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...
progressives don’t get it

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 Promotes Corporate Education Agenda, Undermines Teachers

Jun 15, 2012 Aaron Krager 13 Comments

Change.org, a petition based social advocacy site, promotes organizations focused on corporate education at the expense of progressive values. The company recently ran a petition by Stand for Children – Illinois, an innocuous and misleading name, demanding the Chicago Board of Education and teacher’s union go back to the bargaining table. Harmless enough but the text of the petition reveals the organization’s for-profit and anti-teacher agenda, forcing a Chicago teacher to create a petition against Change.org on Moveon’s Signon petition site.

The letter sent to the board of education and the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis reads:

400,000 Chicago students could be locked out of Chicago classrooms because contract negotiations are starting to break down, causing a premature strike-authorization vote to occur before anyone knows what is in the contract proposal. We strongly call for all parties to bargain in good faith to reach a new agreement. Don’t hold our students hostage in a negotiation where they have no voice!

These words are the same talking points used by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, calling the vote premature and saying the students are being held hostage. Advocates of so-called “education reform” like to claim neither side looks out for the students’ interests. Meanwhile, CTU’s demands include lowering the student to teacher ratio, programs to educate the whole child, and improving the conditions of schools.

Change.org’s promotion of Stand for Children-Illinois runs counter to the company’s state mission.

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.

Chicago Public Schools teacher, Jennifer Johnson decided to demand Change.org’s founder and CEO, Ben Rattray, stop promoting anti-labor groups.

I’m a public school teacher who has taught high school History for 9 years in Chicago. I am one of many teachers who are tired of being blamed for everything that is wrong with public schools when our system is underfunded and our efforts under supported. I and other teachers have been trying to honestly negotiate with the school district, but they refuse to negotiate over the actual conditions in our schools. The district refuses to negotiate with teachers to fully provide and staff schools so that students receive basic art and music instruction or a reasonable number school nurses and counselors, playground and libraries. Forty percent of our schools do not have full time art and music programs. Ninety-eight of our schools don’t have playgrounds and 160 schools don’t have libraries at all.

The state of public schools in Chicago is not a result of teachers getting rich. Who goes into teaching expecting to retire a millionaire? The lack of music and art programs comes from state and city budget cuts. The City of Chicago has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from property taxes into a corporate slush fund for the Mayor. Tax Incremental Financing districts (TIFs) were supposed to help blighted areas but now serve to give millions to profitable companies. But it is the teachers union who is somehow at fault?

Sponsored campaigns (read paid campaigns) provide a great way for organizations to grow and spread their message. Sadly, Stand for Children does not uphold to common values stated by Change.org. Fairness, equality, and justice do not exist in the organization run by Jonah Edelman, who gave a very blunt speech last year.

So our analysis was he’s still going to be in power, and as such the raw politics were that we should tilt toward him, and so we interviewed 36 candidates in targeted races. … I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting because of Bruce Rauner’s leadership … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. That was really an show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.

After the election we went back to Madigan, and I confirmed – reviewed the proposal that we had already discussed and I confirmed the support. He said he was supportive. The next day he created an Education Reform Commission and his political director called to ask for our suggestions who should be on it. And so in Aurora, Ill., in December, out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal. In addition, we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a state public affairs firm. We had tens of thousands of supporters. … We raised $3 million for our political action committee. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees.

Edelman readily admits to buying off legislators in order to get a venture capitalist’s (Bruce Rauner) ideas enacted in Illinois. Edelman continues:

So in the intervening time, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor … and he strongly supports our proposal. Jim [apparently Crown] … talked about the talking point that we made up and he [Emanuel] repeated about a thousand times, probably, on the campaign trail about the Houston kids going to school four years more than the Chicago kids.

Dividing schools and taking away the rights of teachers only disenfranchises students. It takes away the person they interact with the most outside of their own parents! The steady increase in charter schools (who can pick their students) has further depleted resources in deteriorating public school buildings. Politicians want to listen to campaign contributors and lobbyists, instead of investing and trying to improve upon what is already in existence.

Change.org says they do not take any official position and only asks that the organizations are ethical in their practices and policies. Edelman’s blunt admissions show that Stand for Children is anything but ethical.

Stand and other organizations want to promote an education agenda that follows the same ideals of Michelle Rhee and her tenure in D.C. Her success though, falls short of her claims. The achievement gaps she left in D.C. point to failures of her leadership and ideology, not successful reforms.

For Change.org to promote and accept money from organizations like Stand for Children and StudentsFirst flies in the face of it’s own mission statement. The mere presence of these petitions deceives progressives and should be taken down. Sign the petition to stop these kinds of petitions! Yes, a little meta but it does make a difference.

*Full disclosure – I write as a freelancer for Care2.com’s Causes & News site. I have petitioned for the company to drop StudentsFirst and engaged internally my frustrations with their promotion of Rhee’s organization as well.

Jimmy Carter Predicts the Future

Jun 13, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Nearly 32 years ago President Jimmy Carter addressed the American people in speech about a crisis in confidence, specifically the growing mistrust in our democracy. The speech itself is still incredibly important and relevant to our current situation. By this point in time the corporate interest had already begun its assault on American government. That’s not to say all corporations are evil and all government is inherently good. Both exist because of human creation and as such have faults and problems but attacking the very essence of our political system and the involvement of the people allows an unprecedented power grab.

For years the corporate interests had been spending millions of dollars to undermine any kind of energy reform and blocked forward progress during the crisis in Carter’s presidency. As Dave Johnson notes:

the smear machine, the propaganda, the mass repetition of carefully crafted anti-government and in-it-for-yourself messaging, etc. – so people were just blindsided by it.

Three decades later, the corporate interests have more influence and power than ever. The working class sees little of the progress made during that time and our democracy is further fractured. This campaign took hold of so many and pushed the country to the right… away from doing right by the people and instead doing right for the bottom line of global corporations.

Carter said it was a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”

Nothing could be closer to the truth. It’s why so many are fighting in the Occupy movement. It is why so many dedicate their lives to advocacy organizations. It’s why I write and do my best to draw attention to exactly what Carter points out.

What would it take?

May 11, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment

Despite my desire to write about damn near everything I do not have the uncanny ability to churn out piece after piece. I would love to write up personal stories from victims of the foreclosure crisis, people’s wages stolen by their employer, or the near impossibility to climb up the economic ladder. I know I will develop better habits and energy will come back as this battle with depression becomes an after thought.

But this post is not about me or how productive my fingers are on the keyboard.

I want to know about you. What would it take for you to take to the streets? Thousands have done so outside of corporate shareholder meetings. Thousands more will be out protesting the global one percent as NATO comes to Chicago.

Elected leaders continue to blame public employees for deficits in pensions. Vital assistance programs continue seeing massive cuts.

Corporations spend a tremendous amount lobbying lawmakers while hardly anyone thinks of the rest of us.

You are working more than full-time while making less than you deserve. A family member got laid off and the CEO took home a multi-million dollar bonus. The system is rigged and it prevents you, me, and others from living a Bette quality life.

So, seriously! What would it take?

Why I won’t applaud the President on Marriage Equality

May 9, 2012 Aaron Krager 3 Comments

By now you have heard that President Barack Obama position on marriage equality finally evolved into support. All of this happens the day after North Carolina residents overwhelmingly backed an amendment to their state constitution banning it (and a host of other domestic partnership rights). The state that Obama carried in 2008 joined the rest of the former confederate states in once again saying one class of citizens is inferior to the majority of the voting bloc.

Having a person in the powerful position such as the Presidency of the United States carries, well in Vice President Joe Biden’s words, a big stick. Sadly, the movement for marriage equality will not see the most powerful person use that stick and fight for them. Obama’s announcement makes it clear that he will continue to leave it up to individual states. A place where marriage equality has lost each and every time it has been on the ballot. This is despite a majority of Americans now in support of marriage equality.

The basic rights of people cannot be left up to the states. We cannot live in the United States while individual states divide against each other in battle to legally recognize the love of two people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Obama cloaked his struggle with marriage equality in his Christian faith. Others hide behind the same faith to discriminate against their neighbor, coworker, or even a close family member. You may have heard someone say that marriage is an sacred agreement with God. My faith tells me a loving relationship cannot be denied and should be more fully nourished. But that is not the argument. The fight exists within the eyes of the law, not in the eyes of God. We cannot begin to see the same as God but we can try to see the foundation of our nation’s laws – the Constitution.

Preventing two men or two women from obtaining a legal document that recognizes their relationship in the same manner as mine is a violation of the Constitution. I will not stand for it and neither should the President. The people elected him to head the executive branch of our country to uphold the Constitution. He took an oath to do so despite Chief Justice John Roberts fumbling of it during the inauguration.

So I will not cheer or applaud the President on something that he should have already done. We can only ask how much longer for justice and equality. We can only look on in disbelief and wonder what more can we do.

The fight moves onto Washington and Minnesota where voters will say yes or no to equality for gay and lesbian couples. If President Obama wants to leave it up to the states but personally support it then he damn well better campaign for it in those states.

I realize progress comes slowly. Powerful tells us to wait. This cannot wait. We are not the land of liberty while our country denies fellow citizens rights that others enjoy. So President Obama, welcome aboard the band wagon. Now will you lead aggressively or merely stand back and watch?

EQT, Protesters Frack Up Shareholders Meeting

Apr 23, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
EQT, Protesters Frack Up Shareholders Meeting

An organizer sat with a half dozen activists around smaller tables placed together to form a makeshift conference room table discussing the action taken earlier in the day. They had successfully disrupted a shareholder’s meeting, forced the CEO of company worth nearly $7 billion dollars to refuse questions, and faced arrest despite being proper legal proxy shareholders.

“Was our goal to make news or to ask important questions,” asked the organizer from One Pittsburgh.

The community organization infiltrated EQT Corporation’s annual shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday armed with questions about executive compensation, hydraulic fracking of the Marcellus Shale region, and the growing ownership of our democracy by the one percent. Unfortunately, confusion and tension escalated the event and resulted in shareholders, regardless of affiliation, being threatened with arrest and expelled from the meeting.

Early on, it became clear the company did not want proxy shareholders as they sent many to a lawyer’s table to check their shares. As the meeting commenced a question and answer session opened up but CEO David Porges limited questions to the board of directors’ elections, retaining Ernst & Young as their auditor, as well as executive compensation. According to the groups press release the depth of questions would occupy the company for quite some time:

At EQT’s 2012 shareholder meeting, owners of EQT stock will be asked to approve members of the Board of Directors, sign off on executive compensation, re-engage an auditor, and handle other “routine” matters. But EQT’s routine behaviors have harmed people across the state. That’s why shareholders are preparing to challenge board members shale drilling without a severance tax, about exploiting the Delaware loophole, and about aggressive lawsuits against counties and municipalities in other states that are asking the company to pay its fair share. At a time when budget cuts are threatening environmental regulation, public education, transit, and vital health services, EQT should share the wealth generated from the exploitation of this great resource. Shareholders will also question EQT’s exorbitant CEO compensation, its job creation record, its political contributions, and the environmental concerns that an increasing number of Pennsylvanians have about so-called fracking.

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Get the Hell Out, Hateful Remarks at Opposition

Jan 30, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

“Liberals should just move to Canada or Europe if they love socialism so much.”

I’ve heard something to that effect many times over the course of my short life. It felt like I heard it on a daily basis during the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I sat on the side of it being an unnecessary war and to let the inspectors do their job. If there were weapons of mass destruction then the inspectors would find them and provide the evidence needed to warrant the war.

Despite the rationale, people called me unAmerican, unpatriotic, and a communist. But I wanted my country to do the right thing because I love it so much.

Sadly, the vicious name calling serves its purpose. Since President Barack Obama took office he faced the impossible task of fending off these attacks. He’s Kenyan, he’s Muslim, he’s a terrorist, a socialist, a communist, a terrorist sympathizer. Just to point out a few.

During the last weeks of the Republican primary, tea party favorite Newt Gingrich, seems to enjoy calling him the “food stamp president.”

Gingrich’s new nickname serves to describe Obama as a welfare queen… or king. The perjoritive phrase, originating from Ronald Reagan, rings in the ears of conservatives. It thrives on their false stereotype of lazy African-Americans collecting a free check from the government. According to Newt, Obama enables this with the growth of food stamps usage – during an economic recession no less.

A few years ago it seemed this type of demagoguery only came from shock-jocks and hardcore political pundits of the right. Think Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck. Now it comes from people running for President. It comes from the men and women who sit in the House of Representatives.

Florida Congressman Allen West has said a lot of derogatory things towards the President. Just the other night he told an audience that he believes Obama should “get the hell out of the United States of America.”

No joke. He really did.

“Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, and take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”


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Unions Need to Appeal to People’s Hearts

Jan 18, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Via Gawker I noticed an ad campaign by AFL-CIO, who represents more than 12 million workers, in an apparent effort to make people feel good about work.

As Hamilton Nolan puts it, the video does nothing to help unions. This fluff piece ad feels like it is supposed to boost the self-esteem of people lucky enough to have a job and rub it in the noses of the unemployed. Hamilton believes the AFL-CIO could cite their long history of accomplishments. Something a commenter points out with the Pennsylvania state chapter did with this video.

Now condense that down to 30-seconds and make it a nationwide ad buy… then we can talk.

Unions are not doing well. Their membership has been plummeting for years. Their political influence is at an all time low. They’re a convenient scapegoat for just about any social or economic problem plaguing America.

It is hard to argue with any of that. Just see Wisconsin last winter. Look at the current wealth gap in the country. Unions provide balance to those problems and force employers to listen to their workers.

Unions need ads that highlight current problems in the workforce such as salaried positions that allow employers to make you work more than 40-hours without overtime. Or show unsafe factories, workers scraping by while working two jobs. Show what unions have done, can do, and will do.

Instead, we have an ad created by some high-priced consulting firm and a wasted ad buy (if there was one). Unions seem to have missed an opportunity with Wisconsin and now Occupy. They should be hiring hundreds if not thousands of organizers. At the same time airing ads across the nation getting to the heart of America’s problems and how unions can solve them.

It is not rocket science folks. It is merely setting priorities.

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