The right-wing campaigning platform CitizenGo has coordinated mass online petitions – and offline actions. Its reach is growing, alarming human rights advocates.
This month, tourists and beachgoers in Spain will be treated to the sight of a bright orange plane, flying overhead, declaring its opposition to a proposed law against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Among other things, the bill would see businesses and organisations fined for non-compliance. It has been backed by the left-wing Podemos party and activists for LGBT rights.
The controversial stunt is the latest offline action from CitizenGo, an online hub for conservative campaigners that launched in 2010. It is known for coordinating large-scale e-petitions, including against transgender rights and abortion, and has been described as the right-wing counterpart to sites like MoveOn.org and Change.org.
At the US thinktank Political Research Associates, LGBT and gender researcher Cole Parke said the growth of groups like CitizenGo contrasts with the beliefs of some “progressive activists…that the opposition is an aging and increasingly irrelevant minority”. Parke said: “the right’s online savviness (and expanding political power) suggests that this is not at all the case”.
“They have self-consciously modelled themselves on MoveOn.org, Change.org or other petition sites,” activist and human rights lawyer Naureen Shameem told me. She works for the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and is monitoring the backlash against sexual and reproductive rights, and growing “anti-rights” activism at the UN in particular.
CitizenGo has been on AWID’s radar for some time, as Arsuaga also sits on the board of a group called the World Congress of Families which organises large-scale regional and international conferences to create alliances between “pro-family” groups.
Shameem says these organisations “often speak and try to appropriate the language of human rights to their own ends.” She adds: “the focus of what they do is power orientated. A manipulation of religious arguments to increase power and undermine the universality of rights”
Increasingly conservative and religious right groups are appealing to what they call “parental rights” in their attempts to strengthen their “hierarchical and traditional concept of the family,” according to a report written by Shameem and published earlier this year by the new Observatory on the Universality of Rights.
In numerous countries CitizenGo has linked up with other like-minded organisations including grassroots and community-level “pro-family” groups. “They have become much more active at a regional level,” adds Shameem.