I got a real buzz out of Avaaz in the early days. Here was I feeling powerless in the face of a world of suffering and injustice, and along comes Avaaz to give me a voice, let me stand up with thousands of others and be counted. When an email arrived asking me to support a cause, I purposefully devoted my time to read it and enjoyed that little glow that came as I clicked the “Send” button on the petition. I was a force for good!
When the campaign for a No Fly Zone over Libya came in March last year, I read the alert and thought it was something peaceful that would save lives, so I signed the campaign like so many before. I was soon uneasy about that decision and the more I read, the more I saw what a mistake for the Libyan people that NFZ became. The deaths since the NATO intervention in Libya could be as high as 50,000, but Avaaz still have the indecency to feature this campaign in their ‘highlights‘ and claim that a massacre was prevented. Interestingly the title of this ‘highlight’ has changed since last year from “UN: Libya No Fly Zone” to “Lives Saved in Libya” and makes no mention of the NFZ now. (Thanks to the Wayback Machine for remembering.)
Avaaz have moved onto Syria now, actively supporting the anti-government forces – taking sides in a civil war. I haven’t signed any of the numerous petitions supporting this. Quite simply, I don’t trust Avaaz any more. Whether their actions on Libya and Syria are simply misguided, or quite purposefully in support of Western government/corporate aims, I don’t know. But it’s made me realise how much of the positive actions I’ve taken when signing petitions have relied only on the Avaaz version of events. And how else could it be? What single individual has time to read up on every corner of suffering in the world and truly understand it? I used to trust that Avaaz had put that time in and were enabling me to add my voice in support. But look at an Avaaz alert, full of emotive language and numerous phrases highlighted in bold designed to push the buttons of a compassionate reader. It’s manipulative. And where on the Avaaz website are the member forums for discussion of the issues raised? Nope, the trust has gone for me.
Avaaz claims millions of followers, and I don’t doubt that the vast majority are caring people, and see supporting Avaaz campaigns as compassionate acts. But compassion without wisdom is like driving an ambulance with your eyes closed – maybe you’ll arrive to save someone’s life, but what of the damage you do on the way?
There have been many subsequent campaigns that on face value I would still support, but even if they are genuine good causes, I see supporting them as also supporting Avaaz, and giving legitimacy to all their work. No, Avaaz and I have parted ways for good.
So what’s the alternative? Well, I’ve decided to devote the time I would have spent signing many and varied Avaaz petitions to actually reading up and understanding just a few issues in depth – finding various sources, looking at background information, history, that sort of thing. I want to see the world change, to see less suffering, but I think a fuller understanding of one issue would allow more opportunity for compassion steered by wisdom than signing up for numerous campaigns I know very little about.