There are 35 million people, residing in 196 countries, who access www.Change.org. These people aim to change the world, taking assertive action and righting the wrongs that afflict many.
Change.org enables people to launch a petition and then encourage others to sign it. To start a petition, individuals must write answers to three questions: 1) Why do they want to start it? 2) What specific change do they want to see? and 3) Why is this urgently important now?
Once enough people sign the petition, the organizers send it to the correct organization or individual to reform things.
For example, 105,721 people signed a petition urging President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. In early May 2013, Obama announced that he would honor his campaign promise and try to shutter the prison. Was it coincidence, or did that petition reignite the issue and reveal widespread support?
Change.org is devoted to “people using our tools to transform their communities—locally, nationally and globally,” states the website. It fights many battles, including “a mother fighting bullying in her daughter’s school, customers pressing banks to drop unfair fees or citizens holding corrupt officials to accounts.” The site is about everyman versus the government, the little guy against the system, and the individual fighting injustice. It declares that it is “empowering people everywhere to create the change they want to see.”
Unlike political action committees, which are run by insiders--the affluent and powerful--anyone with access to a computer can launch a petition on Change.org. Unlike most political action committees, which often operate clandestinely, most people list their names, though readers can be anonymous and use John and Jane Doe to start petitions.
On the Browse page, readers can choose which topics. The topics include animals, criminal justice, economic justice, education, environment, gay rights, health, immigrant rights and women’s rights.
Ben Rattray, a Stanford University graduate, launched the site in San Francisco in 2007. He thought individuals leading and promoting causes would yield more impact than campaigns started by organizations. The petition idea fit perfectly into what the Internet can do, since an individual can begin a petition online and circulate it online.
Despite the fact that Change.org sounds like a charity, it is a profit-making entity. It is funded by non-profit organizations that pay from $5,000 to $1,000,000 to involve others in their campaigns. Forbes in November 2012 reported that Change.org has attracted 300 paying clients including the Sierra Club and Amnesty International and generated about $15,000,000 in revenue.
On Change.org, the personal and the political often merge. For example, Mil and Dianne Whalen from Woodstock, VA, in 2007 started procedures to adopt Maxim, a young boy from a Russian orphanage. But gaining approval from the Russian government was delayed repeatedly. In 2012, Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, banned all adoptions from Russia. Over 500 adoptions that were in the process of being completed were cancelled. To alter Putin’s edict, the Whalens’ started a petition addressed to the Russian Ministry of Education. So far, over 50,000 people have signed it, though no formal action has been taken.
The parents of Trayvon Martin, who was shot in Florida. began a petition to ensure that the courts prosecuted the offender. It attracted 2.2 million signatures and helped put pressure on the court system.
In 2011 when Bank of America started charging $5 to debit card customers, an individual started a campaign against the bank, pressuring them to withdraw the fee. After 300,000 signatures were signed online, Bank of America canceled the fee.
On the Petition Victories page, the website trumpets its successes. For example, Jerry Ensminger was upset when many military families were denied health coverage after drinking contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He inaugurated a petition that attracted over 135,000 supporters in August 2012 and generated considerable publicity. Paying attention to Ensminger’s cause was President Obama. In 2013, Obama passed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act.” Ensminger felt vindicated—his daughter had died from drinking the polluted water at the base.
Some petitions target businesses. Frustrated by his Verizon Wireless contract tying him to one mobile firm and preventing him from changing carriers, Mike Beauchamp of Wichita, KS, started a petition to end Verizon’s extended contracts and enable consumers to switch wireless firms easily. So far, over 130,000 people agree with Beauchamp, and would prefer the freedom to choose their own carrier at any time.
Anyone with a gripe or a cause, or sees an injustice, will likely be attracted to Change.org. If the Internet aims to inform and empower users, Change.org gives them an opportunity to find or join others in pursuit of common goals.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.