Op-ed

Amidst this global tragedy, everyday people are gaining power

Apr 14, 2020

The global situation right now is grim. For the most part we’re trapped inside, isolated from loved ones, adjusting to remote work (if we’re lucky) and trying to stay on top of the rapidly evolving list of dos and don’ts. We’re singing happy birthday to ourselves like it’s a normal part of the handwashing routine. Virtual ‘happy hours’, in which half the attendees have pixelated faces from poor wifi and the other half speak on top of each other, have become the week’s social highlight. 

While we may be confined to our living rooms, we’re sure as hell not confined in our pursuit of what is right; of what is fair. We are showing up for those who need us and we’re doing it at scale. Against all odds, new communities are forming, existing bonds are strengthening. 

25 million people across the globe have flocked to Change.org over the past two weeks, adding their signatures to thousands of powerful petitions. More than 13 million of them shared petitions online, helping thousands of worthwhile causes gain momentum and leading to more than 8,000 media stories in the US alone. 

I’ve worked at Change.org for over five years and the site activity we’re experiencing right now is truly unprecedented. Every 24 hours a new petition achieves its goal. Every hour, a different one is started. 

People are speaking up for their voiceless neighbors. They are signing up to support strangers. They’re sending compelling emails and making countless calls for those in need. Folks are rallying behind emerging leaders. They are fighting against injustice, and what’s more, they’re bloody winning. 

Because of ordinary people starting and signing Change.org petitions, Whole Foods workers will now receive paid leave if they contract COVID-19. In New York, people in labor will not be forced to give birth alone. Hundreds of thousands of American kids will be armed with the technology needed for remote schooling. Hospital parking fees are now scrapped for health workers in Britain. Funeral home prices have been regulated in Spain, and thousands have mobilized across the globe to push for compassionate housing reprieves. 

From national leaders to local school principals, global corporations to small business owners, and powerful unions to community advocates — people in power are listening. The moment is uniquely historic — amidst the global tragedy, everyday people are gaining power. They’re setting the agenda and leaving our decision-makers no choice but to take note, and respond. 

As an open platform, anyone anywhere can start a free petition on Change.org to fight for something they believe in. Whether 100 signatures are gathered for a local issue, or millions of signatures across the globe for a movement, people are more empowered than ever to create the change they want to see. All from the confines of their living room. 

But this is only the beginning — there’s so much yet to address. Nurses, doctors, and frontline medics are still inadequately protected, access to lifesaving virus testing remains scarce, policy moves for cushioning economic fallout are yet to materialize, safe housing remains overlooked for the crowds of vulnerable homeless folks, and the list goes on. 

History will judge us on how we handle this moment. And if there was ever a time to act —  to sign petitions to protect our most vulnerable, to campaign against the powerful chipping away at our civil liberties while we weather a pandemic, or to build stronger, more harmonious communities – that time is now. Not everyone has the means to build a movement, but I’ll bet everyone can find 30 seconds to add their name to a worthy petition, and maybe be the reason it becomes a lasting success.