While my partner and I carried new inventory for our apartment from Bed, Bath and Beyond on the streets of New York City, I spotted a neon beanie with the lime colored words “Greenpeace” stitched on the front. A canvasser said he would help me hold the items if I listened to his pitch, and I took him up on his offer immediately. While walking to the apartment, we got to talking about my passion regarding the environment and politics, leading us to eventually discuss the possibility of Greenpeace hiring — they were! After a quick exchange of contact information, I made the plan to head to the interviews happening every Tuesday and Wednesday in the New York City office.
I was hired on the spot and got the dates for the orientation as well as the three staffing days. Over these three days I would attempt to get three members, allowing me to make staff and join the team. I managed to get three members in one day– a really spectacular achievement!
I did not have any previous experience canvassing, but this was a great opportunity to talk to regular people about an issue I feel everyone should care about. I want to discuss the benefits and negatives of the job and what I ultimately learned during the month I held the position.
First off, the negatives. Ultimately, I was trying to stop New Yorkers to ask for money for Greenpeace, when they live in a city nicknamed the “Concrete Jungle.” Their only green space being carefully curated parks that offer a muted version of the nature upstate or an hour train ride away in the tristate area. This posed its own challenges.
As a canvasser, you have “stop lines” — lines that get people to stop and listen to your pitch. I realized quickly that while on the street with an iPad in hand and a neon beanie catching attention, people knew I wanted money and they really did not want to stop. It was the first time I had experienced crowds of people ignoring my presence either by resisting eye contact or walking on the very end of the sidewalk away from me. Sometimes, the stop lines I chose brought rude responses or attracted people who then had their own agendas. I quickly halted the use of the stop line “Hey! You look like you care about the environment!” which was met with, “Actually, I don’t!” and snickers from their friends as they passed by. I felt defeated many times as people passed, focused on business as usual.
The stop lines that worked best for me — take notes current environmental canvassers — was: “We’re looking for well dressed environmentalists, talk to me for a minute!” or if someone was wearing a suit for work I would say, “You look well-suited for the environment!” or the basic “Let’s save the planet together with Greenpeace!” This was a chance to at least get people to smile!
On the flip side, I learned to separate myself from the work I was doing. If I was going to inform and discuss the controversial topic of climate change, I had to remember to not take the rejection personally. This has seeped into other areas of my life as I receive rejection letters from publications regarding my writing and admission decisions from graduate schools. (Unfortunately, rejection is a huge part of life!)
I have met the most interesting people who have no issue sharing their views of the world. I had a conservative stop by and lecture me on the “real reasons” for climate change and “the solution” (we need to do a lot more than plant some trees). After trying to end the conversation and admit that I was not going to change his mind and he was not going to change mine, he began lecturing me and pointing down at me. I did something that I normally didn’t do: I stood up for myself. I politely asked if he could not point down at me, that I felt uncomfortable with the gesture and being talked down to by him. He returned with an illogical statement that because I was a millennial, I was very sensitive, but really, I had better things to do then be lectured by an older man on the street.
My favorite part was connecting with people who did not believe in climate change or were skeptical of the severity of the issue. This was my opportunity to empathize, listen, and attempt to understand other people’s beliefs. More than once, I educated people on the issue and rationalized with skeptics that truly seemed moved by my concern for a liveable planet not only for myself, but for that person and their family.
I learned I am not a salesperson, that I do not enjoy convincing people to give money, despite the cause being something I truly believe in. The people at the New York City office are passionate, caring, and determined. I felt extremely supported by my co-workers as I understood every dimension of the job and how to interact with a variety of people.
I am grateful for the experience and all I have learned, as well as realizing that cold calling is not for me! I explored parts of the city I would not have traveled to on my own. To know I inspired at least one person to take action or look at the world differently, is enough for me.
Despite no longer working for Greenpeace, I plan on attending the weekly meetings that will let me see people I connected with and to meet others who want to make a change in New York City and the world.
Check out the scorecard I showed people on where each candidate stands with an environmental plan: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/climate2020/
Get involved with an environmental organization! You can stay up to date with city plans that affect your local environment and you can meet like-minded, passionate people to elevate hope in the future. Be on the lookout for information regarding a mass protest on Earth Day, April 22nd demanding climate justice and action on a global, national, and local level!