Fighting the Illusion of Ambivalence, One Door at a Time

RI-Sofia Yee-Wadsworth-canvassing image with cat

Fighting the Illusion of Ambivalence, One Door at a Time

Canvassing is a strange job. Essentially, you function as messenger, teacher, and banker all in the span of three to four minutes. It's exciting, it's interesting, but there is always a bit of trepidation when you're knocking on someone's door. First of all, there’s a fear of ambivalence. Given everything that’s happening in the U.S. today, and all the bad news flooding our phones, will someone really care about what you have to say? Then there’s more practical concerns: Will they open their door? Will they be receptive? Will they mistake you for a traveling knife salesman? The seconds between the last peals of the doorbell and the low thump of approaching footsteps are both too long and too short, but eventually (and all too soon) the door opens and you begin your presentation. 
 
Environmental issues are complex, and environmental policies are even more so, but when talking to someone right outside their home, you have to keep it short and simple. That's no easy task, especially in Clean Water Action’s current campaign to combat the dangerous effects of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS have a long history, cause a veritable bouquet of health consequences, and are used in far too many products, so keeping the conversation brief and understandable requires quite a lot of practice and skill. Luckily, Clean Water Action trains you to do just that, so while talking to a nice lady in Wellesley, MA, I force myself to break the issue down to the simplest points: 
 
  • PFAS are a class of toxic “forever chemicals” that are being used in some food packaging. 
  • The problem is that when they get into the human body, they can cause negative health consequences like cancer.
  • The solution is that Clean Water Action is fighting for legislation to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging to protect our public health and keep toxic chemicals out of our food. 

My explanation takes about two minutes, and although she hadn't heard about PFAS before I came to her door, I managed to convey enough information that she's now completely in support of getting these toxic chemicals out of her food packaging and water. She becomes a member of Clean Water Action, contributes money to support our Providence Field Office, and agrees to write a letter to her representative, senator, and governor asking them to pass these pieces of PFAS legislation. 

In Clean Water Action speak, she's what we call an A door, someone who is passionate about the environment and very willing to support our cause. Even better, she and I really got along and had a nice side conversation about her puppy, so I think she'll continue to support CWA in the future. 

These positive interactions are one of my favorite parts of being a canvasser, along with doing good work for the environment and getting to see so many cute pets. When looking at the state of the world, or worse doom scrolling, it's easy to think everyone is ambivalent, but my experience as a canvasser with Clean Water Action proves that's not true. Some people are busy, and for some people the environment and an issue like PFAS simply can't be a priority. However, despite the slightly strange experience of someone coming up to your door to talk about environmental policy, a lot of people will go along for the ride and do what they can to help. It's a very uplifting and heartening experience to walk away from a house and know that someone cares and is working with us to make our world a better place. Even better, these conversations then turn into real political pressure on elected officials that changes public policy for the better. 
 
People who supported Clean Water Action at their front door in Rhode Island this summer helped us pass laws regulating PFAS in water and banning their use in food packaging. That’s real political change, and it starts at the door with a conversation.
 
Sofia is a member of the Providence Field Office’s summer 2022 canvassing team. She’s currently a student at Brown University and would like to thank everyone who offered her water and/or snacks this summer. You all made this post possible. If you'd like to join our canvass team, click here. If you'd like to make a donation to support our Rhode Island campaigns, click here.