Ben Rattray knows that revolution does not always happen spontaneously.
The 31-year-old entrepreneur rattles off a list of populist actions over the past year: the consumer revolts against Bank of America’s and Verizon’s unpopular fees, a drive to enlist the San Francisco Giants to speak out against anti-gay bullying, a petition forcing the South African government to address the rape of lesbians. Each campaign won thousands of supporters, inflamed public opinion, and drew the ire of corporate executives and political leaders.
But these were not impromptu rebellions that chanced upon success. They were carefully nurtured by Rattray’s fledgling company, a social media site called Change.org that has emerged as one of the most influential channels for activism in the country.
“We’re in the business of amplifying,” Rattray said in an interview. “We’re trying to change the balance of power between individuals and large organizations.”
Rattray said his firm is profitable and hopes to bring in tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue within a few years. It makes money by running campaigns for advocacy groups such as Amnesty International in exchange for a fee. Ordinary users can create an online petition for free.