The petitioning group Avaaz is polling its 17 million members to redefine its priorities as part of a huge exercise in global democracy. But does its brand of online activism actually work?
Excellent article on the future of politics and democracy, through an investigation on the benefits and draw backs of online petition platforms, like Avaaz. A must read, here are some excerpts.
"But with scale comes challenges: what have the groups actually achieved? Who's really in charge – the paid staff or the diffuse member base? And now governments are starting to take digital democracy seriously – with official petition sites, open policymaking and more – what's the point in the long term?
Avaaz began its annual consultation with half a million emails sent last Thursday, imploring its members – those who have signed previous petitions, or participated in other actions – to answer an extensive poll on what should be done in 2013. The resulting ballot is perhaps one of the biggest exercises in direct democracy ever undertaken: across millions of members, 14 languages, over a hundred countries."
""I think the clicktivism debate is just silly. I don't think anyone doubts that iTunes has changed music, or eBay has changed commerce. No one calls that clicktivism," she says. "No one calls Gandhi a 'walkavist', or Rosa Parks a 'sitavist'. The internet is really just the place where this change is happening. Think local, act local, think national, act national, think global, act global – I think that's what Avaaz provides."
"... has a somewhat damning verdict on the effectiveness of petitions. "They are definitely the junk food of democracy – they make you feel good for the moment but they don't necessarily move things forward," he says. "Like with everything, the easier it is for people in a power position to discredit what you're doing as just the usual suspects, or just people signing a petition, then it will be discredited."
Zacharzewski supports the idea of more interventionist, participatory democracy, but advocates more subtle interventions, online and offline: gathering "juries" of citizens to discuss in detail specific issues, or opening up policy-making beyond traditional lobbies and civil servants."
"And in all probability, says Zacharzewski, the losers will be the political parties, as people focus directly on each individual issue they support rather than signing up to the bundle of compromises that makes up a traditional party manifesto."
""I think parties have a huge structural problem," he says. "One of my trustees says the parties are dead and not coming back. I think that's a bit strong, but I think the concept of the party as a vehicle for mass compromise is foundering on the fact that people aren't willing to put up with mass compromise any more."