|Key people||Ricken Patel (ED), 50 employees and several freelancers|
|Method(s)||Petition, demonstrations, supporting independent press in conflict areas|
Avaaz is a global civic organization launched in January 2007 that promotes activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, animal rights, corruption, poverty, and conflict; it works to "close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want." The organization operates in 15 languages and claims over twenty million members in 194 countries, and The Guardian considers it "the globe's largest and most powerful online activist network".
- 1 Origin of the word
- 2 Co-founders
- 3 Funding, campaigns selection process and management
- 4 Ideology
- 5 Campaigns
- 6 Criticism
- 7 List and map of European countries by percent of population per country that has signed an Avaaz petition at least once
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Origin of the word
The name "Avaaz", according to the organization itself, means "voice" "in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages". In fact though, آواز āwāz is the Persian word for "song", which can also be encountered in Hindi/Urdu and Nepalese. The claim that the word is part of "several" European languages is exaggerated, for the Persian word was taken up only in Turkish and, from there, in the Bosnian variety of Serbo-Croat. As regards Middle Eastern languages, only Persian (and, perhaps, Turkish) can be cited, so the claim is also not really correct.
Avaaz.org was co-founded by Res Publica, a "community of public sector professionals dedicated to promoting good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy", and MoveOn.org, an American non-profit progressive public policy advocacy group. It was also supported by Service Employees International Union, a founding partner, and GetUp!, an Australian non-profit campaigning organization.
Avaaz's individual co-founders include Ricken Patel, Tom Pravda, former Virginia congressman Tom Perriello, MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser, Australian progressive entrepreneur David Madden, Jeremy Heimans (co-founders of Purpose.com), and Andrea Woodhouse The board consists of Ricken Patel (president), Tom Pravda (secretary), Eli Pariser (board chairman), and Ben Brandzel (treasurer).
Avaaz's founding President and Executive Director is the Canadian-British Ricken Patel. He studied PPE (Politics, Philosophy, Economics) at Balliol College, Oxford University. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. He worked for the International Crisis Group around the world, including in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Afghanistan, where he says "he learnt how to bring rebel forces to the negotiation table, to monitor elections (covertly), to restore public faith in once corrupt political systems and to spot when foreign forces were being manipulated." He returned to the US and volunteered for MoveOn.org, where he learned how to use online tools for activism.
Funding, campaigns selection process and management
"Since 2009, Avaaz has not taken donations from foundations or corporations, nor has it accepted payments of more than $5,000 (£3,100)" The Guardian reports. "Instead, it relies simply on the generosity of individual members, who have now raised over $20m (£12.4m)." In 2011 it had around 50 staff.
Global campaigns selection process
Avaaz global campaigns are managed by a team of campaigners working from over 30 countries, including the UK, India, Lebanon and Brazil. They communicate with members via email, and employ campaigning tactics including online public petitions, videos, and email-your-leader tools. In some cases Avaaz also uses advertisements and commissions legal advice to clarify how best to take a campaign forward, and stages "sit-ins, rallies, phone-ins and media friendly stunts". Examples of stunts include "taking a herd of cardboard pigs to the doors of the World Health Organisation to demand an investigation into the link between swine flu and giant pig farms and creating a three-mile human chain handshake from the Dalai Lama to the doors of the Chinese Embassy in London to request dialogue between the parties".
Suggestions for campaigns come from members, supplemented by guidance from teams of specialists. Once a suggestion has been taken up as having potential, tester email are polled to 10,000 Avaaz members; if the emails receive a sufficient response, the campaign is opened up to all Avaaz members. In 2010 The Economist suggested that "the way Avaaz bunches unlikely causes together may be an asset in a world where campaigns, like race and class, can still segregate people, not reconcile them."
Local campaigns platform
In 2012 the group launched a distributed organizing platform allowing any of its millions of members to launch their own petitions in minutes. Within months the community campaigning site has been put to use in a number of important causes with over 8,000 people starting their own campaigns in its first few months: from defending New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui’s dolphins to helping repatriate 100 Indian migrant workers who were held by a construction company in Bahrain.
Avaaz has united practical idealists from around the world. Director Ricken Patel said in 2011 "We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!"
Since 2007 Avaaz has launched hundreds of global and national campaigns. Relying on its fast-expanding international community of members Avaaz has worked to fight corruption in India, Italy and Brazil, protect the world’s oceans, rainforests and endangered wildlife, defend internet and media freedoms, and foster the democratic spirit at the heart of the Arab spring uprisings. As listed on the Avaaz.org website, some past and current campaigns include:
Avaaz’s first year campaigns included efforts to support pro-democracy activists in Burma, prevent military escalation in Iraq, and meme-bust the conflict in Israel-Palestine.
- In January, the very first Avaaz campaign brought 87,000 "virtual marchers" against military escalation in Iraq to a peaceful protest in Washington, DC. The protest was paired with the release of a new plan to end the war and equitably preserve Iraq’s oil deposits for the Iraqi people.
- In March members united in support of a just and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In support of that goal Avaaz made a video, Stop the Clash, which has been viewed more than 2.5 million times across nine different language versions and was voted YouTube's Political Video of the Year for 2007.
- In October more than 800,000 members signed a petition in support of monks and pro-democracy activists demonstrating in Burma. The petition, delivered to UK prime minister Gordon Brown, asked China, the UN security council and other major stakeholders to oppose the Burmese junta’s violent crackdown.
The Avaaz community campaigned to ban cluster bombs, bring real democracy to Zimbabwe, ran innovative campaigns on Tibet, and much more.
- In March, after President Robert Mugabe was re-elected in sham elections, 150,000 Avaaz members called on key Mugabe ally, South African president Thabo Mbeki, to push for real democratic reform.
- In April, after a violent crackdown on protests and riots in Tibet, 1.5 million Avaaz members called for meaningful dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama. The next month, some 2,000 members in "One China" t-shirts formed a human hand chain from the Dalai Lama to the Chinese Embassy in London – a tangible gesture of goodwill culminating in a rally with a moment of silence for victims of the Sichuan earthquake.
- In May, Cluster bomb survivor Branislav Kapetanovic sent a video appeal to Avaaz members prompting 164,272 email messages to government leaders urging a global ban free of loopholes and delays. More than 100 nations signed a strong treaty.
Avaaz members issued a massive ‘climate wake-up call’, fought to protect the Brazilian Amazon, deliver aid to cyclone-hit Burma, provide food security in the developing world, and launched an ad campaign in DC to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
- With food prices soaring, Sierra Leonean foreign minister Zainab Bangura recorded a video appeal to Avaaz’s global membership in November asking for help. More than 360,000 members responded and at an emergency food summit in Rome donor governments pledged billions in emergency food aid.
- When the Burmese government prevented aid workers from providing need relief supplies after Cyclone Nargis, 25,000 Avaaz members from 125 countries donated $2 million to support monks' relief efforts.
- In response to a bill that would have handed a large section of the Brazilian Amazon to agribusiness, Avaaz members in Brazil made 14,000 phone calls and sent 30,000 online messages to President Lula's office. The bill was defeated.
- With thousands of member donations, Avaaz launched a billboard ad campaign in Washington, DC to protest torture and the mistreatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
- On 21 September 2009, Avaaz.org staged a 'global wake-up call' to press world leaders to take action on climate.
- On 12 December 2009, Avaaz.org organized 3,241 candle-lit vigils in 139 countries, again to press those attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 to reach a "Real Deal", and took out advertising space in the Financial Times' "Green New Deal" supplement to call world leaders to "fund the fight to save the world."
Other campaigns that were run during this period included:
- Online petition against the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict
- Online petition against violence, disease and hunger in Zimbabwe
- Ad campaign calling for a European peacekeeping force in war-torn Congo
- Online petition against the 2008 Mumbai attacks
- Online petition against the Anti-Homosexual Bill in Uganda
In 2010, Avaaz campaigned to defend the world’s oceans and free speech in Italy, deliver much-needed aid to earthquake victims in Haiti and flood victims in Pakistan, and to fight anti-gay legislation in Uganda, corruption in Brazil and ‘corrective rape’ in South Africa.
- In January a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. Thousands of members contributed more than $1.3 million for relief and recovery, directing the funds to outstanding local groups for life-saving food kits, shelter and medicine. Months later in August, when floods covered much of Pakistan, members raised nearly $1 million, which was given directly to trusted local partners.
- In July, 340,000 Italian members helped stop Legge Bavaglio, or ‘gag’ law, aimed at silenced editors and journalists.
- Also in July, Avaaz members rallied behind an anti-corruption bill in Brazil known as Ficha Limpa. It was the largest online campaign in Brazilian history, culminating in a petition of 2 million signatures.
- In December, over one million people from every country in the EU took part in the first-ever European Citizens' Initiative – a process allowing people to lodge official petitions that require a response. Avaaz members called for an immediate freeze on genetically modified crops entering the EU.
- In April 450,000 members signed a petition to the speaker of Uganda’s parliament condemning a draft law that could have sentenced gay Ugandans to death.
- Ahead of peace talks, Avaaz campaigned against continued Israeli settlement construction and for a just two-state solution.
Other campaigns included:
- In March 2010, Avaaz.org launched the petition Stand Up for Democracy! - stand with Baltasar Garzon (Baltasar Garzon is a Spanish judge).
- In May 2010 Avaaz.org joined with 38 Degrees and Take Back Parliament to launch a campaign to reform the first-past-the-post electoral system.
- In June 2010, Avaaz.org launched a petition calling for an investigation into the Israeli interception of a Gaza aid flotilla and the end of the Gaza blockade. It initially aimed to receive 200,000 signatories but this was met within 24 hours; a new target of 300,000 was again met within 24 hours, and a third was set at 500,000 signatories.
- Avaaz.org is active in campaigning to save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from imminent execution in Iran.
- Avaaz has also created an online petition to block the creation of Sun TV News Channel in Canada, which it fears will be like its equivalent south of the border, Fox News. The petition has tens of thousands of signatures, including prominent Canadian activists such as Margaret Atwood.
- In September 2010 Avaaz launched an online petition against "a draconian and unconstitutional new secrecy Bill" and a Media Tribunal proposed by the African National Congress in South Africa that would muzzle the media and let security agencies operate without accountability. It added that the secrecy measures in the "Protection of Information" Bill and the "Media Appeals Tribunal" proposal threaten press freedom enshrined in the South African Constitution and will block the media from acting in the public interest to expose corruption and abuse of power.
- On December 8, 2010, Avaaz launched a gigantic petition supporting WikiLeaks. The primary aim was to stop the crackdown.
The Avaaz community worked to end corruption in India, encourage hotels to protect women from sex slavery, support the pro-democracy revolution sweeping the Arab world, challenge Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and much more.
- More than 317,000 Avaaz members warned Hilton’s CEO that unless he stopped turning a blind eye to sex trafficking in hotels, Avaaz would run hard-hitting ads in his hometown. Hilton described the campaign as like an “explosion going off” and agreed to train all of its 180,000 international employees how to spot and prevent sex slavery.
- Solidarity with the people of Egypt: an online petition launched in January 2011 to express solidarity with the people of Egypt during the 2011 Egyptian protests, in which the Egyptian people sought to peacefully remove the dictatorial regime of President Hosni Mubarak, in order to establish democracy.
- Appeal to United Nations Security Council delegates, European Foreign Ministers, and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to impose specific actions to stop and prosecute the violence against civilians in the 2011 Libyan civil war and appeal to United Nations Security Council to create a no-fly zone over Libya.
- Petition to Prime Minister of India, in support of Anna Hazare, who started fasting to urge the government for strict law against corruption.
- As part of its Rupert Murdoch campaign, Avaaz members have taken 1 million online actions, made thousands of phone calls, sent 250,000 messages to official consultations, sponsored 3 national polls, 8 stunts and 3 legal briefs on the need for stronger media rules. At the Leveson Enquiry, Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that Avaaz’s interventions significantly delayed his decision on the BSkyB takeover last summer when 40,000 letters from Avaaz members flooded his consultation in April.
Other campaigns included:
- Save the bees: an online petition launched in January 2011 to push the US and EU to join the ban of the neonicotinoid pesticides manufactured by Bayer which are highly toxic to honey bees.
- Stop conflict chocolate: a campaign to prevent civil war in the Ivory Coast by sending emails to 'leading companies' of the cocoa industry, asking them to stop dealing with Laurent Gbagbo.
- Appeal to Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish government to help release Iman al-Obeidi and investigate her case.
- "End the War on Drugs!" Petition to end the War on Drugs, May 26, 2011.
- Campaign to end discrimination in Bahrain: successful campaign to cancel the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix.
- Appeal to the leaders of France, Spain, Germany, the UK and the High Representative of the EU and all UN member states, to endorse the bid for recognition of the State of Palestine and the reaffirmation of the rights of the Palestinian people, July 22, 2011. As of September 22, 2011, over one million people have signed this petition.
- Campaign on behalf of the US army private, Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking confidential material to Wikileaks. Avaaz describes Manning as subject to "brutal torture" in a US military prison.
March 2011: Syria Uprising
Avaaz has been involved in supporting activists in Syria by providing communication equipment such as satellite phones and cameras so that videos could be posted online of the government crackdown. Additionally, Avaaz has sent in trainers to help teach how to use the phones as well as how to do citizen journalism. Avaaz helped to coordinate the entry of at least 34 international journalists into war zones in Syria, including the French photographer Rémi Ochlik and the American journalist Marie Colvin (both died during the battles in Homs) and French reporter Edith Bouvier, who was badly hurt. To help evacuate the British photographer Paul Conroy from the city of Homs, on 28 February the group coordinated an operation by Syrian activists, helped evacuate 40 seriously wounded people from the neighbourhood of Baba Amr, and brought in medical supplies. An article in The New Republic claimed that Avaaz has exaggerated its role in the escape. In Syria, Avaaz set up a network of about 200 activists to provide video footage, which has been used by the international media and also helped to smuggle medical equipment into the country.
In 2012 Avaaz worked to protect against assaults on internet freedom, protect choice for Honduran women, garner support for an end to fossil fuel subsidies ahead of Rio+20, and worked to break the media blackout in Syria.
- Working with other organisations like DemandProgress, 3 million members worldwide signed a petition opposing a SOPA, a bill that could have given the US government the right to shut down websites like YouTube and WikiLeaks. The collaborative efforts of these groups killed off this proposal.
- In February nearly three million members worldwide signed a petition to beat back another threat to global internet freedom known as ACTA.
- Ahead of the Rio+20 summit Avaaz launched a campaign to end the $1 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies governments hand out annually.
- In may 690,000 members signed a petition against a Honduran law that could have put teenagers and rape victims in jail for using the morning after pill.
- Avaaz has raised money to support Guatemalan citizens in suing a Canadian mining company for human rights abuses.
- Stand with Edward Snowden - more than 215,000 Avaaz members worldwide signed a petition for immediate termination of the NSA surveillance program PRISM and demanding a "fairly, humanely and given due process" for the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
- Stop the Serengeti Sell-off - 1,775,320 Avaaz members signed a petition to stop the Tanzanian government from denying access to 1,500 sq km pastries for 40,000 Maasai pastoralists, since Ortelo Business Corporation, a luxury safari company that was set up by an official from United Arab Emirates, who is close to the royal family, established there a luxury safari ranch (complete with a fleet of off-road vehicles and a runway capable of taking large Jet aircrafts). It was reported that the Sheikh of Dubai himself was expected to arrive at the ranch, and that the area was closed to journalists and NGOs, and the locals have been warned by the police that even to speak about OBC will get them into trouble. A Maasai elder told the journalist: "We feel like refugees in our own country." The private luxury safari company's area bordered the Serengeti National Park, which was made a "human-free" reserve by the British colonialists in 1959. All land had to be "productive" in the modern agricultural sense for the socialist Julius Nyerere, as well, which the mere leading the cattle from one area of grazing to another, as the seasons shift, was not in spite of producing almost all the nation's beef. Also, the government banned Maasai language, which is still forbidden in schools, contributing to the high level of Maasai illiteracy. It has been reported in 2009 that very few benefits of tourism have flowed to the people who own the land and no management job in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has ever gone to a Maasai. In the recent activism campaign, an advertisement embarrassing for the Tanzanian government was payed for, as well as CNN and Al Jazeera reporters were helped by Avaaz to visit the area. Maasai elders were helped to travel to the capital where they gathered until the Tanzanian Prime Minister visited the area and told the Maasai that the President had confirmed that they would not be evicted.
- Put Kids in School - over 40,000 Avaaz members donated a $1 million in a few days for 300,000 Syrian children exiled in Lebanon to be put in schools. The action was called a "magnificent and impactful intervention" by the United Nations Education Envoy Gordon Brown.
- Confronting Horror in Paradise - over 2 million Avaaz members signed a petition asking Maldives President to intervene in the case of the Maldives rape victim. Avaaz launched an advertising campaign targeting the tourism industry by exposing the reality of life for women in this island paradise. In August, the High Court finally dropped the outrageous flogging sentence.
- Justice for Liz - Over 1.3 million Avaaz members have signed a petition to bring perpetrators of the rape of a 16 year old girl at Busia in Kenya. Liz (not the real name of the victim) was gang raped in June 2013 by 6 men in turns and then thrown into a 19 feet 8.22 inches (6.0000 m) pit. The alleged perpetrators were arrested and then were served with a punishment to slash grass at a police station afterwhich they walked free.The campaign was launched to urge the government to bring the perpetrators to a court of justice to face the law.
Another conservative Canadian, Ezra Levant, tried to make a link between Soros and Avaaz.org as an indirect supporter through MoveOn, but the article was later retracted as baseless and an apology was offered to Soros.
Some question whether Avaaz's focus on online petitions and email campaigns may encourage laziness, transforming potential activism into 'clicktivism'. A New Republic article accuses them of false claims regarding Paul Conroy's escape from Syria. Jillian York has accused Avaaz of lack of transparency and arrogance. The Defensor Da Natureza's blog has accused Avaaz of taking credit for the success of the Ficha Limpa anti-corruption bill in Brazil, which Luis Nassif reposted. The Art of Annihilation blog have also published an investigative report.
List and map of European countries by percent of population per country that has signed an Avaaz petition at least once
Avaaz has been criticized for failing to unsubscribe on request, therefore the numbers do not refer to the actual Avaaz members, but to the percent of population per country that has signed an Avaaz petition at least once.
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- Population data source
- Source: Interactive map on Avaaz website, accessed 30 January 2013