Burned Out By the PIRG


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.