Changing our minds about Change.org

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A year ago, a 22-year-old nanny working two jobs started a petition on Change.org protesting a $5 monthly banking fee levied by Bank of America. More than 300,000 people signed, and dozens of other citizens launched copycat petitions targeting their banks for similar fees.

In less than one month, Bank of America and other major national banks dropped the charges.

The incident was a remarkable grassroots victory for the one percent. It demonstrated the potential of the Web to empower the Davids of the world to fight back against the Goliaths without big advertising budgets and expensive public relations firms.

But now Change.org, which has brought massive attention to everything from social injustices, such as the Boy Scouts’ denying an Eagle award to a gay teen, to companies selling potentially deadly dog biscuits, is itself changing. Internal documents show the company has decided to allow corporate advertising, Republican Party solicitations and astroturf campaigns, in which masked big interests sponsor campaigns that pretend to be legitimate grassroots efforts.

Right-wing campaigns against choice, unions and other progressive issues will also find their way to the new Change.org.

In other words, Change.org has gone for the big bucks and left us the loose change.

According to documents leaked to the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal organization, Change.org did not plan to alert users about its new direction. Instead, its strategy was a matter of “queuing up positive press profiles to launch around Oct. 22,” according to the company’s own words.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, director of communications for Change.org, has said the company never intended to position itself as strictly progressive. He said a general guideline for the new company policy is that it will accept anything Google would allow.

The company apparently sees its mission as one of empowering everyone, regardless of perspective. That’s a sweet notion but not an accurate reflection of the role that the company has played in the political dialogue since its inception.

The airwaves are already flooded with right-wing opinionistas who present as facts views that defy actual facts. The Christian right has layers of TV and radio networks.

The corporate right owns the nation’s largest business paper, the Wall Street Journal, and its largest TV “news” outlet – Fox News. Corporations and politicians tied to special interest groups already have billions of dollars to propagandize the public.

Change.org offered a refreshing counterpoint to the right wing’s media dominance. It gave progressives a platform to inform others who are open to their way of thinking and to enlist them in their causes.

Change.org has changed its mind about us, and we have changed ours about it. We hope that the site’s major sponsors, including Sierra Club, Amnesty International and Credo Mobile, will take their business to Care2.com, a for-profit company that is proudly progressive, and to MoveOn.org, a non-profit progressive organization that offers petition software called SignOn.

Change.org officials call this merely a business decision, and we’d like to show them that selling out your base is not a smart business strategy.