Do you care about the environment? Knowing full well that “Can’t talk now, thanks” is not an answer to that question, it’s still the response I often awkwardly give to the on-the-ground representatives of various social justice, human services, and environmental organizations. This particular question was asked by a very cheerful and engaging educator/fundraiser for Greenpeace as I waited for the walk signal yesterday. The rep saw my recycled and reusable bag and met my response with an “I see you’re an environmentalist. Let’s talk on your way back.” I returned that proposition with a smile, which is also not an appropriate response.
While I was in college (and at a couple of points afterward) I spent time as a telephone fundraiser for various organizations. Gathering my courage, I placed my calls, one after another, bracing for the sting of a hang-up or harsh words and living for the rare successes of an actual pledge. At the very least, though, I had the protection of distance and the anonymity of invisibility. For the supporters of various causes who spend their days on sidewalks in reflective vests carrying near-empty pledge sheets, vulnerability seems to be the name of the game.
I make charitable contributions, volunteer, and work in the nonprofit sector. I do my small part to challenge injustice, fight for equality, and save the planet. So, why do I avoid these public solicitations like a tar sands-drilling, DOMA-supporting right winger?
First, I have a problem taking my wallet out of my pocket in very public places. But, beyond that, I know that no matter what I learn from these well-informed, charming foot soldiers, I’m probably not going to make an on-the-spot donation. It’s just not how I make decisions about where money goes.
On top of this, I hate to disappoint nice people. I always think that a smile and a thumbs-up are better than following their well-rehearsed informational talk with a “Thanks for the information. I’m not prepared to commit right now, but I’ll think about it.” As I write this, it’s painfully clear that this is all about me. I hate rejection, and I project that onto the workers I encounter. Whether a fundraiser’s day is a personal success or not certainly doesn’t hinge on my decision to stop, chat, and donate.
No matter what, I have tremendous respect for those who brave the elements, put on a smile, and try their best to engage the 75th stranger of the day as if she were the first. To the Red Cross Crusaders, Heroes of the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Proponents, and other champions of change, keep up the good work, and may your days be filled with education opportunities, sizable donations, and not too many neurotically avoidant passers-by like me.
On the other hand, if your public education consists of illogical rants that liken President Obama to Adolf Hitler, then may you be met with the harsh stares of liberals as they walk along San Francisco’s Embarkadero.