Whistleblower: Nuclear Disaster in America is waiting to happen


Key federal official warns that the public has been kept in the dark about safety risks.

November 28, 2012  |

Photo Credit: Aleksey Klints/ Shutterstock.com

 This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

The likelihood was very low that an earthquake followed by a tsunami would destroy all four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but in March 2011, that’s what happened, and the accident has yet to be contained.

Similarly, the likelihood may be low that an upstream dam will fail, unleashing a flood that will turn any of 34 vulnerable nuclear plants into an American Fukushima.  But knowing that unlikely events sometimes happen nevertheless, the nuclear industry continues to answer the question of how much safety is enough by seeking to suppress or minimize what the public knows about the danger.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has known at least since 1996 that flooding danger from upstream dam failure was a more serious threat than the agency would publicly admit. The NRC failed from 1996 until 2011 to assess the threat even internally.  In July 2011, the NRC staff completed a report finding “that external flooding due to upstream dam failure poses a larger than expected risk to plants and public safety” [emphasis added] but the NRC did not make the 41-page report public.

Instead, the agency made much of another report, issued July 12, 2011 – “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century,” sub-titled “The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident.”  Hardly four months since the continuing accident began in Japan, the premature report had little to say about reactor flooding as a result of upstream dam failure, although an NRC news release in March 2012 would try to suggest otherwise.

Censored Report May Be Crime by NRC  

That 2012 news release accompanied a highly redacted version of the July 2011 report that had recommended a more formal investigation of the unexpectedly higher risks of upstream dam failure to nuclear plants and the public.  In its release, the NRC said it had “started a formal evaluation of potential generic safety implications for dam failures upstream” including “the effects of upstream dam failure on independent spent fuel storage installations.”

Six months later, in September 2012, The NRC’s effort at bland public relations went controversial, when the report’s lead author made a criminal complaint to the NRC’s Inspector General, alleging “Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”  In a letter dated September 14 and made public the same day, Richard Perkins, an engineer in the NRC’s Division of Risk Analysis, wrote Inspector General Hubert Bell, describing it as “a violation of law” that the Commission:

has intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public. This action occurred in anticipation of, in preparation for, and as part of the NRC’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request for information concerning the generic issue investigation on Flooding of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Following Upstream Dam Failure….   

Portions of the publically released version of this report are redacted citing security sensitivities, however, the redacted information is of a general descriptive nature or is strictly relevant to the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, plant personnel, and members of the public. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has engaged in an effort to mischaracterize the information as security sensitive in order to justify withholding it from public release using certain exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Act. …

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff may be motivated to prevent the disclosure of this safety information to the public because it will embarrass the agency. The redacted information includes discussion of, and excerpts from, NRC official agency records that show the NRC has been in possession of relevant, notable, and derogatory safety information for an extended period but failed to properly act on it.

 Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public.

The Inspector General has not yet acted on the complaint.

Most Media Ignore Nuclear Safety Risks

Huffington Post picked up the story immediately as did the Union of Concerned Scientists and a number of online news sites.  The mainstream media showed little or no interest in a story about yet another example of the NRC lying to the public about the safety of nuclear power plants.

An NRC spokesman suggested to HuffPo that the report’s redactions were at least partly at the behest of Homeland Security. A second NRC risk engineer, who requested anonymity, said that Homeland Security had signed off on the report with no redactions.  As HuffPo noted:

If this were truly such a security concern, however, it would be incumbent on the agency to act swiftly to eliminate that threat, the engineer stated. As it is, the engineer suggested, no increased security actions have been undertaken.

This same engineer expressed serious misgivings, shared by others in and out of the NRC, that a nuclear power plant in Greenville, South Carolina, has been at risk from upstream dam failure for years, that the NRC has been aware of the risk, and that the NRC has done nothing to mitigate the risk.   In the redacted report, the NRC blacked out passages about this plant.

Event Unlikely, Would Be Sure Disaster 

South Carolina’s Oconee plant on Lake Keowee has three reactors, located 11 miles downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir, an 8,000 acre lake.  As HuffPo put it:

…the Oconee facility, which is operated by Duke Energy, would suffer almost certain core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail. And the odds of it failing sometime over the next 20 years, the engineer said, are far greater than the odds of a freak tsunami taking out the defenses of a nuclear plant in Japan….

“Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years,” the engineer added, “it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment.”

When the NRC granted an operating license to the Oconee plant in 1973, danger from upstream dam failure was not even considered, never mind considered a threat against which some protection was needed.   The NRC and the plant’s owner both say the Jocassee Dam is not an immediate safety issue.   Oconee’s initial license was for 40 years.  It is now the second plant in the U.S. that the NRC has granted an extended license for another 20 years.

Union of Concerned Scientists Are Concerned 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which says it is neither pro-nuke nor anti-nuke, but committed to making nuclear power as safe as possible, has considered the risk factors for Oconee. The NRC wrote in 2009 that “a Jocassee Dam failure is a credible event and in 2011 wrote that “dam failures are common” – and that since 1975 there have been more than 700 dam failures, 148 of them large dams 40 feet or more high.  The Jocassee Dam is 385 feet high.

For a dam like Jocassee, the NRC calculates the chance of failure at 1 in 3,600 per year – or 1 in 180 each year for the extended license.  NRC policy, when enforced, requires nuclear plant owners to mitigate any risk that has a 1 in 250 per years chance of occurring.

Oconee has three nuclear reactors, each of which is larger than the reactors at Fukushima, and so has more lethal radioactive potential.   Duke Energy reported its own upstream dam failure calculations to the NRC no later than 1996 and the NRC has responded by requiring no safety enhancements to address the threat.

Noting that the upstream dam failure risk does not take into account possible earthquakes or terrorist attacks, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote:

The 34 reactors of concern are downstream from a total of more than 50 dams, more than half of which are roughly the size of the Jocassee dam. Assuming the NRC’s failure rate applies to all of those dams, the probability that one will fail in the next 40 years is roughly 25 percent—a 1 in 4 chance.

List of Reactors Potentially at High Risk of Flooding due to Dam Failure

 

Alabama: Browns Ferry, Units 1, 2, 3

Arkansas: Arkansas Nuclear, Units 1, 2

Louisiana: Waterford, Unit 3

Minnesota: Prairie Island, Units 1, 2

Nebraska: Cooper;  Fort Calhoun

New Jersey: Hope Creek, Unit 1;  Salem, Units 1, 2

New York: Indian Point, Units 2, 3

North Carolina: McGuire, Units 1, 2

Pennsylvania: Beaver Valley, Units 1, 2; Peach Bottom, Units 2, 3; Three Mile Island, Unit 1

Tennessee: Sequoyah, Unit 1;  Watts Bar, Unit 1

Texas: South Texas, Units 1, 2

South Carolina: H.B. Robinson, Unit 2;  Oconee, Units 1, 2, 3

Vermont: Vermont Yankee

Virginia: Surrey, Units 1, 2

Washington: Columbia

(Source: Perkins, et al., “Screening Analysis,” July 2011) 

The Changes at Change.Org: Is This Change We Can Believe In?


Author image

by Gwen Emmons

October 29, 2012 -, rhrealitycheck.org

Last week, the Huffington Post reported that Change.org, long regarded as a progressive organization, would begin accepting sponsored petitions from conservative organizations and businesses. The new policy marks a dramatic shift for the company, whichpreviously claimed in its advertising guidelines that the organization only “accept[s] sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear—fairness, equality, and justice.”

Now the company that once stated that it did not run sponsored petitions from parties that violate their values will welcome petitions from the very organizations that do, giving anti-choice organizations, astroturf groups, corporations, pro-gun groups, and political parties access to an international activist community of millions.

Change.org is an online petition site founded in 2007 by Ben Rattray. Individuals around the world can use Change.org tools to create free petitions advocating for causes. Sponsors can also pay to host a petition on the site, in exchange for the email addresses of those who sign their petition. The company is home to some of the best online organizers in the world, and they’ve racked up serious victories in five short years—including a petition that successfully pressured Bank of America to drop their five dollar debit card fee, and a 13-year-old’s petition aimed at Seventeen magazine which forced editors to re-evaluate their Photoshop policies.

For the most part, Change.org’s victories have been progressive ones. Protecting women who call out their rapists, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, looking out for Apple workers in China—these have been noble victories that challenged our ideas of what online petitions can do. However, the company now plans to extend that transformative power to organizations fighting for people and companies previously on the receiving end of Change.org petitions, while claiming that they have never said they were a progressive company.

Internal documents leaked by a Change.org staffer who has since been fired from the company explain that Change.org’s new “openness policy” is a result of a rapidly expanding company trying to keep up with demand. Previously, Change.org vetted petitions to ensure each petition and organization aligned with their values. A “Frequently Asked Questions” document notes that Change.org “will soon have thousands of advertisers, and is [sic] would be impossible to scaleably investigate the organizations behind all of these petitions.” The FAQ document adds, “By rejecting some advertisers because we disagree with them, we’d be implicitly endorsing those we accept and exposing ourselves to daily attacks from people who don’t think certain advertisers fit within a set of values.”

The shift comes as Change.org continues to expand internationally, where, the group claims, progressive values don’t always translate. It also appears to be a response to controversy that erupted this summer, when Change.org received significant blowback for running petitions for anti-labor organizations Students First and Stand for Children.

Raven Brooks, Executive Director of Netroots Nation, believes the policy reversal will happen in two phases. In an interview, he told RH Reality Check, “Corporate front groups will be the first things we’ll see [on the site], since they already have an existing model with Michelle Rhee’s group, Students First. The next phase will be going after conservative issue areas – but first, Change.org has to get those people into their system so they can advertise to them.”

Despite requests from RH Reality Check, Change.org declined to comment for this article, stating that their communications staffers were instead focusing on promoting high-profile petition campaigns on the site. Change.org’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Matt Slutsky, pointed me to a message he posted to the listserv Progressive Exchange in response to an email thread about the policy change. In it, Slutsky writes:

We believe our impact on the world will be greater if we’re an open platform than if we’re an agenda-driven organization. This is pretty unique and in some cases different from the organizations represented on [Progressive Exchange], and it can also be difficult as openness means that some people many of us personally disagree with are able to launch campaigns on our site. That said, our petition platform is, and always has been, open to anyone to start a petition on whatever they care about. That’s what defines our organization and it’s the core component of our work.

He also noted the company is working on personalization technology to target petitions to certain people (and hide them from others)so if you sign a petition in support of Trayvon Martin, you likely won’t be asked to also sign a petition for the NRA.

The misgivings Slutsky acknowledges in his email to Progressive Exchange are echoed in internal emails to Change.org staff, some of who undoubtedly are also uncomfortable with the change. “For some of you, this vision won’t feel like a shift at all. For others, it might seem like a big re-framing of who we are,” Change.org CEO Ben Rattray wrote in an email to staff in July of this year. Possibly anticipating as much external turmoil as internal turmoil, the company planned to quietly roll out these changes without notice to the advocacy community.

Progressive advocates aren’t buying the new policies.

“I would argue that the founder of Change.org is clearly not attempting to further progress, but is attempting to further his income,” says Shelley Abrams, a Virginia activist who founded Cooch Watch 2012, in an interview with RH Reality Check.

He started the site with one agenda, and is now changing that agenda. But don’t try to tell me you are still trying to be an agent for progressive change. That is clearly bullshit.

Rattray’s own words in an internal email to staff posted by Aaron Krager and shared publiclyare telling. “While our mission to maximize our positive impact in the world is our guiding light, it’s not why we’re having such influence,” he writes. “The reason for our impact, and what makes us unique and potentially transformative, is our strategy: empowerment.” Brooks believes that’s exactly the problem.

“I believe in movement infrastructure and competitive advantage. Where [conservatives] excel is money, and they’ve got a media infrastructure that’s second to none,” he admits. “But on our side, our strength has been people and creativity. Technology supports, extends, and expands those things… and it’s not in anyone’s interest to give them a hand in that.”

Abrams has seen this firsthand, as right-wing groups in Virginia are frequently co-opting her group’s ideas in support of their own missions. But she notes that they’re rarely able to use them as effectively as her group has.

“That’s because there is an agile mindset to progressivism that obviously un-progressive groups do not have. Progressivists are about changing (for the better) and non-progressive groups are about stagnation,” she wrote in an email. But as we’ve seen with astroturf groups and SuperPACs, it’s all too easy to bend a conservative message to fit a progressive-sounding mold. Change.org’s new policy of openness doesn’t provide a safeguard for that.

But will Change.org’s move affect progressive advocacy? Abrams, who prefers on-the-ground activism to online petitions, says the move “reeks of selling out… [But] is it the end of the movement if they sell out? No.” After consideration, Brooks believes the loss of Change.org as a progressive advocacy platform is a small one. He pointed to SignOn.org, a similar site created by MoveOn.org, and Care2, as alternatives to Change.org, and believes this policy change will open up more competition for online advocacy platforms. Still, he says, “we’re losing a great team of campaigners.”

That loss has hit the progressive community hard.  Brooks says Netroots Nation activists and other progressives on listservs he follows are “pretty universally upset and betrayed.” Brooks has already heard of listserv managers expunging Change.org subscribers from their lists, and nonprofits dropping their contracts with the company.

Others believe that empowering former enemies stands in the way of progressive causes’ progress. Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, which previously hosted paid petitions on Change.org, wrote in a blog post Wednesday, “We don’t want to see climate change deniers empowered. We have worked with Change.org to empower people with a vision of a better world that is economically and socially equitable and where the environment is protected.”

Hauter continued, “Even after talking with Ben [Rattray], I get the impression that their decision comes down to increasing their size and reach…. We’re disappointed that Change.org has apparently decided that profit trumps progressive values. I think Change.org has become confused about what kind of change we want and what democracy really looks like.”

Follow Gwen Emmons on Twitter, @gwenemmons

 

Change.org: We’ve Seen This Before


Wenonah Hauter

Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

Posted: 10/30/2012 6:16 pm

Recently, the Huffington Post reported thatChange.org has abandoned its progressive roots and apparently planned on doing it without telling anyone, according to documents leaked from a Change.org employee to Jeff Bryant with Campaign for America’s Future. (According to this petition on rival petition site Signon.org, that employee has nowbeen fired.)

So why is Change.org changing?

“[W]e as an organization have transitioned from an American cause-based organizing network with a largely progressive agenda into a global platform open to a wider diversity of participants and perspectives,” wrote Change.org founder and CEO Ben Rattray to his staff, in an email also leaked to The Huffington Post.

For the past three years, Food & Water Watch has run campaigns with Change.org, so we were outraged when we heard that they would now potentially be working with the likes of Monsanto, the American Petroleum Institute, and anyone else that wants to run a campaign with them.

We spoke with several leaders inside Change.org last week, including Ben Rattray himself. He tried to reassure us that their change in policy did not mean a change in values, and they would not start working with Monsanto tomorrow.

Our conversations did not reassure us.

Rattray characterizes this new “open” policy as a way to indicate that they are non-partisan and focused on empowerment as a tool of change. I pointed out to him that in many cases the issues we work on, from fracking and genetically modified organisms to privatization of our common resources and the destruction or weakening of unions, has been embraced by both major parties.

In fact, wouldn’t we hope that a platform like Change.org would hold Democratic Party officials accountable to their base, rather than the corporations that are buying votes and ultimately creating a situation where public policy is for sale?

And let’s talk about empowerment. We don’t want to see climate change deniers empowered. We have worked with Change.org to empower people with a vision of a better world that is economically and socially equitable and where the environment is protected.

We’ve experienced time and time again being outspent on campaigns by industry front groups that have slick messaging and PR campaigns that are meant to confuse and paralyze voters and the democratic process. We’re seeing this right now in California where we’re trying to pass Prop 37 to give citizens the right to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients. The biotech and processed food industries are pouring more than $35 million dollars into campaigns designed to mislead voters, while the side fighting for Prop 37 has pennies to their dollars to educate voters about the truth.

Even after talking with Ben, I get the impression that their decision comes down to increasing their size and reach. This will mean more advertisers and higher revenues. We’re disappointed that Change.org has apparently decided that profit trumps progressive values. I think Change.org has become confused about what kind of change we want and what democracy really looks like.

This is just one more example of why it is so important to have a strong and vibrant public interest community that does not accept money from corporations and that keeps an appropriate distance because in a for-profit company, the pressure is always to increase earnings for shareholders and investors. As long as this is all above board and everyone understands the relationship, so be it. But it’s unseemly when an organization that claims to be progressive, and has built its organization on working with the progressive community, sells out like this.

Thankfully, there are other progressive groups that aren’t embarrassed about being progressive. Organizations like Care2, Credo Mobile, and Moveon.org who are working in this sphere are committed to the kind of change we want, and won’t compromise in the interest of increasing profits.

Recently there has been a lot of chatter about how our political system is so broken that we should just let business take the lead in creating social change. This is a dangerous sentiment. No matter how well-meaning companies may be, the pressure will always be on increasing market share and making a profit. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some good companies that maintain their principles and make a fair profit. But, there will always be people who are willing to put aside their principles and original vision to attract investors and to increase profits. We will be watching to see what happens at Change.org and keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t weaken the very movement that they were formed to strengthen.

This post originally appeared on Food & Water Watch’s blog.

Related articles

#India- Open letter to #BenRattray, #CEO, #Change.org – “Et tu Brutus” #kracktivism


Dear Ben Rattray

You  started  change.org ,to change  the world, you did made an impact on social change in last five years,in US. In the developing world especially in India , there was mutli-fold increase in petitions, in last one year. So what was different about change, which made it so popular?  The fact it was a business model, which was entering social change with a very transparent and accountable agenda . You are not a non profit organisation claiming anything, true, but you were  representing a progressive community fighting for social justice and change, fighting for human rights of people across the globe. You were using the power of business for social good. Also the fact that each petition was checked and there was a coordination between offline protest , campaigns and the online petition.

I invested  my time at change.org  by  creating many  human rights and petitions on change.org in past one year. There have been  small victories  Paypal apologises. There have been some big victories ,Family Matters taken away from Justice Bhaktavatsala, Amnesty International intervenes to Free Waqar, The Kashmiri YouthFreedom for Arun Ferreira behind bars for 4 years under draconian laws  , and some still continue to create impact like the petition for a  To Save Soni Sori and Punish Chhattisgarh Police & has had impact for international mobilization .

I have closely worked with change.org team on  many petitions, and also guided them  time and again on some other petitions as well, as I strongly believed ,in the fact, that they had taken a stand for social justice and human rights.  Change.org, meant business, yes business to take stand for  human rights . I  used to laugh at some of the inane petitions, which were totally ridiculous e.g. homophobic, anti abortion petition, as I  was sure change.org will not give any support, neither a push and the petition will die its own death. But your decision to change your advertising policy in the name of  openness, democracy and empowerment is nothing more than a facade. There was a certain element of  trust which has been broken  by the new changes in your advertising policy. Change.org  built its reputation on arming Davids to take on the Goliaths, now it seems that you think David and Goliath should be on the same team.

After reading the leaked documents, I was very disturbed and angry and asked the change.org team in India about it and I got the following email, by country head of change.org in India on Oct 25th 2012

 Hi Kamayani,

 as you are one of our most active users I wanted to reach out to you to clarify things in light of the Huffington Post and other pieces regarding our advertising guidelines.

Change.org’s mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see. Our vision is a world in which no one is powerless and making change is a part of daily life.

We believe the best way to achieve this is to have a platform that is truly open (like a true democracy) to all points of view as long as they don’t violate our terms of service – eg: hateful, violent, fraudulent etc. (full details here http://www.change.org/en-IN/about/terms-of-service).

We’re also extending this to our advertisers as long as they do not violate advertising guidelines http://www.change.org/en-IN/about/advertising-guidelines

This is the same yardstick that every tech platform uses – from FB and Google to Huffington Post itself.

 Finally, I would encourage you to read the leaked document as it serves as it clearly explains our position on a number of questions that people might have. It is not as dramatic as the HuffPo article :)

I hope that clarifies. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Cheers,

Avijit

I have read all internal documents word by word, the fact remains you did not plan  to  reach  to me and many other progressive users about the change you were going to embark upon. What these leaked documents revealed goes much beyond that, inclusive of embracing those who want to work against those very causes.  This part of internal document which  I produce below  proves  how your are turning from left to right . How will  you  justify while accepting paid promotions from conservative organizations. After all, conservatives don’t want change. That’s a progressive value. Conservatives want things to remain  the same. Corporations don’t have to run successful campaigns on Change.org in order to defeat the good that’s been done. All they have to do is pay to run so many petitions that current users dislike to get those users to go away or simply stop opening e-mails about petitions.

The full internal Faqs are available here-rebrand-internalfaqs-change.pdf

Your Article in HuffiiPost on Oct 25 also has nothing new  to add to the understanding at all  . In the name of openness now you say YES to-Republican campaigns, soon  I will find a campaign to endorse a legitimate rape ,  Astroturfing campaigns, Corporations.  About Hate groups – you say If a large organization like the The Southern Poverty Law Center( SPLC )says they’re a hate group its a NO , but otherwise yes. For change.org -Anti-abortion, Pro-gun, Union-busting, Animal cruelty is Yes. and you say “We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree.

Your advertising policy shift demonstrates the potential perils of for-profit companies founded on progressive values, and shows the power of money . You have literally betrayed all the active users of change.org, including me and taken advantage of our issues and petitions for increasing your own database. As a business and a company   you have every right to pivot and change  your brand  positioning. However, under the garb of ‘   you are actually helping further the work of those who we are working to organize against. For eg – with  this new Change.org openness, now anyone is eligible to advertise with you for profit. So after I sign a petition for gay rights, women’s rights and all of the other human rights issues, I might find a link to a sponsored petition that  I wasn’t expecting. Stop  Gay Marriages ! Give Legal recognition to Khap Panchayats !   Legalise ‘ Legitimate Rape ” !  Women should stop wearing skirts !

Its a big thanks to the Whistle -blower who leaked the documents for opening our eyes, and  you fire him from work, Wow, that’s very  Ethical, and you do not mention this at all in your article . Is  it change.org’s  policy not to discuss internal matters even if they are public  . I must say, and the fact we are having a debate, is because of him or her , and my eternal gratitude to the concerned person .

You used to call the non-profits who have spent millions to  support  you succeed “partners”, and now you call them “advertisers”. Nice attempt to make it sound like these were simply commercial transactions.   You make it sound like selling names to the radical right is a grand vision for ‘empowerment’”. Since when is suppressing the rights of women, ‘empowerment’? That’s not a grand vision for good. That’s a grand vision for greed. It’s genius, but let’s be clear. It’s not change. It’s just doubling-down on conflict—clickable, lucrative, conflict-mongering—and calling it a business model. Isn’t selling opt- ins (a user opts in with an email addresses when they sign a petition) to anti-women or anti-gay organizations a corrupt act no matter how you sugar coat it?  With a very liberal base of users on your sight. Your claim that you’ve simply grown too big to devote the necessary time to check out each petition is a betrayal of your origin, which was based on making this a voice for the voiceless,  for those who couldn’t make themselves heard elsewhere over the money. What’s changed  ? You seem to have eliminated change in favor of more of the usual. You may not think that you’re selling out, but at  you’ve made a Faustian deal.

Its  time to bid good bye, and I do so  with by my last petition addressed to you only, to reinstate the Whistle- Blower and come out . I will not be participating in change.org petitions  from now, but  I will definitely will be watching you , as you say in your article

“If it’s still not clear to you which version is accurate, I’d ask you consider suspending final judgment until you see the impact of our actions once the heat of the rhetoric subsides. Because while the impact that Change.org users have had around the world has been growing rapidly, we’re just getting started. And we’d love to work together to change the world.”

It’s very  clear to me where you are heading, and there is no confusion , now you are not a business for a social cause but  like any for profit , you are making money on our database .

Was a change.org petitioner organizer in India

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai

28TH October, 2012

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” #change.org #mustread


Director, SignOn.org, the MoveOn.org petition site

Posted: 10/23/2012 6:42 pm

 

That classic quote from Howard Zinn came to mind this morning as I was thinking about the recent news about Change.org. It’s a line Zinn started using in the 1960s to challenge his students to get involved in the civil rights movement.

History, he said, is like a moving train. You can’t ride the train and then say you have no idea how you arrived at your destination. You’re either on board or not — you can’t be neutral.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reported that Change.org would begin selling advertising space to any customer, including promoting right-wing petitions paid for by corporate clients. From now on, they say, they’ll be neutral.

This has led to a lot of soul-searching in the movement — and a lot of questions about SignOn.org, the online petition site that I help run and that was created by MoveOn.org. So I wanted to take this chance not to criticize others, but to explain our choices, our vision.

First, like Change.org, we at SignOn.org see the enormous, game-changing potential of giving regular folks the tools they need to run their own online campaigns.

Over the years, MoveOn has listened to our members and run incredible campaigns giving our members smart, timely ways to get involved.

But there were so many fights MoveOn couldn’t take on. Just in my own community in Maine we have a growing homeless population, schools that need money, sewage runoff polluting the beaches, and so much more.

And after the 2010 election, the rise of the tea party, and Citizens United, we realized that what we were doing wasn’t enough. So we set out to re-invent people-powered politics by tapping into the passion and leadership of our seven million members to run hundreds more campaigns than we could ever take on before.

MoveOn launched SignOn.org about 18 months ago, and already tens of thousands of people have started petitions and many of them have scored amazing victories.

Robert Applebaum, an attorney in New York, started a SignOn.org petition calling for student loan forgiveness and it spread quickly, gathering more than a million signatures. Then, something amazing happened. President Obama responded — not with a form letter, but with an actual change in policy that will lower student loan payments for more than 1.6 million people.

When religious conservatives in Utah tried to pass a bill banning sex education in public schools, over 40,000 Utahns signed a petition urging the governor to veto the bill — and he did. The petition was started by Paul Krueger, a school bus driver and retired firefighter, who was quoted in the news coverage as saying, “I’ve never done anything like this, and it’s kind of amazing how fast this took off.”

And when Delaware Governor Jack Markell was considering supporting weak rules for fracking in the region, John Kowalko started a petition on SignOn.org urging the governor to vote no. After more than 1,000 signatures and a wave of media coverage, Gov. Markell came out against the rules, protecting drinking water for more than 15 million people.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the movement is growing every day.

So how is this different from Change.org? First, SignOn.org is non-profit and proudly progressive. Our goal is to make America live up to our best progressive ideals as a nation. We don’t answer to shareholders; we answer to our members — seven million Americans who share a commitment to making our country better through collective action. We will never, ever, ever give right-wing front groups a channel for co-opting our members’ organizing.

Second, we never, ever let anyone pay us to promote their campaign. If MoveOn asks you to sign a petition, you don’t have to wonder if it’s because someone paid us to. We trust our members to decide which campaigns to promote, and their judgment has been impeccable.

Third, we built SignOn.org to empower long-term organizing. Petitions are great, but most of the time it takes an ongoing campaign to win real change. So we want SignOn.org petition creators to send regular email updates to the MoveOn members who sign their petitions, and our toolset provides unlimited, free access to do so.

In short, we take sides, and we’re proud of it. We’re for economic justice, equality for women and LGBT individuals, ending poverty, racial justice, quality education for all, a clean environment, and peace. Because like Howard Zinn said, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.

 

Change.org Changing: Site To Allow Corporate, Anti-Abortion, GOP Campaigns #takecaction


Ryan Grim
 (UPDATE)

Posted: 10/22/2012 5:58 pm EDT Updated: 10/23/2012 9:44 pm EDT

Change

WASHINGTON — Change.org, the online social movement company founded on progressive values, has decided to change its advertising policy to allow for corporate advertising, Republican Party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, anti-abortion or anti-union ads and other controversial sponsorships, according to internal company documents.

Change.org allows users to launch and sign petitions, and the company has had somehigh-profile successes. Change.org currently operates under a values-based client policy, only accepting advertisements from progressive organizations that share its values. The new policy will be closer to “a Google-like open advertising policy in which determinations about which advertisements we’ll accept are based on the content of the ad, not the group doing the advertising,” according to a company FAQ sent to staff. The document was leaked to Jeff Bryant, an associate fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal organization, who subsequently provided it and others to The Huffington Post.

The company will implement the shift on Oct. 24, according to the memo.

“Change.org built its reputation on arming Davids to take on the Goliaths of the world,” Bryant told HuffPost. “Now it seems that the company thinks David and Goliath should be on the same team.”

Change.org did not plan to reach out to its base of progressive users about the change. “[W]e have no plans to proactively tell users about the new design or our new mission, vision, or advertising guidelines,” reads one document.

The press was to be kept similarly in the dark. “We are not planning proactive press outreach on the rebrand but are queuing up positive press profiles to launch around Oct. 22,” reads the FAQ in the document, urging staff to keep things confidential and referring to the initial launch date, which has since been postponed.

The current Change.org policy limits sponsored campaigns to progressive organizations. “We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear — fairness, equality, and justice,” reads the site’s soon-to-be replaced policy. “We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.”

After the shift, Change.org’s new policy will specifically allow campaigns that its liberally minded site users might find objectionable. “What about anti-abortion, pro-gun and union-busting advertising?” reads the FAQ in the leaked document.

“We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree,” reads the answer.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, director of communications for Change.org, acknowledged that the changes as outlined in the internal documents will be implemented. Joffe-Walt said the company never intended to pitch itself as strictly progressive.

“It’s not what we ever claimed to be,” he said.

Joffe-Walt said a new, general guide for the new company policy would be: “If Google will allow it, we would allow it.”

Change.org leadership met in San Francisco this summer to hash out its new advertising policy following a public uproar in July over the site’s partnership with Michelle Rhee, whose organization works in opposition to labor unions. “[W]e looked long and hard at our client policy in the context of our vision. This was the most difficult part of the weekend, but after many hours of discussion and edge cases we ultimately agreed that the current closed approach is simply not feasible,” Change.org’s founder and CEO Ben Rattray wrote in an email to staff, which was also leaked to HuffPost by Bryant.

“[W]e as an organization have transitioned from an American cause-based organizing network with a largely progressive agenda into a global platform open to a wider diversity of participants and perspectives,” he wrote. “Yet the honest reality is that we haven’t fully made this transition. At least in the US, we still often see things through a traditional partisan progressive lens, and over the past couple months it’s become clear that we have a choice: we can continue to try to have it both ways and risk getting pigeonholed into being a partisan organization with a particular agenda and limited audience, or we can break out of this mold and aspire to something much bigger –- to true empowerment everywhere.”

Labor and progressive organizations, which make up a sizable base of Change.org’s client list, threatened to pull out over the Rhee situation. After reports that Change.org was dropping Rhee and another controversial anti-union group as clients, the site continues to run her petitions.

It remains to be seen how current site users and clients will react to a new ad policy that opens the platform to opponents. Three of Change.org’s most prominent clients are the Sierra Club, Amnesty International and Credo Mobile, which runs the second-biggest progressive online activist group, after MoveOn.org.

According to the internal memo, the new policy will still allow the company to reject an ad if accepting it would threaten Change.org’s “brand.” Such rejections, according to the FAQ, will only be made by Rattray, who has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Joffe-Walt said the “vast majority of Change.org” users were not strictly liberal or progressive. “We’re in 196 countries,” he said, adding that it sounds like those who might criticize the policy shift “don’t want us to be on an open platform.”

Change.org’s advertising policy shift demonstrates the potential perils of for-profit companies founded on progressive values, and shows the power of money even outside the sphere of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Change.org’s strategic break with the progressive movement comes just days after the board of another for-profit progressive company, Salsa Labs, ousted its CEO. Salsa is a prominent campaign organizing platform that took $5 million in venture capital funding last year — a move the two cofounders say they “deeply regret.” Fitzgibbon Media, which only works with progressive organizations, has decided to drop the company as a client because it no longer considers Salsa in that category, according to founder Trevor Fitzgibbon.

“We remain committed to serving only progressive clients, reaffirmed that publicly on Friday, and have given no indication otherwise. Salsa’s change in CEO was solely a management change and is not indicative of any shift in our corporate vision or mission,” said Dave Leichtman, a Salsa vice president. Salsa’s main rival, Blue State Digital, sold itself to the corporate firm WPP in 2010.

Rattray has also recently been meeting with a number of well-known venture capital firms, according to his internal calendar, which was shared with Bryant. The venture giants include Google Ventures, Bridges Ventures and Acumen Fund, among others. Joffe-Walt stressed that the meetings “have absolutely nothing” to do with the change in advertising policy. The company is continuing to speak with venture capitalists, Joffe-Walt said, but will only work with a “mission-aligned investor.”

While it had no plans to proactively let users or the media know of its plans for a new direction, Change.org did tell staff it would launch new, “awesome language” on its site on Monday to better describe the company, the memo said. In a separate email to employees, Rattray laid out the new language to describe the company’s mission: “To empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.”

In its internal memo to employees, Change.org justified its decision to change its advertising policy by referencing the dispute over Rhee. The situation was excessively time-consuming, the memo states, and the research efforts involved in such disputes “simply don’t scale” as the firm continues to grow globally.

“[W]e believe open advertising guidelines will help us maximize our mission,” offers the memo. What’s good for the business is good for the world, it argues, and an open platform that empowers more people will lead to positive change. Furthermore, the memo says, the rejection of some advertisers for moral or political reasons is an implicit endorsement of other advertisers — something the company wants to avoid.

Change’s softening of its liberal stance leaves the space open for competitors like Care2.com, which is also for-profit, and MoveOn.org, which offers petition software called SignOn and is a nonprofit organization. Care2 has been around longer than Change.org, and has significantly more clients, but the company lags behind Change.org in terms of public relations. Asked if Care2 would accept clients whose values the company doesn’t share, Clinton O’Brien, a Care2.com vice president, said no.

“Care2 will never run a campaign for the NRA, or from advocacy groups that don’t support a woman’s right to control her own body,” O’Brien told HuffPost. “Just like we will never sell an ad campaign to Monsanto or some other for-profit whose behavior we think is widely recognized to be negative for society or the planet … We consider it our duty to accept or reject clients on a case-by-case basis.”

Steven Biel, the director of SignOn, echoed the sentiment.

“When you see MoveOn.org promote a petition, you never have to wonder if we’re doing it because someone paid us to,” Biel wrote in an email to HuffPost. “For years, progressives have built a huge advantage over the right wing on the Internet, and it would be awful to lose that in service of a short-term payday.”

Change.org leadership, in explaining the policy shift to its staff around the world, noted that some of the changes could not be implemented immediately because there would be no support base among current users for the advertising campaigns the company may pursue.

“It’s irresponsible for us to sell advertising to a group that we don’t have the audience to support, and it’s bad user service to show users ads they don’t want to see,” reads an internal FAQ sent to staffers.

Change.org scooped up many of the most talented and well-known progressive activists when it initially launched, making the company’s departure from the movement more jarring.

As it attempts to expand its customer base to include conservatives and Republicans, Change.org is in a precarious position. In order to successfully make the pivot, the company will need to hold on to its base of progressive clients and users long enough for it to build a bridge across the spectrum. That means burying sponsored ads that its base will find objectionable. “We’ll also be investing heavily in building strong feedback loops so that sponsored campaigns our users don’t like will be hidden or even taken down from the site,” reads the memo. “This is going to be essential to our success as we build a much larger and diverse base.”

Rattray, in an email to staff that hinted at possible departures as a result of the shift, struck a hopeful tone.

“For some of you, this vision won’t feel like a shift at all. For others, it might seem like a big reframing of who we are. But if this feels a little unsafe, know this: nothing big was ever achieved by taking the safe option. We’re attempting something nobody else has done before – to transcend traditional partisanship and build a global empowerment platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people. It’s not easy to do, and will require difficult choices that will challenge each of us. But in the long run, it’s how we will change the world,” he wrote.

Joffe-Walt said Change.org is “not beholden to one community.”

“We’ve created a new platform that has enabled things to happen that weren’t possible before. We’re helping to drive net positive change in the world — with the emphasis on net,” he said.

UPDATE: Oct. 23, 9:25 p.m. – Benjamin Joffe-Walt, Change.org’s managing director of global communications, said that the source of the leak is no longer with Change.org.

“A Huffington Post article about our new advertising guidelines revealed that a blogger had obtained access to internal Change.org documents. We’ve identified the person who leaked the documents and they are no longer with the company. We respect their privacy and we are not releasing their name,” he said in a statement, adding that “this was a case in which a Change.org staffer shared internal documents and the private schedule of our founder and CEO with a journalist. Content aside, there is simply no situation in any organization or company in which the result would have been different. The suspicion that such a move is an attempt to punish a ‘whistleblower’ couldn’t be further from the truth: the leaked documents and emails in question are available to all our employees and outline plans to be fully transparent about our business model and new advertising guidelines. While we wouldn’t normally communicate externally through a painfully long, 12-page document, it outlines a number of important concerns and if anyone is inclined to read it they are more than welcome to do so. There are no nefarious secrets to reveal and no whistle was blown.”

PLEASE ASK CHANGE.ORG TO COME OUT CLEAN NOW !!.