Means-to-an-end activism

Friday, Sept. 29, 2017

If you’re canvassing door-to-door trying to get people to vote for your candidate or sign your petition, it’s probably because you believe in what you’re fighting for enough to do that type of thing. But it doesn’t matter. 9 times out of 10, you’re regurgitating lines off a script fed to you by your campaign headquarters.

Countless variations of this script have been tested by paid-by-the-hour cold callers and there, in the calling center, they have found that these precise words in this precise arrangement have produced the highest volume of signatures, donations, or whatever it is you need.

If you were to really press the decision-makers on why it’s done this way—why reduce the people who care the most into automated eco-drones?—they would tell you that sure, while the script may make you sound dry,  it’s been proven time and time again to produce the best results. So if you care enough about increasing funds for clean energy, you’ll find a way to bear coming off as a bit of a robot to all these strangers in exchange for the warm glow of knowing you’re maximizing the physical results that drive change.

Is it any wonder that people—at best—politely wait for the canvasser to stop talking so they can sign the form and shut the door? And those are the ones who do agree, who do sign their names. What a missed connection. What a fantastic waste of an opportunity to make someone new care.

And what a fantastic waste of an opportunity, sanitizing the intrinsic passion of a person who already cares enough to sacrifice their time and dignity in order to spread the word to a bunch of strangers. Is it any wonder that the majority of environmentally minded college graduates (especially the interesting ones) go to work for a start-up instead of Environment America? The start-up is the place that trusts them enough to let them be themselves.

We may have found the most efficient way to get 50,000 signatures to stop the power plant, but the casualty is a public culture of disengagement, a cloud of mild irritation… around the causes that matter the most.

Maybe the key lies in creating the conditions where breadth matters less and depth matters more.

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