Monday, August 30, 2010

Stopped by Police

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Canvassing isn't the most glamorous work in the world -- and I only make about what a waitress makes (about $75 to $100 per day). But it feels good to me.

It feels good to me even when I ring doorbells of homes with people who aren't very nice -- who snap at me and say, "you're interrupting my dinner!" I typically respond, "I'm sorry to have caught you at a bad time; I'd be happy to come back a little later." A few go for it but many close the door in my face, sometimes with a slam.

Most people are friendly. And every night I meet a few people who are amazing. Last night I met about five outstanding people. I was moving really slowly in the heat. In fact my day started with an hour's rest in the party supplies isle of a Dollar Store. I needed to get into the air conditioning. I just sat there amidst the crepe paper and decorative plates drinking Smart Water and reading my Facebook newsfeed from my phone. Clean Water Action isn't a fan of bottled water because companies such as Nestle and Ice Mountain are selling our water for profit. Last I checked they can pay roughly $100 for a permit to drill (seems to me the actual price is about $80) and then go in and suck the water from our Michigan aquifers and sell it for profit. In some places it is affecting Michigan residents wells. So anyway, we're not fans of bottled water. Drink the tap water if you can. There's usually nothing wrong with it. Often it's healthier than the bottled water. Just get a filter if you're worried. I usually drink it straight. But I'd forgotten my reusable container so I'd bought the Smart Water. At least it has electrolites. And I had people refill the bottle for me from their taps.

So anyway, after my little rest at the Dollar Store (it was the only place with air conditioning near my turf)I started ringing doorbells. The first person I met was very friendly and would have liked to support Clean Water Action but she said she couldn't because her husband works in drilling for the oil companies (we are in the middle of an effort to get a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the Great Lakes). The second house donated $60. Nobody was home at the fourth house. And at the fifth house I met one of the coolest people I've met in awhile. She is an accountant and had just done some shopping so she just couldn't give anything without balancing her checkbook. But she genuinely plans to send something in the mail. Her daughter is a student at the University of Michigan, studying English. We got on the subject of The Ann Arbor News folding. She said she was sad about the seeming lack of job opportunities these days for someone with an English degree. I told he I understand how she feels, given that I had been a reporter at the Ann Arbor News and given that most of the people who I worked with over the years -- at the Ann Arbor News and other papers -- now are in public relations. We agreed there's just something wrong with that. There's something wrong when the jobs in journalism go away. It seems so bad for democracy. I told her the work with Clean Water Action feels somehow more related to me to the work of a journalist than a public relations job does. She agreed. She thanked me for doing the work. She was extremely sincere. Her name was Debbie. I gave her a big hug. We had a patriotic moment together in her driveway. It gave me a boost in the heat and carried me through the evening.

As I was walking back to the burb a few hours later, I noticed an American Flag hanging from someone's garage. It was glowing in the light. I felt really happy to be an American. I felt happy that I have the right to go door-to-door educating people about issues that effect our Great Lakes. I felt as though I had done an excellent day's work. I took a blurry picture of that flag with my phone. I had taken a picture of my pedicure when I started the day. Red lipstick and red nail polish always makes me happy. When I'm feeling tired, I like to focus on happy. So due to the heat, I'd taken a picture of my happy feet.

Just as we were leaving turf in the burb, some police officers stopped our van. I took a picture of the sirens from my seat in the back. There were two police cars parked in back of our burb.

An officer came to the window and asked Derek, our driver, what we were doing. The officer told Derek there had been complaints. He said we are not allowed to go door-to-door in the neighborhood without permits. Derek told the officer we have permits. He showed him his permit. The officer thanked him and told him he would just go back to the car and check it out. He came back in a few minutes. He said everything checked out and we were free to go.

We always carry permits with us when we are canvassing. I have had people try to tell me that I can't do what I am doing. I have had people try to scare me out of their neighborhoods. This probably happens about once every two weeks. But I personally have never been stopped by a police officer. Kristen, who is visiting us from New York State has been stopped by police officers before. Once it was extremely ugly. The police officer actually threatened her and searched her bag and emptied out her cigarette boxes looking for drugs or something. Kristin had showed him her permit. He didn't care. He made her sit in the back of the police car. In fact he rounded up several canvassers with her environmental organization and told them he would arrest them if they didn't do as they were told and he drove them down to police headquarters. Her environmental group received a written apology for the officer's behavior but it did shake the canvassers up quite a bit, understandably.

In the absence of journalism as we knew it five years ago I feel democracy is in need of people who are willing to go door-to-door and educate people about what's going on in the world.

It just feels right.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.


  1. Quick comment about the bottled water: A lot of the companies just use tap water in their bottles.

    That's why I hardly ever buy bottled water. If I'm going to spend money, I'll spend it on something I can't get at home (Arizona Iced Tea, Mt. Dew, Coke, Gatorade).

  2. Free speech will only exist as long as there are people who exercise it. Keep on keeping on!