The Daily Northwestern, student newspaper at Northwestern University, recently ran an article critical of the Fund for the Public Interest, mostly citing arguments canvass supporters have long-disputed on this site. The article quoted one student who had interviewed for a job, but was missing the perspective of students who had actually canvassed for the Fund.
Fortunately, one current and one former Northwestern student who spent a summer canvassing in Illinois last year weren't about to let the article go unanswered. Garrett Boileve and Jack Marquadt took time from their busy post-canvassing lives to let readers know about their rewarding experiences.
It's a great letter and well worth a read. The following ran in the opinion page of the Daily Northwestern on May 3:
As an NU student who spent a season canvassing with the Fund for the Public Interest, I felt it only fair to represent the other side of the story, the positive experience many people have canvassing each year. I'm writing on behalf of myself and Jack Marquardt (Bienen '10), who also canvassed with the Fund and took issue with the article.
Last year, I looked for a summer job, just hoping for something to tide me over until the beginning of the school year in the fall. I saw an ad online for work where I could make a difference in our community, and I took the bait.
Going into this job, everyone knows one thing: You're not signing up to be a barista. Don't get me wrong, baristas work hard. But the effort that you put into a job walking around neighborhoods all day, talking to people about politics is not the same type of effort you'd see in your average seasonal work.
About that, the article was correct — canvassing is hard work. There are also fundraising requirements canvassers have to meet to keep their jobs. Is that harsh? It may seem that way from the outside. And there is no denying that it is somewhat stressful trying to prove yourself within a limited time. When I first started, I was worried about losing my job.
But it's fair when you consider what it takes financially for an organization to survive and be effective on a local and national scale. Also, our canvass directors provided a great amount of encouragement and training to help us be successful. Not the poor treatment, or forced overtime the article claimed.
So all that said, why did I stick with it and spend a summer doing this kind of work?
Since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, activists have known that the only way to get people involved is to look them in the eye and say, "Are you comfortable with where we are right now?" It's easy to avoid questions like this on a daily basis, especially today with all the niche political blogs and slanted sensationalist TV. And honestly, with caller ID and email filters, it's even harder to get through to people.
But over the years, activists have still found (including during Obama's campaign for president) that looking people in the eyes and shaking their hands remains the best way to get them involved and give them a chance to reach out their own helping hands.
During our time with the Fund, Jack, I and the rest of our team worked to clean up Lake Michigan and protect it from polluters. We worked to give the LGBT community equal rights in the workplace. We worked to fix the school lunch system in Chicago and nationally, to make the food kids eat healthier and safer. That last campaign we were able to see a victory, as the USDA recently strengthened its regulations.
I spoke to people who worked at Google, state senators, and even music composers for video games. You never know whom you'll run into, and that is a big part of what makes the job such a joy.
You work with students and passionate young adults out of college who are ready to tackle larger issues than themselves. People who are willing to admit that the world is not run by independent and selfish people, but people dependent on each other, in search of a fairer and more just world. That is what made this job pretty awesome. You had a chance to see fire in people's eyes every day. Sounds like a pretty sweet summer, right?
There is a reason Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky believes in canvassing so much: It works, and it leaves a huge impact on the people who stick with it. I ended the season with lifelong friends, a new perspective on our city and a wealth of knowledge about our fellow citizens and the issues they care about.
Anyone can say, "It's not worth it." But, you'll never know until you try, and that is true for anything. As a Northwestern student, you probably figured that out a long time ago.
Well said guys, you've made a lot of current and former canvassers proud!