How to Take Action to Abolish the Death Penalty

Six Methods:Building Direct Public Support to Abolish the Death PenaltyConducting a Petition Drive to Oppose the Death PenaltyCreating a Ballot InitiativeHolding an Anti-Death Penalty Rally or EventMaking Use of the MediaInforming Yourself about the Death Penalty

The death penalty is a topic that raises strong opinions, both for it and against it. If you are opposed to the death penalty and want to take action to try to abolish it, either on a regional or state level, or nationally, there are some effective measures you can take to gain support and try to get the practice abolished. You can reach out to people directly to change their opinions on the death penalty. You can also take steps on a wider scale to try to change the laws and abolish it completely. Whatever action you choose, you need to act responsibly to try to get your point across.

Method 1
Building Direct Public Support to Abolish the Death Penalty

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    Talk with friends and colleagues. First, you need to be sure to educate yourself on the issue. Learn as much as you can on the topic of the death penalty, and then share your research with others. After you are confident that you fully understand the issue, and you can speak clearly about it and defend your ideals, it is time to begin spreading your opinion. Start with a small circle of friends, family, or coworkers. Talk about the topic openly and try to gain support for your opinion. As you discuss the topic more, you will find which people want to support and join you as you take the matter to a broader stage.
    • Realize that the death penalty can be a divisive topic, with many people taking strong opinions on one side or the other. If you meet someone with an opposite viewpoint, keep your conversation civil. You can hold to your convictions, and focus the conversation on factual matters. By discussing facts, rather than opinions, you can keep the conversation informational rather than confrontational.
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    Speak to local civic groups. Seek out civic organizations or groups that share your view on the topic of the death penalty. Join with them, or see if you can attend a meeting sometime and speak on the issue. To find groups that would be interested in a discussion or presentation on the topic, try the following:
    • search online for "death penalty speakers" to find discussion groups or lecture series on the topic
    • network with friends and colleagues
    • contact a local college or university to see if a student group on human rights would be interested in hosting a speaker
    • contact local civic organizations like Kiwanis or the Rotary Club
    • Reach out to religious groups (e.g., churches, pastors, priests, rabbis)
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    Publish editorials voicing your opinion against the death penalty. You can either send letters to established print media, such as local newspapers or other regional publications, or you can post your own information online. The Internet provides a very broad opportunity to reach out to people and share your views.

Method 2
Conducting a Petition Drive to Oppose the Death Penalty

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    Start a petition drive with a strong statement of your position. A petition can be a powerful tool to show the government not only that you are opposed to the death penalty but also that many other people feel the same way. You can begin by writing out a clear statement of your position, something like, “We, the undersigned petitioners, strongly oppose the death penalty in this country/state and encourage the government to abolish it immediately.”[1]
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    Include a statement of the rationale for your position. A strong petition statement will include a few sentences that support your position. This will be based on your prior research.[2]
    • You may say something like, “Recent research demonstrates that the death penalty is biased against _______ race of people, as ____% more are killed than whites.”
    • You might also include statistics on the number of deaths: “In 2015, ____ people were put to death. This number is outrageously high.”
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    Study the rules in your state or area for a viable petition. If you are trying to present a petition that will be binding on the government to take some action, you probably have to follow certain rules. Some of the rules that generally apply to governmental petitions include the following:[3]
    • a minimum number of signatures for the petition to be valid
    • whether you must use specific forms or petition sheets
    • whether you need printed names along with signatures
    • whether you must include addresses for each signer, or any other information
    • deadlines for submitting the petitions to be considered on an upcoming ballot
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    Set goals for your signature gathering. Based on what you find regarding the petition rules in your area, you will need to establish goals and expectations for gathering names. It is usually recommended that you try to collect up to 50% more names than the minimum requirement.[4] It has been found that in most petition campaigns, many signatures are either invalid or unverifiable. Collecting many extras will ensure that your petition will be accepted.
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    Find enough volunteers to help you collect signatures. You are not likely to be able to collect all the signatures that you need on your own. Think about the number of signatures that you need, and then figure out a reasonable number that can be collected by one person. This will let you know how many volunteers you should have.[5]
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    Provide the volunteers with training and materials. You will need to get copies of the official petition sheet, sufficient numbers of pens to collect signatures, and clipboards for each volunteer. If you are able to set up a collection station at a fixed location, you may also choose to get a table and promotional materials as well. Be sure that all your volunteers fully understand the cause and are ready to talk on the issue when they approach people to sign the petition.[6]
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    Organize your petition drive. You want to be sure that your volunteers are not approaching the same people over and over to gather signatures. Organize their efforts with assigned locations, either as fixed stations or in neighborhoods to visit door-to-door. It would also help to arrange common times to collect signatures.[7]
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    Collect the completed petitions and deliver them to the appropriate government office. When your petition drive is complete, find out where you need to send the petitions, and have them delivered.[8]
    • If you are just trying to influence the votes of your legislators, then you will want to send copies of the signed petitions to your state or federal representatives and senators.
    • If you are trying to get a specific question placed on the ballot for a vote at the next election, there will be very specific rules you must follow. You will have to provide the original and certain numbers of copies to the Secretary of State's office. If this is your plan, make sure that you research the procedure very carefully ahead of time.
    • If you are just trying to raise awareness of the public's views on the death penalty, then fewer rules apply. You will want to share copies of the completed petitions with news outlets, both in print and on television.

Method 3
Creating a Ballot Initiative

  1. 1
    Understand the purpose of initiatives. Some states offer their citizens an opportunity to directly propose and enact state laws and state constitutional amendments. This process, called the initiative process, can be used to outlaw the death penalty in your state. While there are quite a few states that offer an initiative process, California and Oregon are two states that utilize the practice often.[9]
  2. 2
    Write a proposed law. The first step in the initiative process is to draft the proposed law you would like enacted. As the petitioner, you can certainly choose to write the language yourself. However, your chances of success will increase drastically if you hire help. If you are writing the language on your own, make sure you do some research into how statutes and constitutional amendments are worded. A poorly drafted law is unlikely to get the support necessary to make it on the ballot. The proposed law should be persuasive, succinct, and it should follow general legal rules of construction (e.g., where to put commas, sentence structure, etc.).
    • If you want to pay to get help, hire a lawyer. Lawyers have a unique understanding of how laws are worded and drafted. If you do not know any lawyers, contact your state bar association's lawyer referral service. After answering a few general questions, you will be put in contact with qualified lawyers in your area. Try to find a lawyer who has experience with your state's ballot initiative process. In a state like California, you may even be able to find a lawyer who specializes in this area of the law.
    • If you cannot afford a lawyer, or you want to take a different route to get help, consider petitioning your state's legislative counsel to help you. In Oregon, for example, the Legislative Counsel will assist you in drafting a proposed initiative so long as you get 50 or more signatures from electors requesting help and the Legislative Counsel Committee determines that the initiative is likely to make it on the ballot.[10] If you get help from the legislative counsel in your state, they will draft the law with your input.
  3. 3
    Submit the proposed initiative to the secretary of state or attorney general. Once the proposed law has been written, you need to submit it to the state government for review. For example, in California, you must send in your proposed law, along with a written request asking that a title and summary of the proposal be written.
    • As a part of your proposal you will also have to submit certain declarations and certifications promising that you are proposing the initiative for proper purposes. For example, in California, you will have to declare, under penalty of perjury, that you are a citizen of the US and California and that you are over the age of 18. Also, you will have to sign a certification promising that you will not use any signatures you collect for improper purposes.
    • When you submit your proposal to the state, you will have to pay a fee. In California, for example, the fee is $2,000. The fee is placed in trust and will be refunded to you as long as your initiative makes it on the ballot within two years. However, if your initiative fails to make the ballot, you will forfeit the fee.[11]
  4. 4
    Allow for public review. Once the state government reviews your proposal and creates a working title and summary, they will post your proposal on their website and facilitate a 30-day public review process. During this 30-day period, any member of the public can submit comments about your proposal. The government will provide you with these comments and give you an opportunity to amend your proposal.
    • Make sure you amend your proposal quickly as you will only have a limited amount of time to do so. In California, for example, you will not be able to amend your proposal once five days have elapsed since the public comment period ended.[12]
  5. 5
    Format your petition. After the public review process, you will have to format a formal petition, which will be the document you circulate in order to gather signatures. The format of your petition is dictated by state law. For example, in California, your title and summary must be at least 12-point bold font and the body of the petition must be at least 8-point font. There must be a heading, title, summary, the entire proposed text, and a signature section.[13]
    • Check with your state to ensure you follow the directions. If you fail to create an adequate petition, your initiative will not move forward.
  6. 6
    Obtain the required number of signatures. In order to qualify for the ballot, your initiative must be signed by the required number of qualified voters. For example, in California, you will have to get somewhere between 365,880 and 585,407 valid signatures. This will be done by circulating your petition throughout the state and having people sign it. You can hire circulators, get volunteers, or collect signatures through other means so long as it is allowed by your state.
    • Each signature must be given by a registered voter who lives in the county where the petition is being circulated. Each person signing must personally place his or her signature, printed name, and address on the petition.
    • Once you think you have obtained the required number of signatures, you will submit your petition to the state government for review. The government will ensure that each signature is real, accurate, and not a duplicate.[14] The government will always invalidate some signatures for various reasons so it is always a good idea to get more signatures than just the minimum. If your petition is granted, your initiative will be placed on the ballot.

Method 4
Holding an Anti-Death Penalty Rally or Event

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    Decide the objective of your event. Anytime you want to conduct some sort of public event, you need to have a goal in mind. Are you going to conduct a rally to gather signatures on a petition? Or a parade to raise general awareness? Or a strike in front of the state legislature to influence votes? You need to consider the possibilities and then proceed with an event that is targeted to your objective.
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    Meet with supporters to choose an event. If you want to do something public to gather support and attention for your anti-death penalty position, you will need to begin with a planning group of supporters. Get together and decide what kind of event you want to hold. Some ideas might be:[15]
    • A parade
    • A picket strike or rally
    • A fundraising concert
    • A lecture at a school or hall
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    Find out the local requirements for your event. You may need a permit to conduct the event you want. You may need police details for crowd control. Depending on the location and duration, you may need to rent portable toilet facilities. You need to meet with your planning group and consider these sorts of details.[16]
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    Delegate the work. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Among a small group of supporters, assign different people to do different tasks. One person can be in charge of obtaining the permit, while another person can begin working on advertising and press releases. A well-organized project will keep everyone active and involved, without overworking anyone.[17]
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    Plan the details of the event very carefully. Make sure that you are a step ahead of everything. You should know how the time is going to be filled and what will be happening during the full event. If you are having a speaker, who will make the introductions? How long will each person speak? What is your overall objective for the event, and how will you know that it has been achieved? Spend time thinking of questions and answering them, well in advance.[18]
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    Advertise early. Give the public plenty of time to hear about your event and to plan to attend. Be clear in your advertisements about the date, time and location. If the event has clear start and stop times, let people know this. On the other hand, if it is a rally that starts at a particular time and lasts as long as people are interested, you can say that.[19]
    • Make use of multiple outlets for advertising. You may consider posting flyers, taking out newspaper, radio or television ads, or blasting announcements on social media.
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    Conduct the event. On the day of your event, be sure to arrive at your location early. If you have guest speakers or notable attendees, be sure to have someone ready to greet them. Oversee that details are put in place, like sound equipment, staging, etc. Stick to your original plan, but try to be ready with alternate contingencies if necessary.[20]
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    Follow up with people after the event. If you were able to get contact information for the people who attended your event, you should reach out to them afterward with telephone calls, postcards, or email messages. Thank them for attending, offer to get them involved in future events or activities, or provide them with additional information that may help encourage their support to abolish the death penalty.[21]

Method 5
Making Use of the Media

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    Use the Internet and social media. The Internet and the various social media outlets are very strong tools in building public opinion. If you know someone who is good at web design, you may even create a site of your own to post information, share research, and gather public opinion in support of your cause. You can also make strong use of Twitter or other outlets to reach a wide section of the population.[22]
    • For example, the latest efforts in the ongoing civil rights movement have become universal through Twitter and Facebook with "#blacklivesmatter." The creation of a catchy phrase and a hashtag gets instant attention when the topic goes viral.[23]
    • Another topic that caught wide attention through social media was the Occupy Wall Street movement. Organizers gained wide recognition with the creation of @OccupyWallSt on Twitter. That single name alone received over 200,000 followers.[24]
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    Write editorial letters to local or national newspapers. While computerized social media is quick and efficient, there is still a large proportion of the population that reads newspapers and gathers opinions from regional or national printed sources.
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    Contact television sources. The idea of a group of people coming together on a topic as emotional as the death penalty is usually enough to catch the attention of the local news. You should contact regional television news stations and notify them of any events you are holding, notify them of your petition drive before it begins (this will encourage some people to look for you to sign the petition), and notify them of opportunities to join your campaign.[25]

Method 6
Informing Yourself about the Death Penalty

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    Organize your research around certain facts and topics related to the death penalty. The death penalty is a very emotional issue for many people, but you are not likely to bring about serious change based solely on emotions. You need to research factual articles to learn some of the details about the death penalty. Some of the topics you may wish to research are:
    • The number of prisoners put to death over a given time period.
    • The countries or states that do and do not use the death penalty.
    • The countries or states that have recently changed their position on the death penalty.
    • Details on costs associated with the death penalty.
    • Factual information about prisoners who have been exonerated before (or after) being put to death.
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    Research the subject thoroughly. There are numerous agencies and storehouses of information that exist just to support research on the death penalty. You can make use of their resources to begin your research. Some leading sources that may help you begin are:
    • The Death Penalty Information Center[26]
    • The Pew Research Center[27]
    • The National Academies Press[28]
    • The Heritage Foundation[29]
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    Learn about both sides of the issue. To be responsible in your presentation, you must be prepared to consider both sides of the issue. Read articles that are in favor of the death penalty, as well as those that are opposed to it.[30][31] Sometimes, your best research will consist of reading books or articles that do not take a position on either side but, instead, report facts and details.[32]
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    Respect people with different opinions. To argue well on any topic, you must at least respect the opinion of the opposing side. Showing respect does not require agreement. It means that you recognize the possibility of holding an opposing view, and you will treat the subject seriously. It will make you work harder to present your side of the issue, but in the end, your argument will be strengthened.[33][34]


  • When attempting to convince others of your views, do so calmly, civilly, and without becoming defensive. Many people are not at all willing to change their views and will only be annoyed if they perceive someone is trying to sway their beliefs.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Human Rights