Burned Out By the PIRG


Reader comment RE: interview

I recently interviewed for a job with the PIRG and I found it very beneficial that interviewees were asked to canvass for forty-five minutes during the process. Not only does it allow the interviewers to focus on objective qualifications (how many signatures did each interviewee obtain) that are extremely important to them and the future of their campaigns/livelihood, but it also allows the interviewees (like me) to understand that a) They are serious about canvassing, b) canvassing is not for everyone, c) if you do not like canvassing you should not take another step in their organization.

I believe a majority of our generation is idealist and would enjoy being a part of a non-profit and “doing good” in their community. Canvassing during interviews in a perfect test for the interviewee to decide important questions (“could I do this every day over summer?” and “do I believe canvassing is the most effective action to achieve social change?”–if your answer is yes you have found the perfect place to work).

My answers were no and no.



Email submission RE: constructive criticism

I was a new school campus organizer from October during the Obama
election until the following April.  I learned a lot about organizing,
which was my goal when taking the job.  I got burned out and became
very resentful towards the team of organizing directors managing me.
I still believe in the student PIRGs’s mission, although I do not
think that their mission is very clearly articulated.  Before I quit, I had been placed as the CD of the Albuquerque canvass office.

I moved to Albuquerque after quitting because that is where I am from.
I took a job canvassing with the Fund in Albuquerque because I enjoy
canvassing, it was much less hours, and I made a lot of money
canvassing.

Later on that summer I was fired despite being the top fund raiser for
the Summer.  I was fired because I hosted a canvasser led meeting/
social with the topic of canvassers talking about how they could pitch
in and more effectively communicate to make everybody in the office
more successful and less stressed out.  The CD and RD above me assumed
I was trying to organize a union.

Despite having attorneys as parents (parents who were also not happy
about me getting fired), I decided against suing the Fund for
infringing upon my constitutional and labor rights.  I’ve got better
things to do than whine about The Fund.  The two ADs of that office
have both apologized to me for being part of a management staff that
so foolishly decided to fire me.

On the subject of burn out, I say if you are burned out and do not
like it, quit.   If you see value in the skills that you learn as a
PIRG organizer, then stick around because those skills are very
valuable.

Overall, as an organization, I think the public interest network needs
to do something about its leadership.  Right now it seems to be
infected with a very large dose of insecurity and ego.  Perhaps, for
some Denver training, they can commit to changing the self destructive
culture of being a Public Interest Network organizer.
This is a very strong and deeply embedded organization.  I believe
they can greatly increase their effectiveness and political influence
by taking a hard look in the mirror and making some changes.

To all you current organizers, I hope you do not feel as burned out
and stressed out as my class of organizers seemed to.  If you do, I
highly recommend communicating these feelings to your colleagues and
management staff.  Good luck!



Reader Comment RE: Canvasser safety concerns

I too was excited to join the ranks of PIRG and start beating back the special interest. I was sent to Orlando after three days in DC. I was expecting to work with college students, since I was hired as a Campus Representative, but we weren’t working with students at all. It was the first of many things that were going horribly wrong.

First was 16 hour days, and no time off. I don’t mind working hard if I am given some time to myself every once and while but living in a hotel with five other people didn’t allow “me time.” I didn’t mind asking for postcards, and signatures but I have an issue asking for money from random people. I have worked for non-profits in the past, but they were non-political and many people didn’t mind giving support, but asking a complete stranger for money for a political group is difficult and often not worth anyone’s wild.

The next thing I expect was safety training. While working for other non-profits, safety was there first concern. We were taught how to descern different smells (such as a meth lab) and what sitatuations to aviod. But with PIRG we recieved no such training, I brought it up in front of the group and simply told to be smart and not to ignore any houses. I also was told by my trainer that canvassing worked, but only 20% of the time. Why were we wasting our time then? The final blow to my ability to work as an organizer when I was canvassing in Downtown Orlando, at night and alone. As a woman I have always been taught NEVER go anywhere alone at night, espically in a city that is foreign. I wouldn’t even do it in my college town of 20,000 people! However, I put my qualms aside until I knocked on one particular door. A man answered, was very polite and informed me of two things. One the neighborhood was passing a non-solication policy, and two a few weeks back a young boy was severly beaten while selling candy bars for his school door-to-door. I was freaked out, and prompetly called my leader of the canvassing. I was told two things, one that they can’t stop you from asking (which is not true, if there is a non-solication policy, you aren’t allowed to ask for money) and keep going. I was enraged! Keep going?! After a person told me that to be careful because he didn’t know what type of people were in downtown Orlando? I said I wasn’t going to be going alone any more. I sat down in front of a well lit YMCA and called a Florida cousin of mine to see what he thought of the situation. He told me the same thing that the man had said, why are you by yourself?

The head trainer of my group then called me and told me it wasn’t PIRG policy to have two people working together. This was it for me, after two weeks of no time off and 16 hours days, I was done. My safety wasn’t important to PIRG, and I wasn’t going to comprimise it any more. It doesn’t make sense to place employees in danger like that, and why would I have to deal with an organiztion that didn’t pay attention to a simply procedure such as two people to one block and alternating houses.

I booked a play ticket home that very evening and was back with my parents the next day. I am glad that I gave PIRG a shoot and I learned what to look for the next time I am looking for a job such as that. I have learned many lessons but I will never place myself in danger for any cause.



A comment from “Eastie”

Want to submit a story of your experience with the PIRG/Fund/Green Corps/whatever PIRG department you worked for?  Email burnedoutbypirg@gmail.com.

Anon, they ARE saying each community is the same. And that’s a huge part of the problem (or rather, “the model”). You’ve swallowed a bit too much of the Kool-aid and exhibit a disturbing amount of the Fund’s trained passive-aggressiveness.

I was a former Environment fellow, sent to start an office in a small Midwestern town during the election and told to register 2,500 black people (yeah CVP and Progressive Future… and Work for Progress and god knows what other name they gave it that particular week). We quickly realized there were only 2,000 people (according to the census polls) in the town who declared themselves ‘African American.’ Most people were either already registered, too young, or felons. The Fund gave no consideration to basic demographics. There had been no prior scouting. Not to mention there were 2 Obama offices (English and Spanish) within a block of us.
When we mentioned this to our RD, we were told to “find more turf.” We had an awkward run-in at Kinkos with the office one town over, who was under the Prog Fut guise (or Work for Progress… I forget which) registering minority and college-aged voters. We’d been canvassing door-to-door in their neighborhoods a day or so earlier. Even better was that our CVP RD and their PIRG RD shared a room in the same office, yet for some reason “Hey, so… you’re in town A because we’re in town B and canvassing your turf?” never came up. We were essentially self-cannibalizing.
When we pointed this out, we were at first told to “be flexible,” “find more turf,” “hire new canvassers/fire the ones that weren’t making quota.” There was probably something about sticking to the rap in there as well. The ordeal was never acknowledged as a huge mistake–which it undoubtedly was.

In the end it was all about the numbers. We hated those nightly conference calls where the Big City rattled off their thousands and the smaller towns were woefully behind their quotas (the one that was breaking even was doing so because they were registering mental patients at the hospital).
Success in the Fund has NOTHING to do with hard work or competence–which is precisely why so many kids walk away from the ordeal so thoroughly disillusioned. Rather, it’s how well you are able to conform–without question–to “the model” and parrot their lofty-sounding rhetoric. There is no room for creativity, compassion, or independent thought. Success with the Fund is brought about by completely giving up the ability to think for yourself. As PIRG anti-progress said: they’re called “bots” for a reason.



A thoughtful comment

The thing is that it actually is very efficient. Customization takes time, and the model works, so why customize? This blog criticizes the model so much, but why do you think they have been around for 30-something years? The model works, raps work, following the model will get you some degree of success.

That’s part of what is frightening, though–the fact that the model is so calculated and completely successful. The low-retention rate is expected and individuality is discouraged. The problem is that the PIRGs take advantage of natural human traits (e.g. guilt, compassion, loyalty) and twist them to help the organization grow without any consideration for the actual humans they are affecting.



n. another great quote

From the FFPIR.info website:

There is no sin in making a living changing the world. There is no sin in being able to eat, and pay your rent, and go to sleep at night without worrying if the power is going to be shut off tomorrow. Activists who eat, who get sleep, who have a place to live, and know that they can put gas in their car (for however long we have it) tend to do much better work than activists who are starving, hungry and poor. It’s the Rockefellers who have sold activists on the notion that you have to be poor, and that’s for the precise purpose of making you ineffective.”

-Mike Ruppert



m. Keep the comments coming!

It’s encouraging to see current and former staff posting comment reflections of their experiences.  The more, the merrier!

If you wish to even write a post – please leave a comment.