The right to petition the government to complain about something or to demand action on an issue is as old as our country itself–it’s enshrined in the First Amendment, along with rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, and freedom to assemble. It’s a fundamental part of our political system.

We’re all familiar with petitions: someone corners you at the mall, armed with a clipboard and a stack of papers, asking for a signature. You sign, or not, and usually never find out the final outcome of the petition campaign.

That was old school.

The new way to petition the federal government, like most everything else these days, is online. “We the People,” at www.WhiteHouse.gov, allows citizens (at least those citizens over the age of 12 years) to create petitions on any issue imaginable and then seek electronic signatures from everyone else. The web site provides a forum, but it’s up to the person who created the petition to publicize the effort.

Petitions that garner 150 signatures within 30 days will be listed on the website in a searchable database. If the petition garners enough public support during a set period of time–currently 25,000 signatures within 30 days, although that can change from time to time–someone at the White House will review it and issue an official response. Petitions that meet the second threshold also will be sent to the appropriate government agency for consideration. Petitions that don’t meet the min