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Canvassing And The Why The Left Alienates Everyone

I quit a canvassing job yesterday. I did it pretty abruptly and without explanation. The job was with a pretty well respected left wing think tank based in the South (that should be enough for people to figure it out if they are in the know how). I liked the work they did but I hated the way canvassing works.


The last canvassing group I worked with, CalPIRG, straight up closed their offices in Berkeley very abruptly. A market based economy has pretty simple logic so the larger business must have shut it down because it was not making a profit. I asked a friend who worked for Human Rights Campaign about it and she said that most organizations like that are hurting.


Why is that? Why would they be hurting, in the second term of a progressive, black presidency? Why would they have trouble in Berkeley, California, easily the most liberal city in the United States? My landlord encapsulated it a little too well, "I was homeless for a year and a half in this city and I knew I'd never be a canvasser. Those guys are pretty damn aggressive."


Aggressive is right. The "rap" sessions were pretty horrific - getting trained like you were ready to verbally assault strangers, guilt tripping and emotionally abusing them in to giving you money. When I went on sessions for this group, I kept looking at the church groups who had a presence in the Bay Area Rapid Transit stations or various street musicians for that matter. Street musicians just play their music and do their thing, bluntly suggesting monetary contributions.


Jehovah's Witness, who are infamously annoying and pernicious in their incessant door-to-door evangelizing, were pretty benign in comparison to various liberal canvassing groups. Whereas I was told to basically block the traffic of people walking down the sidewalk, the Jehovah's Witnesses had a stand of their own where they only talked to people who asked questions. They certainly weren't blocking anyone and trying to ensnare them. On my way home after quitting, I saw a church group having a car wash. Imagine one of these liberal groups doing that. Yeah, I know, that would never happen - it might mean having to really engage community instead of lecturing it.


It's really worth noting who made liberal and radical victories in this country. I am sure plenty of scholars at universities like Berkeley wrote critical essays about the conditions of migrant workers but it took one of them, Ceasar Chavez, who genuinely understood the community and God of the people he spoke for, who really made change happen. It was true also of Martin Luther King, Jr., who really communicated directly the needs of community and divinity of everyday people. Neither of them had the resources that faculty of universities with insane tuition costs have or had - their success came from the fact that they know how to talk with people rather than at them. There have been very successful radical victories in American history but they have almost never been made by the left wing infrastructure of the sorts that canvass on street corners. I don't expect that to change any time soon.

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Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

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Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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