A Lesson From Change.org's Union Buster Dilemma

Apollo Gonzales's picture

Project Principal


A Lesson From Change.org's Union Buster Dilemma

There is a lot of talk today about the Change.org decision to dump the "union busting" petition started on their site recently. I won't belabor the details of the petition, except to say that it was generally in opposition of the perceived spirit of Change, and after much outcry Change decided to pull the petition.

However, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the situation, and how we are going to increasingly find ourselves in this here, and how we can maybe make sure we can get ourselves out.

Unless it is Skynet…or Cylons, technology doesn't have a belief system. It has no political alignment, it has no moral compass. Technology is not a strategy or an ethos, it is a tactic. In its most useful form it is a tool, and in its most destructive a weapon. This is what makes it simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. Anyone who can learn to use the technology can wield it for their own purposes. I could rattle off a dozen examples from the printing press to the mobile phone microprocessors, but I'll spare you. Change.org, like its contemporaries and predecessors are growing and succeeding because they've intentionally designed tools that are easy to use. They have made great strides in democratizing access to gatekeepers and decision makers (although actual influence is still debatable). It should come as no surprise then, that people of all stripes want access to those tools.

A large part of what helped Change get off the ground was its early Progressive credentials. At the outset Change made efforts to recruit evangelists and staff from within the Progressive community. There is no shortage of brilliant campaigners and passionate nerds from the rank and file of the last 10 years of Progressive campaigning populating the desks at the Change offices. Here lies the true strength of Change and the safety that will keep the technology honest. The community inside Change and the customers and activists who do have a political alignment and moral compass. To Change's credit they relied on input from their staff, and not just the letter of their policy to make the decision to pull the offending petition.

At the very core of this new age of digital activism is the culture of Open. We are encouraged to be transparent about how our campaigns succeeded or failed. We are encouraged to make open code bases and universally accessible platforms. We are encouraged to tell the story of how we achieved what we achieved, and the danger in that is that people we may not like are listening…and learning. Not every company wears their political credentials on their sleeve, Facebook and Twitter claim no allegiance to any political ideology, and for them an ecosystem that includes everyone is just fine. Those who have earned their stripes and owe their success to a community with a homogenous political or idealogical perspective will need to remain vigilant and responsive to their base because as they grow (or explode as Change has) the clear lines between ideologies will begin to blur.

One final note here that there needs to be another conversation about the effectiveness of building big petitions, whether they influence power, whether we are broadening the base or diluting it. There needs to be a conversation about open source technology vs. off the shelf solutions and how that plays into true democratization. We'll be digging in to those questions in the weeks to come.

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I see you like to read printed material. You should check out Nicco's book The End of Big: http://endofbig.com