Change.org Zigzag Positions on Anti-Union Stand for Children and Students First

Jonah Edelman

Cincinnati   Speaking of Change.org and its chameleon way to seeming to be a progressive nonprofit, but actually operating a for profit, list aggregation and sales operation, no sooner do we look at the contradictions and deceptions in the way they present themselves than I notice an item in the Huffington Post by Ryan Grim with Change.org in the headlines today.  Seems that they did a reverse field zigzag and dropped petitions being pushed by well-known former DC Schools Super and foundation/media darling, Michelle Rhee, whose tenure was mainly marked by her bitter attacks and deliberate divisiveness with her teachers’ union and Jonah Edelman’s Stand for Children as both being unabashedly anti-union.  The teachers’ unions and others had been campaigning for Change.org to oust both outfits as not being appropriate within the progressive movement.

Rhee is no surprise.  She’s a total ideologue in this war and a 100% union hater-baiter.  But, Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children were a gut shot to me.  Not that I hadn’t been warned that he had moved to the dark side, just that I didn’t want to believe it.  I had heard of his infamous crowing on YouTube about having hustled legislation in Illinois by hooking and crooking the unions there.  I didn’t want to believe it.  A couple of months I spent a long time on the phone with an old comrade doing strategic research for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) who was asking me about Jonah and Stand, who pried my eyes open even wider, including that Stand for Children was pimping for arch-conservative, rapid Republican anti-union, Governor Bobby  Jindal in my own state of Louisiana.  Checking out their positions in Baton Rouge, it was impossible not to agree that they might be Johnny-come-lately to Louisiana education fights, but they were definitely more than willing to take the dough and carry the weight for a hyper rightwing agenda in Louisiana on education.  But in the way, you go into denial, I still hoped there would be an opportunity for me to reach out to Jonah and say, hey, there must be a misunderstanding, so why don’t you get right with our community.  The AFT analysis was simple:  Jonah had gone where the big corporate money was, and that was in union bashing.

Now Change.org in such a matter of fact way seems to have conceded both Rhee and Edelman are plain and simple anti-union outfits.  No small amount of the evidence was a petition that Stand for Children was circulating through Change.org in Illinois attacking the AFT local union for taking a strike vote for the fall.  I’m heartbroken.

Meanwhile Change.org continues to write new chapters in the book on the art of dissembling!  In responding to criticism of hosting anti-union anti-teacher petitions while trying to pretend to be progress, they said the following:

Change.org leaders, for their part, said they think some of the outrage resulted from a misunderstanding of the company’s goal, which is not to spread American-style progressive values around the globe, but rather to empower as many people as possible under the theory that the world will be better as a result. By not embracing American progressivism, the company said it hopes to make its platform more welcoming to people around the globe who might see such an association as imperialist or anti-Muslim.

You see Change.org was never progressive anyway.  They were just a bunch of business guys willing to wear that shirt when it fit nicely and helped them pick up girls at the bar.  They now want to give you a head fake about their global ambitions and pretend that around the world folks don’t care about political leanings (bah, humbug!).  But, their message is that we were always confused, they were never progressive anyway.

I’m in shock about my friend, Jonah, and his organization.  I thought they were progressive and certainly not corporate cash cashers like Change.org.  Now it seems Change.org was never progressive according to their spokespeople.  Maybe that’s the same rap for Stand for Children?  Neither seem to be willing to let their values stand in their way of their ambition.

Protest in Portland Against Stand for Children

 

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Is Change.org about Real Change or Just Pocket Change?

New Orleans    Like many progressives I get frequent solicitations from Change.org about this petition or that petition for this cause or that cause.  I’m not a big petition signing guy, just because it’s time I don’t really have and a tool that is not the first to my hand, but I monitor it all to keep up with what’s happening.  I started looking more closely when I read The Business column in the Wall Street Journal by John Bussey on June 8th that told me to my surprise that Change.org was a for-profit.  I had earlier reservations about Care2.com and Moxy Vote.  Why in the world?

Bussey’s piece drifted around with interesting discussions on something called “B Corporations,” which are now allowed in half-dozen or so states and are worth further discussion but essentially are for profit companies that self-declare as social benefit operations that will use more of their profits for internal investment rather than stockholder benefits.  There were spinning rationalizations from the CEO of Change.org Ben Rattray, who argued that “the reason we’re making money is that it’s the necessary condition to having impact.”  None of these obfuscations seemed willing to address the real points.

A nonprofit can make money.  You don’t have to create a for profit structure to make money.  All of that is hooey.  A tax exempt nonprofit just doesn’t pay taxes to the government on income related to its mission.  A plain vanilla nonprofit, which is what ACORN was, can invest all of its excess revenues in building its organization (similar to the B Corporation claim), but if it ever had made big bucks (certainly wasn’t going to happen during the 38 years when I was Chief Organizer) it would have had to pay taxes.

Rattray and the others are trying to hide some simple facts behind the very important altar of self-sufficiency.  Inherent in their arguments are, yes, Virginia, it is critical to pay your bills for you to have a business plan and/or organizational model that arcs towards self-sufficiency.  I totally endorse that, and it has become an obsession for me after watching ACORN’s attack and demise less than 2 years ago.

But all of this is obfuscation.  The only thing you can’t do as a nonprofit is provide distributions to shareholders.  The only real reason that Rattray and others would chose any of for profit corporate structural formations is the hope and intention of personally cashing in or selling the business out at some point and making more for themselves (and any other possible stockholders) than were available from salaries and benefits paid or loans and investments returned.  Bussey makes the mistake abetted by Rattray and others who know better of assuming wrongly that nonprofits cannot make money, which of course they can, and confusing sustainability, taxes, and other issues, with the simplest truth that this is all about self-interest and stockholders.

It turns out that the Change.org business model is selling the aggregated email lists.  I didn’t know that either, which makes two strikes against transparency.  Sure a for-profit corporation can buy a .org website, since they are for sale, but to be so committed to not being transparent is a problem for me despite all of the good they are claiming to do.

All of this makes a mockery of progressive movements, progressive causes, and the base of regular people of good faith who are joining these efforts without realization and therefore knowingly being fleeced like so many sheep to the slaughter.  There is role for Change.org in this movement without a doubt, but we’re I’m at two strikes (for profit, list selling) and the third for me is wanting a true explanation from Rattray about his real intentions for Change.org which means a real story about why it is not constituted as a nonprofit?

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