Canvassing for MASSPIRG

Simone Weisman

Recently over lunch, I discussed the representation of environmental issues with a friend. I had spent part of the past summer canvassing for MASSPIRG, Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, in order to get the global warming bill passed for the state. I wore one of those stupid shirts, held a clipboard with all the information on how screwed the planet was, and waved at people, asking them if they had a minute for the environment.

“Did you really think you were going to get people to care about the environment that way?” my friend asked. “By standing in the street accosting people, I’m sure all you did was turn people off from the issues.”

“Yeah, a lot of people did ignore me,” I said. For a moment, I recalled the humiliating, humbling and terrifying nature of canvassing. The street was the real world, and I had been in its face. It was dirty, sweaty, and no matter what anybody said to me, I had to keep smiling and giving my rap.

“Exactly,” my friend said. “People see someone like you selling environmental health on the street, and they start associating issues like global warming with peace–loving, hippie bullshit.”

“Maybe so,” I said, wishing I could defend myself. Then I remembered that for every fifteen people who didn’t stop and talk to me, there were always one or two who did. It had been fascinating, entertaining and sometimes shocking to hear their responses to my spiel about rising sea levels, receding coastlines, and melting glaciers. From the beginning, I had kept a log:
I like my fossil fuels!

Well, the thing is, we’re Jehovah’s witnesses, and we really feel as though it’s up to God to save our planet.

You wouldn’t have a job if the environment weren’t being destroyed.

Global warming doesn’t exist! Don’t talk to me about this propaganda shit. You’re a tree-hugging hippie.

Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Here, take a bible.

We’re going to ruin the environment no matter what we do. It’s too late.

There’s my cell phone number on that sign up sheet if you ever want to call me for a date.

You know what I do about global warming? I turn my air conditioner up.

There’s no categorical proof that sea levels have risen.

I’m not fighting to stop Global Warming. I’ve done enough fighting in my lifetime.

I’ve only got two years left to live, so not much I can do now.

I have an anxiety disorder.

MASSPIRG? More like MASSPURGE!

I gave the speech over and over again. I even gave it in Spanish and French. There were many times when I got sick of standing in the same spot, telling people that Governor Romney had backed Massachusetts out of a regional plan to cut global warming pollution, how the state was losing 64 acres of coastland a year, and how the best way to support the group’s effort in pushing the legislation was to become a member of MASSPIRG. One day, I stood in a rainstorm with a broken umbrella and a plastic bag that held the supplies of a fellow canvasser that had quit on the spot.

Most people working for MASSPIRG don’t last longer than two days. It is kind of like the army. You either are not qualified, so you get cut, or you desert. Why did I keep doing it, then? Well, I guess it was for those few people who did hear me. I raised close to 400 dollars a day for the group, and got people thinking about the issue.

“Did the bill get passed?” my friend asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “It did.”

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