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Change.org's International Move

BY Nick Judd | Friday, October 7 2011

With reporting by Antonella Napolitano

There were dozens camped out at the spot in Puerta del Sol, the broad public square in Madrid, their slogans spread out like skin over the skeleton of the geodesic structure that serves as an entrance to the metro station there.

When the police came, they chanted "No a la violencia!" — no to violence — and video shows how they reacted with whistles and shouts as police began to drag away their fellow dissenters.

This was a crucial night for the protestors calling themselves "indignados," who had descended upon Puerta del Sol on May 15 intent on staying until national elections in Spain. Frustrated with a political system they feel does not work for them, many of them out of work, they stayed to protest in defiance of a national law that prohibits discussion of electoral politics so close to the elections. But it was also a crucial night for Actuable, an online petitions platform then just a few months old. Protesters wanted to tell Spanish elections authority, the Junta Electoral Central, that they had a right to be heard. While they rallied in Madrid despite the electoral rules, they also went online — to Actuable, where a petition asserting their right to demonstrate, even immediately before an election, collected 200,000 signatures.

"The 200,000 signatures were taken to the Junta Electoral Central. The people were not expelled from Plaza del Sol: the petition had stated that citizens can say loud and clear what they are asking for," Actuable co-founder Francisco Polo told techPresident in a recent interview. "It was an unprecedented way to empower people."

It's hard to know what impact the petition actually had, but the chance to see use by the indignados was a moment in the sun for Actuable. Founded last year, Actuable was always intended to operate in the style of Change.org — which recently acquired the Madrid-based platform. Now it is a new international presence for Change.org, and part of the company's new plans to expand globally.

"I wanted Change.org to come to Spain but it was too soon at the time," Polo said. "I told Ben —" that's Change.org founder Ben Rattray — "that I was not going to wait. So I created Actuable and Ben gave me advice and support in the first days. This spring we reconnected after more than a year and a half and we both confessed each other that we wanted to go international in the short term and a merge just made sense."

Polo is now director of Change.org Spain, and Actuable will be rebranded with Change.org's colors over the next few months. A U.S.-based B-corporation — meaning an LLC or a "C corporation" for tax purposes that has made certain commitments to provide public benefit — Change.org seems to have found its niche enabling local or small scale actions. A company spokesman says Change.org petitioners see their causes succeed an average of once a day, on issues ranging from stopping a new overpass from being built on a nature preserve to preventing the deportation from the U.S. of a married father.

There's a certain ease with which advocates for Change.org associate success in each case on the platform with the momentary participation of a few thousand people, on the Internet. We've long followed the quest — of Rattray at Change.org and others — for the One True Activism Platform, and it's clear that no one's quite there yet.

The merger will likely be a forward step. A company spokesman says that the two platforms will be completely merged by 2012, with languages and campaigns localized for each visitor. Actuable's 720,000-some-odd members will be rolled into Change.org's user base, which already grows — or so the company claims — by about 400,000 users a month.

Actuable rolling into Change.org comes as "indignados" emerge in Mexico City, and one of our own commenters points us to student protesters advocating for education reform in Chile. It's a good moment for an online activism platform to gain native support for multiple languages, and will be worth watching to see if it gets any use.