Avaaz: Uniting Idealists of the World
By Dr. Rizwana Rahim
In this age of instant communication and electronic activism, if you have not heard yet of “Avaaz,” you may not be as globally ‘connected’ or 21st century-‘hip’ as you may want to think.
“Avaaz,” which means ‘Voice’ in Urdu, Persian, Hindi and other languages, is one of the web-based protest movements established in 2007 (avaaz.org) to promote public awareness and activism on various global issues, such as climate change, human rights and religious conflicts. Its overall mission, according to its website, is to “organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want” and “to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making.”
It operates in over 190 countries, with a membership of several millions speaking more than a dozen different languages in different continents. Founded jointly by ResPublica and MoveOn.org and supported by Service Employees International Union, ‘Avaaz’ also seems to have some ties to the famous financier of liberal causes, George Soros.
Headquartered in New York City, with Ricken Patel, a Canadian serving as its Executive Director, Avaas is “exclusively run and funded by Canadians,” according to the website information. Patel, a student activist from his days in Oxford and Harvard, says, “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!” It is a huge online community worldwide, with over eight million members and growing, and a recent report says it is “now wholly self-funding” with about $20 million raised “in online donations.” True to its mission, it does seem to go a long way to “unite” the ‘idealists of the world’, if you look at what Avaaz has been involved in and what it has done in the last five years or so.
Avaaz does globally what MoveOn.org does, and has been doing, in the US, mostly on domestic policy issues. Avaaz holds its weekly meeting of NYC staff (about 30), through a Skype tele-conference, with its far-flung bases in US, Canada, South America, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. Suddeutsche Zeitung of Munich, the largest daily in Germany, put it the best about Avaaz: “A transnational community that is more democratic, and could be more effective, than the United Nations.” Avaaz is truly an international community that, operating in 14 languages with countless of Internet-loving volunteers working with a core team spread over four continents, organizes, via Internet facilities, such “offline” activities as email petitions, media campaigns, lobbying, organizing events and protests to see that decisions made around the world adequately reflect local and global concerns.
Avaaz polls all members weekly about campaign ideas to set priorities because, as the Avaaz website states, being a “wholly member-funded” effort (no government or corporate funding accepted), with “democratic accountability is in our DNA.” Avaaz finds “that people who join the community through a campaign on one issue go on to take action on another issue, and then another,” such as from climate change to human rights and religious conflicts.
Since 2007, Avaaz has organized many protest and activities. At the G8 Conference in 2007, for instance, Avaaz presented an online petition signed by 355,000 people from 193 countries. Further, with Amnesty International and others, it helped organize ‘Global Day of Action for Burma’ with 750,000 online petitions it challenged the Chinese President and the UN Security Council on violent suppression of the democratic outcries. In March, 2008, it petitioned the Chinese president, with well over a million signatures (gathered as online within a week) on suppression of human rights in Tibet, in support of the Dalai Lama.
Avaaz’s past and current campaigns cover a wide range of issues. Avaaz supported WikiLeaks (December, 2010) and Egyptian protests, in addition to petitioning UN Security Council in support of Libyan civilian uprising against the Gaddafi regime earlier this year. It has also petitioned various governments: for instance, Govt. of Turkey, to help release Iman al-Obedi (the Libyan woman who dramatically told the world of being brutally abused by a pro-Gaddafi group); of US, on the reported abuse of Bradley Manning, now in prison for leaking highly confidential material to WikiLeaks; and of India, for Anna Hazare, fasting to end corruption. Just a few days ago, Avaaz protesters showed up outside the London High Court considering how to proceed in the News of the World phone-hacking cases. Its website (Avaaz.org) has a comprehensive list of its past and current campaigns.
Avaaz points out that it takes frequent polls of a large number of its members to prioritize the issues to pursue, although its own staff often initiates many campaigns.
Avaaz is fast becoming the ‘voice’ of the people in this age of instant communication: a truly democratic, global village, electronically connected across the borders, across the world any time, day and night to the world and its opinions and pleas.