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Meet the man who "lit the fuse" against Tim Hortons

Meet the man who "lit the fuse" against Tim Hortons

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He's a self-proclaimed atheist activist from small-town USA
The wild web campaign that convinced a Canadian corporate icon to quickly rescind its sponsorship of an anti-gay event in the US got its start in a tiny town inside America's smallest state.

Early last week, a 44-year-old web developer named Paul Auger was listening to a Christian radio station in his Warwick, Rhode Island home. The self-proclaimed atheist activist says, "I probably listen to more Christian radio than most Christians do."

Auger heard an advertisement for an Aug 16 picnic organized by the National Organization for Marriage. He went to the group's website and discovered that it was meant to rally local people against the idea of same-sex weddings. He also discovered that one of the sponsors was Tim Hortons.

"Before I knew it," says Auger, who speaks slowly due to cerebral palsy, "I started an international incident."

He wrote a short message opposing the sponsorship and sent it to some of his favourite email lists. One of the people who read Auger's note was Wesli Dymoke, a Rhode Island blogger.

"I was very surprised," says Dymoke. "I thought, 'Aren't they from Canada?' It doesn't seem like something Tim Hortons would be involved in, in any way."

On Sunday morning, Dymoke wrote an article about the issue for a website called Providence Daily Dose. Later that day, Michael Jones, the gay rights editor for Change.org, read it and started a petition. It called on Tim Hortons to back off from supplying coffee at the Aug 16 event, and urged gay rights advocates to send an email to the company's headquarters in Oakville, Ontario.

"People jumped on this like wildfire," says Jones, who also works at Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program. "This campaign was the quickest in the history of the website and generated the most excitement over a short period of time."

Within a few hours, almost 2,000 people — many of them from Canada — signed the petition. At the same time, Facebook and Twitter users posted links to Tim Horton's online feedback form and others posted boycott threats. On Monday afternoon, the company released a short statement announcing it would no longer be involved in the Aug 16 picnic.

"I'm the guy who lit the fuse," Auger says, proudly. "I put the information out there and people ran with it."

He's gratified by the message that this quick, successful campaign sends to big businesses. "The religious right has presented itself as a majority," he says, "but when the true majority speaks up, international corporations have to respond to that. People can make change in the world, and that's a good thing."

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Comments

Response from the reporter
In order for Xtra.ca readers to "meet the man who lit the fuse against Tim Hortons," I felt it was important to add some personal information about Paul Auger. For instance, his age, where he lives and what he does for a living. I also added the fact that he has a disability because it's something that anyone would notice upon meeting him, either on the phone or in person. During our conversation, Auger disclosed that it was cerebral palsy. I think it says a lot about his character that it doesn't stop him from chatting enthusiastically with a reporter or leading this weekend's protest against the anti-gay picnic.
just the facts ma'am
I'm excited to see that Xtra's done some work to credit the person who acted first on this incredible feat of online activism but my issue is with the reporter's need to disclose Auger's slowed speech as a function of his having CP. Was this something that Auger requested be put in the article or was it something that this astute reported inquired about and found noteworthy and relevant? CP is nothing to hide, by any means but where Auger's actual voice seems essentially irrelevant to the meat of the story, I'm hoping he made the decision to publish his health information voluntarily and explicitly.
Way to go Auger!
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