One year ago, Change.org launched in the UK. It's grown more than we could ever have predicted. Across the UK people are building movements large and small to challenge previously out of reach institutions. Using the incredible power of storytelling and the shareability that social media offers, individuals who have never considered themselves campaigners or identified as 'political' are challenging the institutions that govern their communities, cities regions and countries.
Since our launch 2.5 million people in the UK have become Change.org users, either by signing petitions or starting their own. On average two users a week win their campaigns, all of which are started with a petition.
It is, however, simplistic to say online petitions are powerful in isolation. The power comes from the movements they build. Take Lucy Holmes's high profile campaign asking The Sun to drop Page 3. Her campaign hasn't won (yet) - but a 100,000 strong movement of people from all walks of life have come together in a joyful and positive outpouring of contemporary feminism complete with crowdsourced creativity; films; poetry; ideas. There's been demonstrations, huge media coverage and even a response from Rupert Murdoch. The idea was Lucy's, the movement has become everybody's.
While huge campaigns like Lucy's and Dominic Aversano's 475,000-strong £53 per week challenge to Iain Duncan Smith hit the headlines, it's often the smaller ones that catch my imagination.
Stacy Stafford was devastated to receive a letter telling her that her severely disabled son Aaron was losing the essential funding to attend his school. Stacy started a petition, built a supporter base of 7,500 and met other parents in similar situations. The local press took an interest; Glasgow Council relented. It wasn't a huge, national campaign but for Aaron and Stacy it was a life-changing one.
Sites like Change.org have a huge number of users because the causes are relevant and explained well, often with personal stories attached. After all, people relate best to the stories of others.
People talk a lot about political apathy and how to tackle it. The mistake is to think that the answer begins and ends with engagement in the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster. Engagement with the political process is about how people interact with social issues and how empowered they feel to change their world for the better. Politicians who understand that it's issues rather than ideologies that drive political engagement will be the ones who win out in the end. People say that the political class is out of touch and out of reach. In some cases the former may well be true, but for the latter it's certainly the reverse. Social media has removed the gap between the public and the institutions which serve us, making them more in touch and more accountable than ever before. This provides an exciting and dynamic opportunity for political engagement and one that should be embraced by everyone.
This week, like any other, scores of campaigns are being run on Change.org. Each one is important to the person who started it and that person will be campaigning on and offline to change their world for the better. So let's not talk about apathy or disengagement, because the power is in the hands of the people and now, more than ever, they're using it.