In 2002, Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power) collected signatures on a petition that, under a constitutional provision, the Argentine congress was then obligated to consider. The constitutional provision requires the congress to deliberate any proposed legislation brought before it by community members or organizations, as long as that legislation bears the signatures of 1.5 percent of Argentine citizens in at least six of 24 districts.
Poder Ciudadano was created in 1989 by a group of citizens concerned about the defense of civil rights in Argentina. Its petitions, initiated in the several years since the country’s economic collapse, have focused on key problems of hunger and excessive retirement benefits for government officials. The petition related to hunger proposed to feed all impoverished pregnant women and Argentine children under the age of five. Over half of the Argentine population have been living below the poverty line since the economic collapse. Children represent the largest population in poverty and few social programs address hunger among children. The goal of the petition was not only to obligate the congress to address this problem, but also to propose solutions.
Poder Ciudadano wrote the petition, recruited 250 volunteers around the country and trained them with crucial instruction sheets that explained who was eligible to sign, where to send the completed petitions and what information was needed from signatories. Most volunteers were recruited through the organization’s web site and the project coordinator. The volunteers met at public locations in their communities to collect the signatures: markets, bookstores, pharmacies, newsstands and phonebooths. Poder Ciudadano partnered with several organizations and the media, including a prominent radio personality who gave the locations of signature collection tables on air and a major newspaper updating readers on the number of signatures collected.
The initiative was very well received by Argentine citizens and Poder Ciudadano presented it to the congress, which, by late 2002, passed the proposal with some modifications. The right-to-food initiative collected over one million signatures and was accepted by the congress as a state obligation. The program to combat hunger is currently in the early stages of implementation and the first food centers have recently opened.
For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.
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A group in Argentina uses a little-known and under-utilized provision in the constitution to educate the public and mobilize for change, while at the same time convincing the parliament to pass legislative reforms.
Poder Ciudadano transformed widespread apathy into real change. People with no faith in government or its responsiveness to citizens were able to see their own voices have a direct effect on legislation. Poder Ciudadano built a strong network of volunteers, allied organizations and the media to spread word about the petition and gather the enormous number of necessary signatures.