When the to reject an hoping to , a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall burst into applause.
Three weeks earlier, on its in the 23,000-square-foot space in Tam Valley, which has sat vacant since in December 2010. Unlike the , Orchard Supply execs made their decision long before the public hearing process even began.
But both cases have an indisputable similarity: the vehicle opponents used to resist the attempts of private businesses to open in their communities. That vehicle, Change.org, has been garnering a heap of attention lately, including a feature story in Time magazine and an appearance by founder Ben Rattray on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The site surged into the limelight in the aftermath of the Feb. 26 shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., when marchers brought boxes containing the names of 1.5 million people who’d signed a Change.org petition calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who fatally shot Martin but avoided arrest for several weeks because he claimed self-defense.
According to Time: The signature drive helped turn Martin's death into a national gut check — one that, amplified by growing media coverage, preoccupied broadcast news and the blogosphere until even President Obama offered an opinion. For Ben Rattray, Change.org's founder, the campaign was the most recent and spectacular demonstration of the way ordinary folks can now mobilize extraordinary support for their causes.
While Change.org boasts a membership of 10 million, more than 100,000 petitions and a global reach in less than five years, its power comes in the ability to create a grassroots campaign without going door-to-door, said Mark Marinozzi, who created three Change.org petitions, one in opposition to Orchard Supply and two unsuccessful petitions in support of potential grocery tenants for the DeLano's space: Fresh and Easy and United Markets, respectively.
Marinozzi says that while it’s incredibly easy to create a petition on Change.org, a strong familiarity with social media like Twitter and Facebook is vital to distributing the petition’s link throughout the community.
Marinozzi said he found the recently created Tam Valley NextDoor site invaluable in getting the word out.
“That really started making things happen,” he said.
A spokesman for Orchard Supply didn’t explicitly credit the online campaign for causing the hardware chain to reverse course and not pursue the Tam Valley location. But Marinozzi’s two petitions were the primary driver of opposition, along with the campaign from , which saw the chain as a potential threat to its business.
Linda Walsh, who co-created the anti-Subway petition, called Change.org easy and straightforward.
Change.org also allows petition creators to let every person who signs it to send a form letter to the relevant government agency. In the case of the anti-Subway campaign, City Hall was deluged with form letters from the 600-plus people who signed the online petition.
“It’s a great tool – it’s free and easy to use and it reaches a lot of people,” Walsh said.
For more on Change.org, read Time magazine’s story.