Working as a canvasser for Clean Water Action this summer put my activism to the test. Knocking door to door brought our environmental campaign directly into peoples’ lives. There was no middleman between us and our supporters; we talked with residents face to face. It made the legislation we advocated for sound less insipid and more inspired. Political change suddenly became immediate and personal. It was a true grassroots experience.
During our training sessions, I learned the most effective ways to communicate complex environmental issues to potential allies and supporters in every neighborhood. Over the course of the summer, I learned how to employ strong and simple language, a powerful introduction, and great storytelling to convey the urgency of our campaigns. Most importantly, these new skills taught me how to cultivate a unique experience when conversing with each person at the door. Every person is different, and so the conversation must change minutely with each door.
Each new person represented a challenge. Some doors opened to avid supporters who had already read up on and donated to the cause. Most doors opened to people who were on the fence—residents who with some convincing and encouragement could blossom into enthusiastic members. Over the course of my two months, we campaigned on two major pieces of legislation: the bottle bill in Rhode Island and a comprehensive ban on toxic PFAS in Massachusetts. Although the two campaigns were widely different issues, the subtlety needed for canvassing remained the same.
Canvassing was unlike any experience I have ever had. I met a plethora of interesting people. Many people at the door handed out water and food. A man even enthusiastically showed me his collection of rare comic books. But out of all my conversations, there is one supporter I will never forget. It was during my second week out canvassing. She was out in the garden plucking weeds, so I kept my speech brief. Our conversation, although short, was inspired. We spoke about the need for a PFAS ban. I felt for the first time that my work was truly important and impactful. A week later, the office received a donation and an email from her. The words she wrote helped motivate me for weeks to come: “Your work is crucially important.”
At a grassroots organization, making change is an art. The support of the people allows us to win campaigns. To mobilize that support with canvassing requires juggling different persuasive techniques, having an arsenal of issue knowledge, and learning how to listen to the many different people I met every day. Sometimes conversations felt like walking a tightrope. But I know each and every conversation made an impact. Thank you to everyone who supported our efforts this summer!