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The definition of being an activist has changed over the years thanks to the Internet. It used to mean that you had to handwrite a petition and run around town getting signatures, or you had to organize a large group to march or protest, or you had to chain yourself to that tree you didn’t want being bulldozed. Today, the Internet allows people to come together and organize in a way never before seen in human history. This monumental shift in the way we interact has opened the doors for easier access to information and better ways to change the world.
Some people refer to this as “slacktivism,” given the small amount of effort that is required to sign an online petition or share a Facebook post. I prefer to think of it as expanding activism to a wider audience. Not everyone is going to march in the streets, not everyone is going to risk their life in a riot, and not everyone is going to donate oodles of money to charity. But lots of people will sign online petitions, and lots of people will post on Facebook and Twitter about important causes. Sure, it may not have a direct effect, but it spreads word about the issue and can garner enough attention that what would have been a small issue becomes a national or even international debate. So what can you do to get involved? Here are three of the best websites!
By now, most people know about Change.org. If you don’t, it’s essentially an online platform for creating and signing petitions. There are hundreds of these websites across the Internet, but Change.org has become huge in recent years thanks to a simple design and interface. They’ve had several large scale successes like getting the MPAA to rate the documentary Bully PG-13 instead of R, getting the Florida State Attorney’s office to file murder charges against George Zimmerman, and getting the South African Parliament to agree to fight to end “corrective” rape. There’s currently even a Change.org petition to have Google make a Native Drive Client for Linux.
Starting a petition on Change.org is as simple as it could be. Just visit the website and click the big reddish-orange “Start a Petition” button.
From there, they will ask you who you are petitioning, what exactly you want them to do, and explain why it is important. Once you fill out those three fields and click “Start my Petition,” your petition goes live. Just like that. You can also make a quick Change.org account or sign-in with Facebook, making the process even easier.
Scrolling down to the bottom of their website, you’ll find a “Tips & Guides” sections for the best ways to promote your petition and make it effective. One of the best parts seems to be that if you can get hold of a contact email for the person you’re petitioning, they’ll get email updates about your petition along the way.
If you don’t want to start a petition, but just want to sign some, no problem. Click “Browse” on the top of the home page, and you can scroll through some Featured, Popular, or Recent petitions. You can even browse by topics, like Education, Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, etc. Just find the petition you want to support and click “Sign.”
After you sign the petition, you’ll be presented with similar petitions. In some cases, you’ll see a “Sponsored Petition,” which means the company who started it paid Change.org to have it put in front of you. I actually like this feature, as it makes it easier to find more petitions to sign.
If you’re looking for an effective way to get a person or an organization to change something or do something, Change.org is your best route. Although you should know that they are a for-profit company. They are a certified B Corporation, meaning that their goal is social change rather than money for shareholders. They make money through promoted petitions from organizations like Amnesty International. But, hey, everyone’s gotta make money, and Change.org is still an invaluable website for creating grassroots change.
We the People is a website operated by the White House that allows for American citizens to create and sign petitions. What makes this different from other petition websites like Change.org is that it is specifically for petitioning the Government, not other people or corporations, and if a petition gathers enough signatures, a White House official may respond. Currently, the threshold for a White House response is 100,000 signatures, but that number has been climbing steadily in recent years and they may raise it sometime in the future.
As of this writing, the White House has responded to 118 petitions. Some of them, like a petition to enact Federal gun control reform, elicited a video response from the President himself, while others, like a petition to Federally legalize marijuana, are only responded to with a few sentences and an excerpt of an interview with the President. There was even a successful petition on the law prohibiting cell phone unlocking that got a fairly lengthy response. Of course, the White House reserves the right to not respond to any particular petition, and may choose to do so with a recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden.
The process for creating a petition is broken up into 4 steps. First, you create a title and select up to three categories that it falls into. Step 2 prompts you to sign similar petitions instead of creating a brand new one. Step 3 allows you to create a description as well as enter keywords. Step 4 allows you to read over the final petition before publishing it. Once published, your petition has 30 days to gather 100,000 signatures if you want an official White House response. Also, your post will need to get 150 signatures before it is searchable on the We the People website.
But if you’re not interested in creating a petition, it’s also incredibly easy just to scroll through currently open petitions as well as White House responses to successful petitions by using the tabs along the top. If you live in America, take advantage of this exercise of your democracy and go sign some petitions.
This website is a little bit different than the last two. It’s not necessarily a petition website, although you can send them ideas for petitions and sign petitions; it’s more of an informational website. Their two main categories are Campaigns and Causes.
Campaigns aren’t so much charities as they are attempts to raise awareness around a particular topic. For instance, Undocumented For A Day allows you to enter your phone number and your friends’ phone numbers, and it begins a texting game to show you what life is like as an undocumented immigrant, while also entering you in a chance to win a $3,000 scholarship. They also have a petition advocating for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Causes are mostly informational, offering resources for getting help and avenues for helping out with a particular cause. If you click on a particular cause, it gives you general resources and ways to take action, as well as dividing the issue into smaller categories. For instance, if you click on “Discrimination,” you get articles like “Action Tips: Promote Understanding With Education” and “The New Gay Rights Movement.” You can also click through different types of discrimination, including age discrimination, LGBT rights, disability rights, etc.
If there is a particular cause you really want to help out with, or you just want more information on the different important causes out there, DoSomething.org is the perfect place to go. Plus, they have all sorts of other opportunities under the Awesome Things tab, like starting a DoSomething club, entering to win scholarships or grants, or even going to their Boot Camp in New York City.
The Internet has given us a new era of connectedness never seen before, and these websites all take advantage of that connectedness to lead grassroots petitions and campaigns to fight injustice. Even if you don’t have the time or will to get into a clash with riot police, I’m sure you have the time to sign some online petitions and learn about all the worthy causes out there. Don’t be apathetic, be pathetic. Wait—that’s not what I meant. Just go get involved.
If this tickled your fancy, you may also be interested in web services that use technology to help with charity, tech-related charities to donate to, and awesome games that have a social impact. There’s a lot you can do online to make the world a better place, you just have to find it.
Anyone have any other favorite websites for getting involved? Let us know in the comments!