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Should canvassers be on college campuses?

Illustration: Carter Klassen · The Sentry

They’re not trying to harass people

Opinion by Lorraine Kelly

Everyone has seen a canvasser before and felt the panic. “Oh, no, someone’s going to try to talk to me and I have places to be.” It can be anxiety-inducing to have a stranger yell about saving the turtles. But canvassers are doing some of the most vital work: raising awareness for their causes and asking people to contribute to them.  

Canvassers work days in the elements, talking to both the best and the worst kinds of people. Canvassing is often not a volunteer gig: organizations like GreenPeace, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hire their canvassers. Thus, a canvasser’s employment does, in part, depend on how many donations they receive. On-street fundraising is also one of the main forms of income for nonprofit organizations. For the ACLU, over $250 million was raised by grants and individual contributions, which is 87 percent of their total revenue. Almost $13 million of their total budget goes to fundraising.  

But the primary goal of canvassing isn’t necessarily getting money or signatures. One of the biggest goals for on-street canvassing is to educate the public. Canvassers are given a speech from their respective organization that outlines whatever they’re doing right now. Those “raps,” as they’re called, talk about relevant issues, like the recent reproductive care bans in the United States or the amount of pollution in the ocean. Then they talk about what that specific organization is doing to help. Even just listening to a canvasser allows them to spread the word about what people can do to help the world become a better place.  

Obviously, monetary contributions are not feasible for everyone. And many college students can’t contribute financially. So why are canvassers always on campus? Unfortunately, where canvassers can work is very limited. Every organization has to work around each other, and soliciting money is only allowed in certain areas. Canvassers cannot move from their given turf, even if it doesn’t make sense for them to be there. On campus, there probably aren’t many students who can give. But just because one can’t directly contribute doesn’t mean they should ignore them. 

It’s obnoxious and counterproductive

Opinion by Austin Bolton

No one likes being bothered. Whether a person is walking to class or they just came from it, nobody wants a stranger with a clipboard invading their personal space. Yet that’s exactly what petitioners do. Not only is it annoying, but it’s counterproductive to their cause. 

Canvassers are people too, ones who are paid to get signatures for a cause. Most of the causes are good ones as well. But the mode by which they get said signatures isn’t ideal.  

The problem is that when important issues seek support through such means, it trivializes not only the issue itself, but the whole process of petitions and votes; it turns real problems into numbers games, rather than genuine things that should be discussed thoroughly. These things—things like human rights, abortion, etc.—are major topics with many complexities, and by simply asking for signatures to support such and such thing, it says that the complexity of the issue doesn’t really matter—all that matters is a person’s name. Of course, issues like human rights need to have information and understanding spread about them.

Not only this but targeting college campuses—such as the Auraria campus—is an insidious tactic. The companies whose petitioners canvas the Auraria campus understand that college students are more likely to just sign their name to get someone out of their face than, say, a businessman in downtown. Make no mistake, the solicitors are downtown as well, but not nearly as prominently as on the campus.  

If the companies and organizations whose issues are found on petitions throughout campus really cared about that problem and wanted to spread awareness rather than simply rake in signatures, they would focus on disseminating information rather than thrusting clipboards in people’s faces. Besides, the average college student has a lot on their mind; with social and academic pressures looming large, they simply will not be able to fully digest and retain what a stranger says to them for two minutes. 

Petitioning for important issues is a great facet of democracy that should be exercised but, as with everything else, it should be exercised within reasonable bounds. 

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