A fourth-grade class decided they could make the world a better place.
Ted Wells’s fourth-grade class in Brookline, Mass. chose to battle with and a major movie studio. It would seem an unequal fight.
So it proved to be: the studio buckled.
And therein lies a story of how new Internet tools are allowing very ordinary people to defeat some of the most powerful corporate and political interests around and make the world a better place — by threatening the titans with the online equivalent of a tarring and feathering.
The kids read the Dr. Seuss story “The Lorax” and admired its emphasis on protecting nature, so they were delighted to hear that Universal Studios would be releasing a movie version in March. But when the kids went to the movie’s Web site, they were crushed that the site seemed to ignore the environmental themes.
So last month they set out to make the world a better place by starting a petition on Change.org, the go-to site for Web uprisings. They demanded that Universal Studios “let the Lorax speak for the trees.”
The petition went viral, quickly gathering more than 57,000 signatures, and the studio updated the movie site with the environmental message that the kids had dictated.
“It was exactly what the kids asked for — the kids were through the roof,” Wells told me, recalling the celebratory party that the children held during their snack break.
“These kids are really feeling the glow of the results of their work to make the world a better place. They’re feeling that power.”
The opportunities for Web naming-and-shaming through Change.org caught my eye when I reported recently on sex traffickers who peddle teenage girls on Backpage.com. I learned that a petition on Change.org had gathered 86,000 signatures calling for the company to stop accepting adult ads.
My next column was about journalists being brutalized in Ethiopian prisons. A 19-year-old college freshman in Idaho, Kelsey Crow, read the column and started a petition to free those journalists — and in no time gathered more than 4,000 signatures.
Does that matter? Does Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, care what a band of cyber citizens thinks of him? Skepticism is warranted, but so far Change.org petitions have seen some remarkable successes.
Ecuador, for example, used to run a network of “clinics” where lesbians were sometimes abused in the guise of being made heterosexual. A petition denouncing this practice gathered more than 100,000 signatures, leading Ecuador to close the clinics, announce a national advertising campaign against homophobia, and appoint a gay-rights activist as health minister.
Thank you to the NY Times Sunday Review for this article by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
She teaches at California State University, East Bay and is known as America's Most Trusted Learning Expert. She helps children and adults solve learning problems with her Amazing Grades Study Skills System and is an expert in learning styles.
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