Pebble petitioners use aggressive tactics to solicit signatures for questionable petition
September 20, 2012
Dozens of students, staff, visitors and faculty felt they were misled and pressured into signing a petition funded by the Pebble Project. Students and others report having been aggressively solicited for signatures on the mornings of Monday, Sept. 17 and Tuesday, Sept. 18. Passersby were approached around the Rasmuson Library and Gruening Building by three men and asked to sign a petition that they were told would ensure that an environmental review would take place before a mine at the Pebble site can be built. The petition was actually paid for by the Pebble Partnership and supports allowing Pebble to complete a permitting process before the Environmental Protection Agency takes any action.
The signature gatherers were paid $2.50 per signature with a bonus after 500 signatures, according to a craigslist.org employment ad for a signature collector job dated Aug. 16. Though the advertisement does not specify what organization the potential employee would be working for, Nance Larsen, the Communication Manager of the Pebble project confirmed that the telephone number listed on the ad was associated with their organization. No one at this number has answered or returned calls from the Sun Star.
It is still unclear how the 33-word petition titled “Stand up for Alaska” will be used. According to Larsen, its use is “to be determined,” but she said it is not a ballot initiative. In an email, Larsen wrote that the “petition is not in support nor opposition to the proposed mine.” She also wrote that “it is simply a statement that projects should have the right to a fair evaluation,” even though the text of the petition refers only to the Pebble Project.
Sometime Tuesday morning, Heather Benz, an adjunct faculty began posting posters around the same area urging those opposed to the Pebble Project who had signed the petition and believed it to be in their interest, to ask to get their name removed from the petition. The posters stated that “by signing the petition, you give Pebble the right to use their money to get the numbers they want (and need) in order to destroy the most important salmon run in the world.” The actual petition does not specify who would be in charge of environmental studies.
Benz had been approached by the signature gatherers earlier on Monday as she exited the Gruening building and was pushed to sign the petition. “It was just like used car salesmen,” she said. When she continued speaking with one of the petitioners, Benz read the petition and discovered they were financed by Pebble Partnership. Benz proceeded to cross out her name from the list of signatures. She went into her class and asked her students whether they had signed the petition and whether they were in support of or against Pebble. Though only one was pro-Pebble, many students had signed the petition. Benz decided that many had been misled and decided to post the anti-petition ads. “I was really pissed off,” she said.
One female student who did not wish to be named because of the personal stress she said the ordeal had caused her, decided to call Pebble Partnership and asked that her name be removed. The office, which is located in Anchorage, was not immediately sure whether they had petition gatherers in working Fairbanks, but eventually confirmed that the Partnership had paid for the gathering. They promised to remove the student’s name from the petition.
Other students did not pursue the matter, even though they believed they had been misled and did not wish to have their names on the petition. The anti-petition posters urging people to remove their names did not indicate whom to contact until Thursday morning, when someone hand-wrote a number to call.
According to Political Science Professor Dr. Gerald McBeath, it is the responsibility of the signer to inform themselves as to what they are signing. “Students usually don’t read what they are signing– I usually don’t read what I am signing,” he said. Mcbeath added that though he was not approached, his wife was, but she decided not to sign it based on what she felt were overly aggressive solicitation tactics. According to Larsen, such petitioning is common on both sides of such issues.