Before Climate Summer, when I was attempting to convince someone, I would come at the task with an intense passion and tone. I would talk with such speed that no one could outmaneuver me in conversation – “loud and pushy” would be an apt description. However, without realizing it, my approach has evolved. This past week, we have been canvassing homes, local businesses and people on the beach at Sebago Lake. Somehow my instinct told me that this style would be inappropriate to use when approaching people I did not know on a topic they may know nothing about. I knew I would not like that if someone knocked on my door and was loud and pushy. My instinct seems to have led me to a totally different approach — I open with a very calm voice, keep some physical distance, attempt to speak slowly and evenly. It was not even until the last few days of canvassing that I realized I had developed a whole new way of talking to people.
This work of canvassing has tested many of my assumptions. In the beginning, I thought it would be easier to canvass businesses than to approach people in their homes or at the beach. But it was so much harder with businesses – just walking in with Garrett at my side and my clipboard in hand, I was already being judged as a solicitor. I could see people shutting down before I could even begin to present why we were there. Although the first few canvassing encounters were stressful, whether talking to people in their homes or at the beach, I found that the majority of people were interested and warm – most were open to what we were talking about and ready to listen.
I go into canvassing knowing that I may face defeat. I don’t know if the people I approach will be for tar sands or against, or if they even know or are interested in the issue. I have learned to talk in measured tones and to find the messages that resonate (like “As of today, we do not have the technology to remove the tar sands if there is a spill!”). While I know that I will not always be successful in convincing people to sign a statement of support or participate in a video or photo petition, I know that I have at least opened their eyes to what tar sands are and how it could affect their lives. I find that, despite our momentary interruption of their lives, people are usually friendly and willing to listen. It renews my faith in humankind.