Opinion: Think before you sign Esplanade petitions

Madison Patterson

Stationed up and down the Esplanade Monday and Tuesday were petitioners. In their arms were bundles of student signatures collected over the course of several days in the unusually hot September sun.

The petitions were advocating to “Protect Ohio’s Energy grid” from foreign interests. Specifically, Chinese interest. Who would want to sign over U.S. electrical systems to China? Very few, it turns out. The signatures piled and piled, as signature-gatherers attended to up to four students at a time.

They worked like salespeople—as if it were their jobs. That’s because it is their job.

Do not mistake these signature-gatherers for political activists, Kent State. They work on commission, often gathering names and addresses for employers unknown, due to the sub-contracted nature of their employment.

“We don’t care if they vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” said a petitioner who declined to give his name. “$10.99 and boom.”

Five other signature-gatherers on campus refused to comment. All they said was that they don’t know who they work for.

“What am I signing?” asked one student, pen already scribbling down information.

I’ll tell you what he and hundreds of other students were signing. 

The petition is a legally non-binding petition paid for by Ohioans for Energy Security. Its premise is to amend state law to prevent foreign control over Ohio power plants, the Columbus Dispatch reported. However, the signatures mean little in terms of legislation, as they would not result in any sort of legislative action or vote. 

So what’s the point of this petition then? Misdirection.

Ohioans for Energy Security is a dark-money funded shadow LLC that has one true objective: to prevent a referendum on the November 2020 ballot to halt House Bill 6 (HB6) from becoming law.

HB6 has become the subject of national controversy. In essence, it bails out two nuclear power plants, two coal plants, reduces renewable requirements for Ohio utility companies and reduces requirements for Ohio utility companies to push energy efficiency. But the environmental impact is not the only reason this bill is garnering attention. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, the bill was met with overwhelming political support because of a mastery of corporate lobbying and manipulation. FirstEnergy Solutions, which owns the nuclear power plants, poured millions into campaign contributions, scripted testimony and perks for political leaders.

And the Chinese part? The nuclear power plants would be replaced by a natural gas power plant, which would receive some funding from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. It’s a stretch, but a clever misdirection nonetheless. 

The petition is just one of the many ways that obscure forces are trying to stop the referendum. Ads run on Kent TV’s and placed in Kent mailboxes lately depict even more serious Chinese invasion. Referendum petition workers have reported being assaulted in the streets. Attorney General Yost told these saboteurs to “knock it off.”

Ohioans for Energy Security does not have to disclose where it gets its funding, but one could make a few educated guesses.

Even if FirstEnergy Solutions isn’t behind this phony grassroots organization, as university students, we should think more critically when signing our name to an issue. How many of the hundreds of students who wanted to secure Ohio’s energy grid really grasped the full context of the issue?

Don’t sign to be polite. Don’t sign to without well-rounded facts. Value your name enough to only sign it to issues you truly understand and care about. Otherwise, you’ll just be helping faceless companies push faceless agendas.

As the petitioner put it: “Lying about the other side—that’s just part of the game.”

Madison Patterson is the editor of Fusion. Contact her at [email protected]