Zachary Thomas, Staff Writer
Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman. Martin was returning to his father’s fiancé’s home after purchasing candy from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida when the community watch coordinator approached him.
Zimmerman, though detained by local authorities, has never formally been charged with any crime, citing self-defense. Martin’s parents have refused to let this perceived injustice stand. Confident that the evidence has been on their side, Martin’s parents have sought to spread awareness on the slaying of their son. One key tool the parents have utilized is the online petition site Change.org, a social networking website predicated on social activism.
Based in Delaware, Change.org was founded in 2007 by Ben Rattray. The website allows people to create viral petitions for people to view and sign. Featured topics range from banning the sale of dolphin and whale meat to stopping the deportation of families. “Prosecute the killer of our son, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin,” reads the title of the Change.org petition by Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. The petition offers information about Trayvon Martin and details the authorities’ lack of action against Zimmerman.Compared to earlier postings, Martin’s petition has attracted an unprecedented following and movement.
“(The Trayvon Martin petition) is easily the largest petition Change.org has ever seen,” said Megan Lubin, a Change.org spokeswoman in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “(Change.org) is a way for people to express their support for something, and in a way that just wasn’t possible 10 years ago.
Since its posting on March 8, the Martin petition has received over 2.2 million signatures on the Internet. The incident has prompted a national reaction; closer to home at Guilford, a vigil for Martin at Wake Forest University drew over 100 in attendance, and on April 4 one is planned for Guilford.
“We see a wide variety of ethical perspectives weighing in on this case which certainly was not possible ten years ago,” said junior Maxwell Taylor in an email interview. “Change.org appears to have accumulated a multi-cultural representation of public sentiments.”
This is not the first time a Change.org protest has led to tangible results and reaction.
When Molly Katchpole, a self-described recent college graduate working two jobs, was faced with a new $5 monthly fee from Bank of America, she called it out on a Change.org petition. She described the new policy as an “outrageous fee … At some point we have to say enough is enough.”
In less than a month, the effort garnered 300,000 signatures and generous media attention, causing Bank of America to drop the new fee. It was a clear success for the petitioner.
In spite of the impressive change initiated by one person, Katchpole only took an hour to write the Change.org petition—her first. Creating a petition is a simple task. First, click the red “Start a petition” button and fill out three boxes of pertinent information. The petition is then published online for the world to see and possibly support.
More than before, the viral community, government and businesses have an incentive to listen to people like Katchpole and Martin’s parents: their messages spread quickly and mold opinions fast.
Online petitions on Change.org lead to media attention. Author Pete Blackshaw put it well in economic terms, saying, “satisfied customers tell three friends, angry customers tell 3,000.”
“No parent should have to fight for justice in the murder/death of their child,” said senior Nina Frazier, the organizer of the event, in an email interview. “From the moment I learned of this case I have devoted my Facebook page to raising awareness and getting people actively involved … I have vowed to be the voice of my generation; I am devoted to picking up where many of my ancestors left off in their struggle for equality in this country.”
Those close to Martin can give thanks to Change.org and other social networking platforms for helping spread awareness about Trayvon’s case — and for allowing them to move closer to a sense of justice in the case.