Suggestion box: Change.org offers 10 ideas for Obama

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 16, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Change.org, a group with some fans in the new administration, announced on Friday the 10 winners of its first "Ideas for Change in America" competition.

More than 658,000 online votes were cast to winnow the 10 favorites from more than 7,800 ideas, said Change.org's chief executive, Ben Rattray.

Some winning ideas seemed fresh, such as granting citizenship to young illegal immigrants who graduate from college or serve in the military. Others, such as legalizing marijuana, have been perennials among progressives since the days when they called themselves liberals.

Change.org's effort is the first fruit from a suggestion President-elect Barack Obama planted as a campaigner: that people form grassroots networks to originate and promote fresh ideas in Washington.

Ways to do that are still being discovered, but online voting on ideas is a standard first step because it indicates which ideas have the most, or the most ardent, support. Next come efforts — even less familiar — to push popular ideas into public debate and national policy

"It's participatory democracy writ large," said Rob Wheeler of Scotland, Pa., the founder of the National Campaign for a Sustainable America. His call for national sustainability goals made the final cut by 29 votes after several nights of campaigning.

"I've already met five groups I didn't know of that share our interest," said Wheeler, who's as excited as he's exhausted. That's part of the idea-promotion plan — building larger coalitions. Change.org also will find mentoring non-profits for the new winners and help them with publicity.

Macon Phillips, director of new media for the Obama transition team, thanked the group for its efforts. "A lot of people in the transition have been paying attention to Change.org and are very interested," he said.

(Obama's transition site, Change.gov, is easily confused with Rattray's group, but Change.org actually is older.)

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and Obama's director of online organizing, offered a very cautious appraisal, however.

Social networks and the Obama campaign "empowered people to self-organize, but leadership and structure are needed, too," Hughes said.

Among the winning ideas now facing that challenge are:

_ Repeal the USA Patriot Act and hold telecom companies liable for aiding in illegal wiretaps.

_ Free universal health care.

_ Legalize same-sex marriage.

_ End use of carbon-based fuels for electricity generation by 2018.

_ Create a federal Department of Peace and Non-Violence.

_ Limit liability under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of small domestic manufacturers of toys, clothing and other items for children under 12.

_ Label all food with genetically engineered ingredients but curb the power of federal food regulators.

ON THE WEB

More of Change.org's ideas

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