Recent Articles

“Not only have we saved the world”*… it’s green hard-hat time

by Paul Hilder     April 6, 2009 at 12:03 pm

The circus has left town again. Obama, Hu, Lula and Sarkozy are moving on to their next diary dates, as are the black-clad Guerrigilieri Anomali. So what to make of the G20?

We had thousands of people in green hard hats out on the massive, peaceful march last Saturday — we’ve been teaming up with the unions and NGOs and bombarding officials and leaders with campaigns for weeks, we delivered our G20 campaigns in person to Number 10 and to Dominique Strauss-Kahn (“DSK”, who heads up the now-supersized IMF)… and I still wasn’t sure how much we were getting through the noise.

But when I look at the big picture, you know what?
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Why we need to protect Congo’s civilians, now

by Paul Hilder     November 26, 2008 at 10:14 am

Eastern Congo is aflame again – but so far all we have from the world is talk and precious little action to show for it. It’s time to change that, if we don’t want a repeat of the failures of the Rwandan genocide, ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia and previous genocides in DRC. In the last three weeks alone, hundreds of thousands have been made refugees, rape, murder and pillage has surged, children have been abducted and pressed into militias… and the situation may be sliding into regional war, with talk of the countries who tore Congo apart before sending forces on either side.

The UN has voted to approve over 3000 reinforcements for its peacekeeping presence. But that force is in disarray, discredited by its failure to protect civilians and its closeness to brutal government troops — and no-one is yet offering to provide reinforcements.

The people of Congo, NGOs and former UN peacekeeping heads agree – only Europe looks able to act fast enough to put in a capable, neutral force to protect the vulnerable.

That’s why we at Avaaz among others have been campaigning with increasing urgency for a European force to protect eastern Congo’s civilians – and it would really help for the blogosphere to pile in.
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Can online campaigning work?

by Paul Hilder     November 9, 2007 at 10:00 am

This is a question I’ve heard too often, especially in the UK, where our political culture tends too often toward atomised cynicism (over the last few decades at any rate). But I’m paying less attention to the skeptics: I think their days are numbered. You might as well ask: “what’s the point of email?”

The simple answer is that you can grow a movement the size of the Chartists in a matter of months online, and gradually help those people come together for action in the real world and face-to-face as well as online. That’s what we’re doing with Avaaz, just to take an example close to my own heart.

Here’s the ABC of it: Avaaz is a global civic advocacy network with well over 1.5 million members (global, not British, Sunny! I’m the only British organiser, though we have tens of thousands of members in the UK). We campaign on urgent global issues like climate change, poverty, democracy, justice and the crises in the Middle East, in twelve languages at once. Our aim: to help ensure that the views and values of the world’s people better shape global decision-making. Nothing too challenging, then.

Does it work? We’ve only been going 10 months, so it’s too early to judge that much. But take Burma: In about 3 weeks, we raised a petition of three-quarters of a million people standing in solidarity with the Burmese protesters. We helped organise a global day of demonstrations. We delivered that petition to UN Security Council member Gordon Brown with a posse of monks and Burmese. We called out China to choose the right path in a challenging full-page ad in the Financial Times worldwide, with piles of copies delivered to their Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

Within days, we sent over 32,000 messages from our European members to their foreign ministers before a key EU vote, and over 2000 messages from our Singaporean members to their Foreign Minister, which I understand blew some minds there. Then we raised over $315,000 in small member donations to help Burmese civil society groups break the news blackout – a big chunk of that has already reached its destination. While the media abandoned the Burmese struggle the moment the pictures stopped flowing, we’ve made a long-term commitment to our fellow human beings there.

Over the last few years in the US, our friends at have raised over $100 million for progressive causes and candidates and organised hundreds of thousands of community vigils, meet-ups and demos. Within 48 hours after Katrina, their members personally housed over 30,000 refugees.

What’s the point of a petition? If they were still around, I’d say ask the Chartists – they made a signature drive the backbone of their campaign, building out through networks of friendship, family and community. This stuff is really the basics of campaigning, as I found while writing Contentious Citizens for the Young Foundation and Carnegie. It’s amazing how we ever left it behind, and the internet allows us to revitalise it. Simple as that.
I’m going to be posting here occasionally – sometimes to flag up an Avaaz campaign or something else cool going on in the world, sometimes to engage in a more personal capacity in the British debate. I think the idea of an open conspiracy is refreshing. After all, in a real progressive conspiracy, everyone’s invited…

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