It's 7:30 p.m. and Jane Citizen is eating dinner when the
doorbell rings. Opening the door, she's greeted by an
earnest Sierra Club canvasser who asks her to help fight a
"salvage logging" measure that would authorize rampant
clearcutting in our national forests. Jane says she hasn't
heard about this or any other threat looming in Congress. A
few minutes later, after hearing that her representative
voted to gut the Clean Water Act that protects her tap
water, she becomes the Sierra Club's newest member.
The Club is in its second year of operating a door-to-door
membership recruitment and conservation outreach program,
better known as the canvass.
"Knocking on more than 1 million doors this summer,
canvassers will carry the critical message to Americans that
the 104th Congress has declared an all-out War on the
Environment and that the Club needs their support to protect
our air, water, wildlife and open space," said Club
President J. Robert Cox.
Most Club leaders say canvassing fills a critical niche:
Roughly 60 percent of the people reached at the door know
little to nothing about Congress' assault on our
environment, and 95 percent do not know what they can do
In over 28 sites this summer, the canvass aims to recruit
more than 36,000 members and obtain 150,000 signatures on
the Environmental Bill of Rights petition. The program also
distributes timely action alerts to generate phone calls,
letters and activism in response to recent anti-environmental
legislation such as Sen. Bob Dole's "risk
Although the program's core message is based on the Club's
national campaign to turn back the War on the Environment,
each canvasser ties in local examples such as how H.R. 961,
the "Dirty Water Bill," would directly affect local drinking
Region by region, the program is fostering working
relationships between canvassers and the Club's volunteers
and staff. The Bellevue canvass in Washington state played a
critical role in collecting signatures for a ballot
referendum to defeat a damaging "takings" initiative passed
by the state legislature. In Florida, the Miami canvass took
important information door-to-door about the campaign to
save the Everglades. And in Idaho, canvassers and Club
leaders conducted a joint press conference on the Safe
Drinking Water Act.
"The canvassers have been very enthusiastic and well-
informed," said Idaho Chapter staffer Roger Singer. "They
have done an excellent job of getting information out to
local people. This is grassroots advocacy in action."
The canvass is managed and operated by the Fund for Public
Interest Research, a non-profit organization which has 25
years of experience operating canvass programs for a wide
variety of social justice and environmental causes.
Membership Committee Chair Sandy Miles spent an evening on
the job with Indianapolis canvassers and learned first-hand
to appreciate their challenging work environment. "I admire
them for doing this," she said. "They get turned down so
many times, yet they manage to stay upbeat."
Ed Johnson, regional director for the Charlotte canvass and
a six-year veteran of canvassing, is motivated by a vision
of "more people being empowered and engaging in the
political debate through my work. A person may not give
today at the door, but may vote in the next election or call
their senator after learning that he or she voted to
dismantle the Clean Water Act."
Every canvass program has its drawbacks, and the Sierra
Club's is no exception. For example, it is not economically
viable to canvass in small towns far from densely populated
areas, so the program cannot help build Sierra Club
membership in rural communities. Some Club members oppose
interrupting people at home in the evening, while others
question the canvassers' ability to represent the Sierra
Club in all its complexity.
But canvassers are briefed daily about the Club's campaigns
and current battles, and they share that knowledge with a
broad cross-section of the American public. "The canvass
program is reaching average citizens who want their
grandchildren to enjoy a safe and healthy environment, and
it's helping them make a difference," said Carl Pope, the
Sierra Club's executive director.
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