Summer in Somerville

This Friday, June 27th, is going to mark a tremendous feat: I will have officially survived one whole month of my summer internship “canvassing.”

Many of you will probably think to yourselves, “what in the world is canvassing, anyway?”

To be honest, when I first accepted this job, I didn’t really have a clue myself. I knew I would be working for a nonprofit, that I would be doing something with different campaign issues, and that I would be working with other like-minded youth. What’s not to like?

It wasn’t until several months later, after completing my first day, that I realized what my job actually consisted of.

The organization I work for hires youth between the ages of 18 and 30 to work as “canvassers” for the different campaigns they support and want to promote in the community. One might elaborate on our work by describing it as working to produce change by raising awareness of societal issues through informing the public, recruiting campaign supporters and advocates, and playing a pivotal role in the raising of campaign funds.

A more blunt way of putting it is that we are salesman trying to persuade people to donate for our cause. We go to door to door in various communities across the state, trying to have as many conversations with people about our campaign as we can, and ultimately ask for their monetary support in backing up the campaign.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the course of having this job so far, it is that it is really, really hard to ask people you barely know to give you money.  It feels unnatural and innapropriate to walk up to a stranger’s home, interrupt their lives, and try and convince them to write a check on the spot for a hundred dollars to an organization they sometimes have never heard of. Discomfort is something the canvasser is forced to become accustomed to.

My day typically begins at 1:00 pm and goes to 10:30pm, Monday through Friday, including my commute. After a series of difficulties commuting from my parents’ house in Rhode Island to the organization’s office in Boston— my car breaking down on the highway several times,  me nearly falling asleep on the midnight drive home, and being so tired from the two hour commute there and back that work was too difficult— I decided to sacrifice some of my pay to invest in an apartment closer to work, which is what lead me to Somerville, MA. I was bummed to not be able to save all my earnings, but supporting myself alone in the city while I’m working has been a really cool experience that has taught me a lot about independence and self-reliance. Not to mention, I’ve been able to meet a lot of cool new people here in the city along the way, such as my three current roommates (more on my living situation to come later!)

Each workday begins and ends in essentially the same way. The staff gather round in a circle to discuss goals for our campaign, applaud outstanding work done by canvassers the night before, and to announce canvassing “teams” for the afternoon. We blast music to pump ourselves up for our long evening of work ahead of us, and each announcement time is ended with an enthusiastic cheer, similar to that of sports teams. A few days ago it was “Money Monday!” This is actually one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s incredibly brief, maybe 15 minutes at most, but there is so much energy and excitement from all of the working students about the work we are doing and it is really inspiring to see our generation step up and take action all are on our own (most of the staff are in their early 20s, including the campaign directors).

From there, we head off to our prospective vehicles to get to whatever town we are assigned to, sometimes driving as far as an hour away. We stop for lunch and to look over our maps and the turf area we have each been assigned to, and then we are dropped off at various streets where we will roam for the next five hours. At 8:30 p.m. we stop, drive back to the office, cash out our donations, and get debriefed by a director about how successful we were with the campaign that day.

They are long, difficult days, and each one presents a new challenge.  Whether it be walking around in the blistering heat or the cold rain, struggling up winding mile long private driveways, or cranky people who slam the door in your face, I find I am learning a lot, gaining many life experiences, meeting some new, wonderful people, and (I’m so happy to say) not serving people french fries anymore!

There is so much more I have to report back on, but this will have to do for now! Stay tuned for next week to hear the nitty gritty of my canvassing extravaganzas!

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