Organize a Free College for All Petition Drive

Download a printable version of our petition drive guide

Why organize a petition drive? Collecting petition signatures is a great way for us to build popular support for Free College for All and demonstrate to elected officials that there is serious momentum behind the issue. Regular petition drives are also a great way to build a team. If you set a consistent, repeating time and local meeting place for Free College for All petition drives, you can tell people you canvass that, if they want to get more involved, they can come to the next petition drive. Instead of scheduling petition drives as they come up, we’ve found it to be most effective to pick a recurring time and consistent place (e.g. “Every Sunday we meet at the coffee shop on 50th and Park Lane at 2pm to launch our petition drive”).

What is a petition drive? A petition drive is a planned canvass or series of canvasses in your community to collect signatures for our Free College for All petition. It’s super easy to put together a petition drive if you are just getting involved in this work, and they can be very successful with even just one person canvassing. All you need is a pen, clipboard, and printed petitions!

Where can I organize a petition drive? Any high foot-traffic area! Canvassing in your neighborhood knocking on doors is a good go-to. Dining halls, busy streets for pedestrians, concerts, major events, etc.

What are we asking people to do? There are three action steps people can take:

  1. Sign our petition. This is the basic action step that we are leading with. Signing on to our petition is an easy step people can take to support the campaign.
  2. Tell their story about why we need Free College for All. Our stories are powerful. We don’t need a bar graph to say that we couldn’t afford groceries last week, or a cost-benefit analysis to tell people that we will be paying off our student loans for the next 30 years. We know these things because we live the experience. If someone has a story to tell around why they care about Free College for All, give them this link to our survey monkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/32WG3HM
  3. Join the next petition drive. If you are planning to organize regular petition drives, invite the people you meet to come out and canvass with you. Or share our toolkit with them so they can plan their own.

Sample Script:

Hey… do you think college should be free?

 

  • If no, say thank you and move on.
  • If yes, or maybe, continue conversation.

 

Awesome, me too. My name is ____________ and I’m with Student Action. We’re fighting for fully funded free higher education for all people, including undocumented and formerly incarcerated people.

How would your life change if we had free college tomorrow / why does the issue of Free College for All matter to you?

Have a conversation. Share a bit about why the issue matters to you.

Cool! We’re collecting petition signatures to deliver to local, state, and federal elected representatives to show mass support for fully funded Free College for All. Can we count on you to sign on in support of fully funded Free College for All? 

Possible pushback:

  • I’m not a registered voter. Can I still sign? Yes, absolutely! You don’t have to be a registered voter to sign on in support.
  • Are you going to give out my information? I’m already getting too many emails. Student Action will not give out your information to any other organizations.
  • I don’t really want to give any money right now. Totally understand. We actually aren’t asking for any money today — just your support for Free College for All.
  • I really support you all, but I don’t think that this issue is winnable right now. You’re right. It’s going to take a mass movement of people demanding Free College for All for us to win. But that starts right here with us gathering signatures in support. Your support can be part of turning the tide to make this issue winnable.

If yes: get information from person to sign petition.

Also, we are looking for people who are willing to share their story about Free College for All. We are building this campaign around our stories, and would love to hear more about why you care about the issue. Could we count on you to submit a story?

If yes, give them the link ( ) to submit a story.

We also need more dedicated people to be out canvassing like I am heretoday to spread the word and collect more signatures. Could we count on you to come out and canvass with us?

If yes, give them details of your next canvass, or text/email them a link with the toolkit for them to organize their own canvass.

Make sure to mark on your data sheet which commitments they signed up for.

Thank you! Have a good day.

Principles for a good petition drive:

  • Each conversation should be 3-7 minutes. We want to have deep conversations with people, but make sure you aren’t getting pulled into long conversations that limit your ability to talk to more people.
  • Stay grounded in shared values and personal experiences relating to Free College for All. People are moved by stories, not facts. The best way to have a real conversation with someone is by engaging them around their values and experiences, as well as your own.
  • If someone is on the fence, have a conversation. But some people are hard “no’s” and nothing we say will change that. If you feel like someone is a “no,” move on.
  • Be friendly, courageous and persistent. We are all used to moving quickly through our days and are often suspicious of any unexpected interaction. It takes courage and persistence to break through that wall and have a real conversation with someone. Remember that the majority of people do share our values, even if they are hesitant to engage at first.
  • Make sure you stay safe. The world we live in is full of racism, sexism, transphobia, etc., all of which you may encounter while canvassing. Do your best to connect with people, but if you need to walk away, do so. Remember, you can always call someone to debrief a challenging conversation before moving to the next door.

Steps to running a petition drive

  1. Make a plan: set the time and location, review this guide, and gather all the materials you need (printed petition, printed signature sheet)
  2. Recruit others. Create a Facebook event, call through your contacts, put up flyers, etc. Make sure to follow up with people who RSVP online or say they will come 1-2 times to confirm their attendance and make sure they remember the details
  3. On the day of, train your canvassers. Review what we are asking people to do, the sample script, and the principles of doing a good petition drive. If there’s time, have a few people practice conversations.
  4. After the petition drive is over, make sure to enter all of the data here. Entering your data is super important for making your petition drive worthwhile.
  5. Start planning the next one! And recruit a few others to plan with you.