Don't petition the White House, Use Change.org

Don’t petition the White House, Use Change.org

Nov 18, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
Secessionists. I first want to say thank you for finally learning something from history. The last time so many desired to rid themselves of a tyrannical president they declared war on the Union. Thus, your use of a peaceful means through petitions on the White House’s site is commendable. Furthermore, each state now finds themselves represented by a petition and signatures from people possibly...
The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The whole campaign season did not just depend upon the presidential race that finally came to an end last night. Yes, the country voted clearly to give Barack Obama another four years in the White House. He received more than 50 percent of the vote and won handily in the electoral college. Yet, it is what happened down the ballot that shows the nation’s...
Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Oct 24, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
During last night’s Indiana Senate debate the Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, did more than stick his foot in his mouth. I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have for to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from...
doing right

Change.org Pits Choice and Anti-Choice Against One Another

Oct 23, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment

News broke yesterday of Change.org’s decision to open its platform to anyone except hate groups. Ryan Grim covered it here, Jeff Bryant here, and my own piece.

Initial talks between Ben Rattray, the CEO and founder of Change.org, and team members started in July. Discussions, according to an internal email, highlight the founder’s desire to open the platform for everyone… except hate groups of course! These talks happened shortly after progressive activists and unions pressured the company to drop StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. Both organizations are anti-union and front for corporate education reform. Under the new guidelines both could be welcomed back with open arms.

Matt Browner Hamlin highlights a hypocrisy in Change.org’s talking points and their own internal FAQ.

The implication expressed in Change.org’s internal documents, by Change.org’s spokesman Ben Joffe-Walt who Ryan Grim quotes as saying, “Change.org is “not beholden to one community,” and by the talking points circulated by multiple Change.org staff members on progressive email list serves all point to the idea that it’s simply not possible for Change.org to make determinations about which clients are or are not progressive. As a result, they are saying they are now formally stopping to make any attempt to limit who they sell email addresses to based on their “values.”

Yet, developers for the company are working on tagging and machine learning… much like Amazon can recommend a book or product to you based upon your past interactions (read: purchases).

Like this:

Tagging: we want to move from our current 8-cause system to a much more flexible tagging system. Once complete, users and Change.org staff will be able to tag any petition in many different ways, for example as “pro-choice.” We will then be able to show that “pro-choice” advertisement to people who have signed petitions tagged as “pro-choice” while suppressing people who’ve signed “pro-life” petitions. This is technically complicated, and we’re hoping to make significant progress in 2013.

You cannot offer people an effective tool for social change when opposing forces use it again you. Offering organizations this tool to fight against women’s rights and simultaneously keep a pro-choice group is beyond crazy.

This is like giving a person a hammer to drive in a nail while giving another person that is trying to take the nail out a hammer as well. There is no theory of change with this newly proposed open platform. It is a money grab. Pure and simple. Progressive organizations should abandon Change.org just as the company abandoned them by selling out.

Change.org to Sell Out Progressive Community; Opens Platform

Oct 22, 2012 Aaron Krager 3 Comments
Change.org to Sell Out Progressive Community; Opens Platform

In a shocking move the petition oriented site, Change.org, will open up its platform anyone, this includes the Republican party, corporations, possible front groups, and other anti-progressive causes. According to leaked internal documents the only parties not allowed access will be hate groups as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post broke the story first.

A September email to the entire staff from Change.org’s CEO Ben Rattray outlines the new direction for the company.

Our mission: to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.
Our vision: a world in which no one is powerless and creating change is part of everyday life.

Another email written in the middle of July reveals some of the talks Rattray had with many high level staff members. The discussion came just weeks after the company came under pressure for hosting misleading petitions from StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. Change.org dropped the two organizations (once their contracts came to an end) but it seems Rattray was already making plans to open up his website to other nefarious groups.

Additionally, a FAQ was sent out to employees revealing the massive sell-out of the so-called progressive petition site.

What about anti-abortion, pro-gun, and union-busting advertisers?
We will be open to advertisements from any group other than hate groups.
We are establishing an open, non-partisan advertising policy that supports a ubiquitous, global brand, one that is relevant in many countries and across many cultures. We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree.
But while these organizations might advertise on our site, we should not assume that every “worst case scenario” will come to pass. Advertisers won’t want to advertise on Change.org if we’re not delivering the audience they’re looking for.

Compare this to their client policy (which will soon be altered to reflect the new direction):

We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear – fairness, equality, and justice. We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.

The new direction of the for-profit company is a loss for the progressive movement. It allows the very powers that be in which the movement fights against access to tools that we’ve used for our advantage. Now, Rattray decision opens up the online social change company to manipulation by “activists” that do the bidding of powerful interests. Look back to this summer when Stand for Children deceived site users to sign a petition against the Chicago Teachers Union.

The new platform will make it easier for front groups, like Stand for Children, and corporations to mislead users. These types of groups do not qualify as hate groups but they do hate the collective action that harms their interests.

Imagine a corporate front group advertising on the site for cleaner energy and jobs. Sounds perfect. Too perfect really. Like a Frank Luntz focus group tested message. You see it would be a petition demanding less regulation and open access for fracking.

A petition like this is a violation of the client policy of old. Fracking poses serious risks to drinking water, possibly causes earthquakes, and does not serve the common good in the long-term. Sadly, under the proposed changes a petition like this could find an audience, misled or otherwise.

As I have previously mentioned, Change.org’s for-profit operations generates $15 million in annual revenue and rising. The global expansion of the site should increase revenue for the company while also opening up a powerful tool for the masses. At the same time it can be used against those masses.

In the July email Rattray writes:

As we discussed this over the weekend, the path that has the chance of maximizing our positive impact, and therefore our goal, became clear. Our goal isn’t to become the world’s largest progressive advocacy organization. Instead, it’s to become a ubiquitous global platform that becomes a fundamental part of the infrastructure of civil society around the world, radically democratizing access to power for hundreds of millions of people. And if that’s our aspiration, we have to start backing up that language with our actions.

Rattray’s either fears progressive advocacy or realizes an open platform means more money here in the United States. Opening access to global change will have a real impact on democratizing more underdeveloped nations. It can potentially give a real voice to people and organizations that are typically oppressed by their government, whether the group holds anti-gay, anti-woman, etc views. The Southern Poverty Law Center probably will not be sufficient to define these organizations in other countries. That is a real positive impact but it comes at a real price for progressive advocacy in the U.S.

More as this develops.

Change.org’s Success and Caution to Users

Oct 18, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment
Change.org's Success and Caution to Users

Change.org and its founder, Ben Rattray, find themselves the center of attention in the upcoming issue of Forbes magazine. The article, already published online, tells the story of Ben stumbling into the online petition world and within a few years the site becoming a hub for online slacktivism – along with making millions of dollars.

Yes, the website that promotes individuals to create their own vision of social change is a for-profit business soliciting non-profits to get your email address.

The service is free, and with a name like Change.org the company even sounds like a not-for-profit. But it’s not. It was founded in 2007 and spent the better part of two years flailing around for a profitable business model until Rattray hit upon a clever approach. Change.org charges groups for the privilege of sponsoring petitions that are matched to users who have similar interests. For example, when a person signs a petition about education and clicks “submit,” a box pops up and shows five sponsored petitions on education to also sign. If a user leaves a box checked that says “Keep me updated on this campaign and others,” the sponsor can then send e-mails directly to that person. It’s not clear from the check box that your e-mail address is being sold to a not-for-profit. Rattray says an imminent site redesign will make the company’s business model more transparent. Change.org has 300 paying clients, including Sierra Club, Credo Wireless and Amnesty International, and its revenue so far this year is $15 million.

Change.org’s business model might be why you suddenly started receiving emails from groups that you no little to nothing about. I do not begrudge the business model. In fact, it is nice to see that a company can make money doing good in the world. I do begrudge them when they brand themselves as progressive change and then work with anti-worker groups.

This hasn’t stopped it from becoming a target for political strong-arming. Earlier this year Change.org succumbed to pressure from labor unions and declined to renew ad contracts with two education reform groups, Stand for Children and StudentsFirst (headed by Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor of Washington, D.C.), because they favor reforms some see as antiunion. Stand for Children and StudentsFirst were baffled, saying they hadn’t broken any of Change’s terms of service. Rattray says Change.org plans to release new policies in October clarifying who can and cannot advertise on the site.

The decision to drop the two so-called reform groups came only because progressives held a progressive company responsible to it’s mission statement. I look forward to them clarifying their policies by the end of this month.

So how much does Change.org get for each email they sell to Sierra Club, CREDO, or StudentsFirst? $1.75. According to the Forbes article, Change.org’s revenue thus far for 2012 sits at $15 million. That translates into more than 8.5 million email addresses sold to other groups. If GenNetWorth’s assumptions are accurate it means Rattray earns $250,000 a year and has a net worth of $2 million. Pretty damn good money for creating a site that has allowed once powerless individuals to stand up to big banks, huge meat conglomerates, the South African government itself!

Yet, StudentsFirst still has an organizational page at Change.org and an active petition. Their page claims more than two million supporters (read it as users who have signed one of their petitions). According to tax forms StudentsFirst spent $337,000 to cultivate their email lists. Much of that money went to Change.org. We can decipher that through the number of signatures compared to other petitions sites used by StudentsFirst. They pale in comparison to the number of people using Change.org.

Change.org users should be aware of site’s monetary goals and not succumb to its do-gooder reputation. This is not to say no good can come from the site. Please do not read this post in that manner. I have signed many petitions and recognize the volume of positive change initiated through the petition site. It is merely post to caution people on the petitions they sign. They could fall prey to a anti-worker like petition or one that supports so-called “clean” energy with calls to create jobs.

Photo by huskyte

Progressive Victory, Change.org Drops Corporate Educators

Jun 19, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

A victory is a victory. Small or large. We need to celebrate it and build upon each win as we force larger societal change. In just a few days the work of online writers, activists, and Chicago teachers helped hold a progressive ally accountable. Change.org announced they will drop Stand for Children as well as StudentsFirst as clients.

The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports:

The move comes after intense pressure from the labor movement and other progressive allies, who accused the for-profit company of betraying its liberal roots by partnering with Rhee, the former head of Washington, D.C., public schools, and the similarly aligned group Stand for Children headed by education advocate Jonah Edelman. The ouster of StudentsFirst and Stand for Children was confirmed by a Change.org spokesman.

First and foremost, a hearty thank you to Change.org for doing the right thing. The entire point of my writing on this issue was to keep Change.org accountable. The company is a valuable tool of the progressive community and it was unacceptable for them to take money from anti-labor organizations and deceive progressives with petitions that were only aimed at collecting email addresses.

By dropping StudentsFirst and Stand for Children the petition site has adhered to its own client policy and its goal to empower people. These two so-called reform groups actually disseminate a corporate agenda and harm public education. In response to the decision, StudentsFirst spokesperson Nancy Zuckerbrod told Grim:

“Instead of making this decision based on values and principles, they pointed to a number of business and operational factors with their high-value partners who were pressuring them to take this step,” Zuckerbrod said. “We believe this is an unfortunate decision on their part, and we imagine a disconcerting one for progressives — whether they agree with the work we are doing or not — that instead of standing by their principles, Change.org is standing by their pocketbook.

The irony must be lost of Zuckerbrod as it was StudentsFirst who paid Change.org for emails. The petition site actually abandoned their pocketbooks by dropping a major client in StudentsFirst and a possible growing client in Stand for Children. They stood by progressive ideals of supporting worker’s rights, community actions, and listening to a collective voice. It was principals that determined the right move and most certainly not the pocketbook.

Comments on this site (and others) recommended never signing another petition from Change.org. I never suggested this move and I whole-heartedly endorse the idea of signing petitions on Change.org. They have resulted in major victories against big banks, local governments, and many others. I hope to celebrate more of those types of victories just like I celebrate Change.org’s decision today.

So, I say thank you to Change.org for doing the right thing. THANK YOU!

Nurses, Celebrities Want Robin Hood Tax

Jun 19, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

I am about to take off for a nationwide action by the National Nurses United union that calls for a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street. The events in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities coincide with J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon testifying in front of Congress. The tax is a measly half a percentage point on trades but would have a huge impact on our country.

Check out the video below that features hard working nurses, actor Mark Ruffalo, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and more!

Mom Refuses to Let Citibank Steal Her Home

Jun 12, 2012 Aaron Krager 3 Comments
Mom Refuses to Let Citibank Steal Her Home

With just hours to go before her home was set to go up for auction by Citibank, Colleen McKee Espinosa found solace in the bank’s decision to cancel the scheduled sale. Furthermore, the bank approved a loan modification after denying her multiple times.

The fight became arduous for McKee Espinosa, especially after the bank declined to accept back payments when she fell three months behind. As a result the bank moved to foreclose on her and sell it out from under her.

Months of activism by hundreds of community members, lead by her son Nick Espinosa, along with Occupy Homes Minnesota, Occupy Wallstreet, and the Minnesota Nurses Association, helped create the public pressure needed. Citibank ultimately caved due to the community support and agreed to modify her loan from the remaining six years into 7.5 years. It reduced their payments by a third but kept them in their home and allows the bank to continue collecting money! All of this just a day before it was going up for sale.

“I’m so relieved that my family’s home of 16 years will not be on the auction block tomorrow,” McKee Espinosa in a statement. “We are grateful that Citibank has decided to accept my payments, and we look forward to signing the final paperwork.”

Over the last few months homeowners have fought alongside occupiers and community members to stall foreclosures by aggressive banks. Minnesota quickly became ground zero dating back to last November.

Nick Espinosa, who I met briefly at Netroots Nation, presented on the foreclosure crisis and how the occupy movement is responding to it. Little did he know that his mother would find relief through the work just days later.

“This negotiation represents a victory not just for our family, but for millions of families facing foreclosures across the country,” said Espinosa in a post. “Countless families could stay in their homes if banks simply modified their loans based on the actual market value and reduced their principal, instead of the price to which banks inflated them before they crashed our economy.”

Nick also mentions Monique White and Bobby Hull as success stories just in the Twin City area. The Occupy Homes Minnesota group vows to continue fighting for other homeowners as well. The victory should serve as a momentum gather and allow them to rally more community members to the cause.

Banks accepted a taxpayer bailout after they very nearly destroy the world economy. Today, they did one bank did one good thing for one homeowner. Tomorrow activists will continue pushing for another act of good will, and another, and another. Colleen and Nick fought for their home. Others joined them because of a close friendship or a profound desire to correct an injustice. It was a personal mission for many involved. The banks simply do not have that on their side. In the end we can, must, and will win.

Photo from Occupy Homes Minnesota

The Awesomeness of Netroots Nation

Jun 11, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

After the long trip back from Providence and catching up on my sleep, I can already tell that I miss so much of the feeling from Netroots Nation. The conference of roughly 3,000 progressives featured educational panels, energizing keynotes, and a camaraderie of relationships that I just do not experience otherwise.

Progressives interact online with each other but the face-to-face time matters greatly. An emotional connection develops while sitting at a dinner table together that cannot be achieved through email or even a Skype conversation. Admittedly, I was in a valley, in terms of my depression, but the ability to converse with like-minded people for more than four straight days did something to propel me upwards. Even if there are countless things to worry about and feel helpless.

Once in a while the fanboy or fangirl even comes out when you get to run into a Darcy Burner, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Amanda Marcotte, or Lee Camp. You can try to keep it in check but the admiration tends to pour through, regardless. Meeting them helps humanize them and say to yourself, “hey, I can do amazing work as well,” at least it does in a way.

So I already miss the conference and especially the people. On the other hand, I hope to take the positive energy from the trip and harness it here at home… in my writings and in my activism. I could continue with the various speeches, panels, and people but I think I will save some it for later posts. The more personal feelings will be spared here as well. Anyway, onward and upward because the political is personal dammit!

Disabled & Home Care Workers Face Arrest to Protest CME

May 23, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Fifteen people, comprised of home care workers and people with disabilities faced arrest this morning protesting outside of the Chicago Board of Trade building. The rally and protest, organized by Stand Up! Chicago, drew more than 100 people in the morning rush to demand that CME Group return the tax breaks it received after the company threatened to leave the state. According to the organization CME’s blackmail of the state will cost it more than $75 million just this year while state legislators may cut $73 million to home care services in the next budget.

“We’re here to show CME officials how much it costs the 99 percent when billion-dollar corporations demand tax breaks they clearly don’t need,” said home care consumer Rachel Siler in a statement. “When the state pampers greedy corporations, it punishes working families. People like me lose vital services like home care, and taxpayers have to spend more on nursing homes.”

Governor Pat Quinn proposed to cut $210 million in programs that go to home care services for elderly and the disabled. The massive budget cuts could force 90,000 seniors and disabled into nursing homes. A boom for the nursing home industry but in the long run a high cost for the state for saving in the present. Penny wise and a dollar foolish!

Protesters chanted “give it back” referring to the company’s massive tax breaks that now threaten basic services for the poor and disabled. CME can claim some good will towards the public when they returned $15 million in TIF funds last fall following public outrage and shaming from the same advocacy groups.

The day’s actions coincide with the multi-billion dollar ($1.9 billion in profit last year alone) exchange’s annual shareholder’s meeting this afternoon. Local activist organizations hope to draw thousands to protest outside while proxy shareholders will attempt to ask direct questions of the company’s executives.

More to come today including video and pictures. Current wi-fi connection is way too to upload even small files.

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