Crusaders of Change(.org) Talk About the Power of a Simple Petition
AIf Change.org is a one-two punch bent on knocking out things like discrimination, corruption, deforestation and shark fin harvesting, then Arief Aziz, or the “Bald Guy” from TEDx Jakarta, is the left lead. Usman Hamid, the celebrated human rights expert and former director of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), is the right cross that sends all the things we’re fed up with to the canvas.
Today, Arief, the communications director, and Usman, the campaign director, sit down and lay out the logistics of Change.org and tell us how to create a campaign that sets change in motion, as well as pointing out a few of their favorite local campaigns.
Change.org is just over a month old here in Indonesia, but you’ve already held a few impressive media gatherings. Can you get right down to it and talk about some of the campaigns you’ve gotten behind?
Arief: There is this one petition started by the singer Melanie Subono against Maftuh Basyuni, the head of a task force for migrant workers. He was quoted as saying that the violence that happens to migrant workers is because of their own behavior, i.e. they are ‘naughty’ or flirty.
When Melanie saw the statements she was outraged and so were a lot of other people like the people of Women Solidarity and Migrant Care. So they started communicating with each other and they connected Melanie with Mbak Imas Tati, a migrant worker that tried to escape from a boss that was trying to rape her. Imas fell from the second story and broke her legs, arms and back. She was also very hurt by his statements.
So Melanie decided to start a petition, since Imas had no Internet access in Majalengka, West Java. It became the fastest growing Indonesian petition we’ve had so far. We won that petition in just three days, with more than 5,000 signatures.
Can you quickly break down what Change.org is and how it works?
Usman: Change.org is a global organization. In the past years the organization has been extremely successful in creating actual changes around the world, not only in places like the United States, but in India, Spain, Australia and Belarus. Because of this success they’ve expanded quite quickly.
In the past three to four months, Change.org has doubled in size, from a staff of around 60 people to 130 people and still growing fast. Change.org has expanded to 15 different countries, including Indonesia, and they’re also opening in Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil, Japan and many more.
Can you give me an example of a successful campaign?
Arief: Here’s a perfect example. One day Bank of America decided to charge its customers a debit card fee of $5 a month out of nowhere, this after it almost bankrupted the whole country, after Bank of America was bailed out, after executives got ridiculously big bonuses, and they’re shifting the burden to their customers. They also made it harder for people to switch banks.
One day, a nanny named Molly Catchpole thought, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and decided to start a petition about it.’ It was ‘Bank of America, drop the 5$ fee.’ After hundreds of thousands of signature, the $5-per-month charges were eventually dropped. Bank of America wanted to protect its brand and reputation.
Usman: You can set up a petition in 10 to 15 minutes, but you have to sit down and think about who your target is. Let’s say you want to target a violent group of people, you would probably not target the group itself because they probably won’t listen to you. But who is it that can pressure them to change? Maybe your target is the police force or maybe a certain piece of legislation or maybe a certain company. It’s really worthwhile to think about analyzing the pressure points of the actor you’re targeting.
If I wanted Starbucks to bring back the breakfast bagel, do you think I could pull it off?
Arief: Someone actually petitioned Starbucks before. There was a petition about the strawberry frappuccino. Because Starbucks wanted to avoid using artificial coloring, they used crushed bugs instead to create the pink color in the frappuccino. So it disgusted a lot of people, especially vegans. They were really upset. A strawberry frappuccino shouldn’t have any bugs in it. After almost 7,000 signatures, the campaign won.
One of my favorite Change.org petitions is the one to close the shark fin store in the International Terminal at Soekarno-Hatta. As one of the heads of Change.org what advice would you give me to get the message to the right people?
Arief: It’s worthwhile to think about what would make the owner want to close the shop. Who or what does he listen to? You might not want to target the owner of the shop because he currently has no incentive to close down the shop. But maybe you can target the airport itself or the people who gave the license to sell shark fins to the shop, or you can target the airlines.
And your target audience is?
Usman: Anyone who wants to see some change. We can’t deny that because it’s on the Internet, it only reaches 20 percent of our population, but 20 percent is a lot, and more than enough to create change.The good thing is that the site is currently in Indonesian [www.change.org/id].
How does Change.org feel about Alexander Aan, who went to jail for being an atheist. If somebody starts a petition to free this guy from jail, are you worried about the police coming to knock on your door?
Usman: Security is a topic we constantly talk about with the rest of the organization. Not only for the organization, but for the petition starters, signers and even targets. In order for us to create effective change, we need to be here, and to be safe.
There is a reason why Change.org has expanded to Indonesia, because we are a democratic country, have a history of people power and have a relatively good track record on freedom of press. In China, for example, our site is banned. We are a social media platform. We do not decide on the content, our users do. We are here to facilitate that process. Like other social media platforms, we have a community flagging process where people can report petitions that are inappropriate. But unless the petition incites violence, has pornographic content or is discriminatory, we won’t take it down. Only the petition creator can do that.
How do you support petitions you’ve hand-picked?
Usman: We give advice on how to optimize their petition, make sure their targets are correct, ask if their goal is specific and winnable, advise them on how to tell the story in the petition. We can also e-mail members and remind them that this might be a petition they’d like to support. We can connect them to the media, make press releases and sometimes even host a press conference in our office.
If you would have launched Change.org, say, two years ago do you think you could have made the Gaga concert happen?
Arief: Maybe? [Smiles]
Do It Yourself: How to Make a Successful Change.org Petition
Keep in mind:
Get specific: Determine a target to petition. It should be as
focused as possible. Instead of targeting a company, target its chief
executive. Instead of targeting parliament, target a member of the
legislature. Make your question as pointed as possible. “Be a better
government:” Bad. “Release innocent person X from jail:” Good.
example: Paint a picture of urgency and importance by telling a story
about a victim, a friend or family member of a victim, or anyone
affected. Paint a picture that appeals to your target’s emotions and
convince them of your cause.
Relate a crisis: It might be easy to get
carried away here. But people need to understand that change is
necessary. If they don’t, they won’t act.
Strategize: Think about what
will change the target’s mind: What media do they consume, which people
they listen to and what don’t they want to be associated with.
numbers: Facebook, Twitter and e-mail are all great tools. Use social
Go offline: Sometimes having the target receive tons of
e-mails is enough to win. Other times, it’s not. Think about offline
activities that might attract media coverage as well as public
Great local campaigns:
1. Melanie Subono & Imas Tati against the head of the Migrant Workers Task Force
2. Marco Kusumawijaya against illegal political ads
Two days later this came out:
3. Highway repair in South Tangerang
4. A mother started a petition in Depok after her son and
thousand other students were evicted from their classroom for days
because of a land dispute. She is urging the Depok mayor to settle the
dispute to make sure the children have a safe place to learn.