New Orleans It is hard to explain how I stumbled on an organization with 6.5 million members, but in the modern world of high tech campaigning and low entry internet membership, it turns out to be easy to do, and that was the case for me and Avaaz.org when I was contacted by a Berlin-based, American born campaigner on a Skype call from the Hague, Netherlands. To increase the wild, randomness quotient to the nth degree it also turned out that her brother and parents were now living in New Orleans. As they say in the world of shipping lanes, then cars, then air travel, and now the internet, “it’s a small world.”
The very smallness of the world and its interconnectedness seems to be part of the point for Avaaz, which they say means “voice” in several Middle Eastern and European languages. They seek to be a “global web movement brining people power-powered politics to decision making everywhere.” Ambitious certainly, but since being founded in 2007 by a partnership of the US-based web political giant MoveOn.org and something called Res Publica, which seems to have focused on expanding the “faith” dialogue to push back from the right previously, they have zipped along to a significant membership and some impact on issues in various countries. In Canada where ACORN International has some experience they were a player in the pushback against the Harper efforts to facilitate the creation of a Fox News North, which is a huge public service. In Brazil they seem to have been helpful in creating election reforms in this bellwether Latin American country.
The membership they have attracted is also intriguing to me given the time I spend supporting organizing internationally, because the huge concentrations are not the “usual suspects.” Their two biggest country-based memberships with more than 700,000 a piece are in first, Brazil, and secondly, France. They have over 400,000 in Canada and the USA, which is good sized in the north but obviously only an afterthought in the States where I suspect the default would still be the MoveOn program, despite the New York headquarters of the organization.
Importantly they argue that they are self-supporting, which is critical and allows them huge independence on their issue-based campaigns which include climate change in the middle of the road and more controversially for some, strident support for Wikileaks. Interestingly, they indicate that most of their support comes from less than 4500 sustainers out of the over 6M members.
This is an advocacy organization of activists rather than a democratic membership-based organization of course, but to their credit they have created very broad tools to guide decisions and a “sink-or-swim” mechanism to stay close to their base. Annually they seem to do a survey ranking campaigns and issues available to all of their membership, and even as they dive into these campaigns they “field test” them with sample response from 10,000 of their members to see whether they act and respond to email alerts on the issue. The dozen or more campaigners around the world in New York, Berlin, London and so forth come together and “pitch” campaigns to each other and their managers every couple of weeks, which undoubtedly creates a competitive sense of advocacy and action.
Clearly, Avaaz is an interesting and fascinating organization and worth a good look. I certainly joined, and for ACORN International’s part came away from the long Skype conversation before Christmas with some real hope that we can find common ground for partnerships on our Remittance Justice and other campaigns in the future.