The buzzer rang yesterday at around 6:30 and I was surprised: our guests weren't due until 7:30 or 8, and imlad
wasn't yet home. As I trundled downstairs to answer it (our apartment has no way of buzzing people in), I heard the neighbor's buzzer sound as well, and though I could not yet see the visitor, I had some misgivings, though I hoped it would simply be the UPS man uncertain of which doorbell was which.
Instead, I was greeted by a smooth-cheeked, toothy young lady in a red shirt, bearing the DNC logo. She was brandishing a clipboard in my general direction, and was careful to get her entire enthusiastic speech out, all the time looking directly into my eyes, before I could interrupt or say a word other than "hello."
In spite of my natural desire to dismiss her out of hand and shut the door to return to my cooking, I simply couldn't do it. Not because the cause moves me particularly or doesn't - it does, in fact; I want Kerry elected more than I've wanted anything in politics since I wanted Bush not to declare war on Iraq two years ago. It's more because I'm particularly susceptible to young kids earnestly pushing their various fundraising campaigns door-to-door.
Sure, it's hard going up to individual people's houses and bothering them around dinnertime to beg for money, and I sympathize with that. But more to the point, I empathize
with that - because I did it for a summer, and man, it's the hardest frickin' job in the world.
I'm not sure how most organizations work, but I know how PIRG and Clean Water Action - two of the most successful environment and other public interest fundraising organizations - operate in terms of their lowest level employees.
Ever see those signs that say, "Work for the Environment! Make $300-$500 a week!" Yeah, I answered that ad once. And ended up working for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, an inveterate group of young wiseguys and older, earnest types who spend their time between 4 pm and 9 pm going door-to-door in various neighborhoods, spreading the word about one disaster or another (poisonous insecticides on your kids' schoolgrounds, mercury in your fish) that we're attempting to pass a resolution or law to prevent, reverse or correct. All you have to do is give us some money.
If it matters to you, and if such people have come to your door in the past, you should know that half of that money (with taxes taken out first, of course) goes into that little college student's pocket, which, for the hot (or cold), potentially dangerous, humiliating, demoralizing nature of the work, seems to me to be far less than their fair share. The rest of it goes to fund their lobbying groups and keep operations up. The people who run these things are nonprofit warriors to a man or woman, dedicated, honest, and working in lousy office conditions. We drove to our locations in beat-up Econolines. We practiced our "raps" to each other, the enthusiastic speech I mentioned earlier, over the bumps in the road and the loud engine. We had a whole vocabulary, a parlance of door-to-door fundraising, starting with the word "canvassing." People in houses were known as "doors," as in, "I had this one door tonight that let me in the house and invited me to dinner!" Once you had your door's attention, you made sure to keep their eyes as you delivered your rap, and to clip them - get your clipboard into their hands - as early as possible, without letting them look at it until you were done talking. That attitude of sunny rapport, and the pushiness and lack of change in expression when you tell them, again and again, that you simply can't give right now, that you gave at the office, that you can't afford the $25 "membership" level donation - that's called "assuming support." "That's okay," you probably hear those kids say over and over when you insist that you can't afford it, "folks are just giving five or ten dollars." Assume support. Go to every door imagining that this person is already on your side, already reaching for their checkbook. In our case, we had weird numbers, to be fun and also to get checks instead of cash, to get addresses: $6, $12, $25, $60. A $60 giver was called a sustainer, and boy were they ever, in making up half of your quota for the night. The desperation with which the fundraiser will finally just ask if you can pitch in a couple bucks became known, thanks to a hilarious, extremely bright surfer boy called John Hogan, as the "buckertwo." Once he steamrolled over a door's noisy objections to his very presence by insistently chanting, "Buck-or-two-buck-or-two buckertwobuckertwobuckertwo buck - er - two!" He later became so disenchanted with the job that he replaced our field manager's common exhortation "Make it happen" with "Let it happen."
I had a lot of highs, a lot of failures, and a lot of stories from that job. Someday they'll become a short story, I think. In any case, now, whenever one of those people come to the door, whatever their cause, with their little clipboards and their hopeful faces and endless positivity, I smile back. I grade them on their technique. Sometimes I even give a contribution. Because that's their job, and I know what that job is like. It sucks. And if you don't make your quota, you get fired.
But yesterday, I didn't. I went back into my comfortable house, back to my cooking, after she insisted three times and I, like Peter, three times denied her. Maybe I'm getting a bit hard in my old age.