Perhaps the biggest victory came this fall when it took on behemoth Bank of America.
The campaign started when 22-year-old District resident Molly Katchpole created a petition protesting the bank’s plan to charge $5 each month to customers who used their debit cards. Though consumers’ outrage was widespread across the Internet, it was Katchpole’s simple and direct petition that went viral. More than 300,000 people signed it, making it the largest consumer campaign ever on Change.org.
“How can you justify squeezing another $60 a year from your debit card customers?” Katchpole wrote. “This is despicable.”
Bank of America canceled the fee a few weeks later.
When Katchpole heard about Verizon’s fee Thursday night, she contacted Change.org in hopes of reprising her success. Several other consumers had launched petitions, but some included inaccurate information and the issue had yet to take off on the site, said Brianna Cayo-Cotter, Change.org’s director of communications.
Katchpole wrote the letter and, with Change.org’s permission, sent an e-mail to those who had supported her campaign against Bank of America. Change.org also featured her petition on its site and reached out to media. On Friday morning, the petition had roughly 2,000 signatures. By late afternoon, nearly 100,000 people had signed up.
“We’re trying to change the balance of power between individuals and large organizations,” Rattray said.
According to a 2009 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 32 percent of adults have signed a petition and nearly one in five Internet users have signed one online. Aaron W. Smith, senior research specialist for the project, said organizing over the Internet allows unconnected people to participate in a joint cause, eliminating the need for traditional middlemen such as lobbying or advocacy groups. It also allows people to voice their opinions on a broader range of issues.
“Protest isn’t just built around big, important global issues,” Smith said. “It’s just as easy to start up a group around the fees that my bank is charging me or the fact that my dry cleaner ripped me off.”