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

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

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!

We haven’t forgotten about this blog!
March 15, 2010, 5:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Apologies for a delay in posts.  The life journey of this blog’s moderator post-PIRG has put me at a wonderful advocacy gig for a national nonprofit.  I am blessed to have found something in this economy and energized by a much healthier work experience.

I know the negativity is rampant here, because that’s what the experience kicked up – but I still vehemently stand by my position on PIRG.  This is only opinion, but my accounts are as honest as I can make them.  I think the things that PIRG states they fight for – affordable higher education, voter education, transportation reform – are MORE than worth fighting for, but their means of getting there are less than ideal.

A crop of reader submissions are coming shortly.

A great comment from Chase
July 17, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

Send us your stories, like Chase!  burnedoutbyPIRG@gmail.com.

The previous comments regarding the PIRG geo-flex clustermess are complete BS. Sure, at first it’s about where they have positions available, but it doesn’t stop there. It extends into the summer canvass, your own personal canvass during the year, and then, (from personal experience) where you’ll go when they kidnap you from your life for an election campaign.

I was hired with Environment America (PIRG’s offshoot) in March of ‘08 to start work in August of that year. I was thrilled to be a Political Science major with a job immediately after college.

I arrived in August and was then inundated with the brainwashing, the forced social interaction (I was lucky to have a great incoming fellows group) and the uncertainty as to where I might end up. (Also, they take great liberty with what you say in the initial interviews regarding geo-flex… I said I would be open to the southeast… when did Illinois become the southeast?) Luckily, I was assigned to Florida where I had requested and was eager to get a move on making my arrangements.

But! We were informed on the last few days that we were going to be working on the election campaign for Barack Obama, as a separate entity, but still in support of him. I was alright with this since I supported Obama, but was a little concerned as to why I was not given an option. I also wasn’t given the opportunity to fly home and arrange my living arrangements for another two months. I was carted off to New Hampshire, Tampa, FL, and Colorado all within this two months. I had the same two suitcases of clothes and bathroom amenities for the entire time. There were no days off. No weekends, not even a half sunday except for twice during voter registration because the office director was as fed up as I was. I worked from eight in the morning until most of time eleven at night every day. On the door-to-door information canvassing portion of the campaign, for which I was in a wintry Colorado, I was not allowed to spend time finding warm clothes until a small group of us rebelled and demanded it.

Perhaps the most damnable thing about the PIRG’s is that they send you to random locations around the U.S. and expect you to find residency with friends or relatives within considerable proximity to the office. However, even though they ask whether you have lodging in other states, it most often comes down to wherever they need warm bodies. To be fair, they won’t leave you without some place to stay, but the idea of staying with a person you do not know from Adam is just a poop-cherry on top of the crapcake that PIRG is so known for serving.
So, three trainings, four states (including the original Boston training from where we were shipped off) and two suitcases later I finally made it home. My parents later said they were concerned because I was incapable of remaining in one place for more than thirty seconds. I was constantly needing to move, my nerves had been fried. Extra crispy.

One last thing, the one that finally did it for me. When I was finally in my office, I had no idea what to do because the trainings were solid on what needed to be done, but not so much on the “getting started” aspect. On top of that, the only other person that worked in Environment Florida (two people… fourth biggest state and there are two people) was in Miami doing his work from there. I was given random assignments from a guy in D.C. that correlated to a federal campaign for which I was given no solid foundation to complete. I gave up when they told me I had to drive to Miami to canvass. That’s a solid eight to ten hour drive. They had me stand on the streets of Miami and ask people for money. I left Miami and left PIRG.

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.