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Group Seeks to Mobilize Global Political Action Through Internet


The Internet has transformed virtually everything from shopping to social networking and now global politics. Three of the world's most successful mobilizers of e-protest -- Moveon.org and Res Publica in the United States -- and GetUp.org.au in Australia -- pooled their resources last year to create an organization whose name means "voice" in Hindi, Urdu and Turkish. Avaaz.org is a global campaigning organization that says it acts as the voice for its members. Nathan King reports from New York

Hundreds of people protested outside the White House in Washington after the recent crackdown in Tibet. The protest was part of an international day of action, and from this small New York office on the same day, Avaaz.org delivered a petition of 1.4 million signatures to Chinese Embassies and consulates around the world without taking to the streets. It called on China to open meaningful talks with the Dalai Lama.

Avaaz is harnessing the power of the Internet for global campaigns that it says most people everywhere want -- a world with stronger protections for the environment, greater respect for human rights and concerted efforts to end poverty, corruption and war.

Founder Ricken Patel says the idea is to bring together millions of people who care about global issues.

"It was an idea that there is this global community and that people everywhere feel this sense of being human being first and citizens of their country second and caring about people and that human life is precious, no matter what passport you carry," he said.

Like a social networking site, people sign up, they get e-mail alerts for campaigns and most importantly for Avaaz, it is the membership that essentially decides what issues to tackle.

As with a political campaign, members are polled over and over again. Using the language of the Internet, 10,000 members are blasted [contacted] each week, asking them what issues to address and what action to take. Action can be as simple as a global petition -- delivered to global leaders -- a call for mass demonstrations or a call for a fundraising benefit to help -- like the current drive to help human rights groups based in Tibet.

When issues really take off, Avaaz calls it "going viral."

"On Tibet, in three weeks our members told 12 million people about the campaign and that is just astonishing. It is a very exciting time when you really do feel like the world is coming together," Patel said.

Critics say given Avaaz.org's wide membership it can only address global issues in the broadest of terms and that Avaaz.org is empowering the already empowered -- those who have a computer, Internet access and are educated on global issues.

Avaaz says it has members in every country in the world and its e-mail list operates in 13 languages. As technology spreads to the developing world, Avaaz says, so will its membership there.

Patel says, "We still have a massive democratic deficit in the world today and the technology revolution that has been sweeping the globe has allowed people to connect across borders like never before and that is what we are doing. We are trying to connect up this huge global community to be able to take action rapidly and effectively when moments of opportunity on these issues present themselves."

Avaaz is also claiming successes. According to media in Tokyo, Avaaz's climate change campaign helped changed the Japanese governments stance at the Climate conference in Bali.

So far Avaaz has held back from asking its members for money, but it aims to be entirely member funded in the future and donate to causes the membership wants to back.

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