Joke petitions are also common online with titles such as 'Chuck Norris for President' (we can only dream). With a petition, anyone has the power to be heard and every vote counts; and as connectivity and democracy grows our ability to have a say on policy changing issues is only going to increase.