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Online petitions push for rights of powerless

Aid Saudi women, jailed dissident

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

The United States recently declared its support for Saudi women who are defying their government by driving — the most recent success of a law-school dropout who devised an idea to save the world.

Ben Rattray was tired of not knowing how to convert his passion for causes into action that makes a difference. So in 2007 he founded Change.org, the social activism website that campaigned for the United States to back Saudi women drivers.

"People by themselves have very little power, but together they can do remarkable things," he said. "We want to be able to connect them."

Mr. Rattray designed his website as a platform to help people write and market petitions for issues they care about.

More than 100,000 people from 156 countries signed a petition by the group Saudi Women for Driving that was posted on Change.org. The pressure grew so intense on the United States to endorse the campaign that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly expressed her support on June 21, a day after her spokeswoman insisted that Mrs. Clinton was engaged in "quiet diplomacy" on the issue with the Saudi foreign minister.

"What these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right," Mrs. Clinton said.

Change.org scored another major victory with a petition signed by 140,000 people worldwide who called on China to release artist and democracy activist Ai Weiwei. He was freed two weeks ago, but Change.org claims that China is retaliating with a cyberattack against its website.

Change.org has 3 million members and more than 7,500 active campaigns. Based in San Francisco, Change.org is connecting people throughout the world.

"This is what we love more than anything else," said Mr. Rattray, 31.

The group's petitions span a wide range of issues from animal cruelty and gay rights to prison reform and climate change. Mr. Rattray said his group is nonpolitical.

"Human rights aren't partisan," he said.

This year, Change.org is set to make $5 million by launching campaigns on behalf of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong charity.

A graduate of Stanford University and the London School of Economics, Mr. Rattray said he was set to start law school at New York University when he felt compelled to create Change.org.

"I dropped out of law school that week, three weeks before I was supposed to go," he says. "I was so passionate about the idea, there was really nothing that would stop me."

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