Earlier this summer, I met a young woman in my Brighton neighborhood carrying her clipboard and walking door to door. Not offering home remodeling or discount pizza delivery. Emily Sargent was offering people the chance to make their voices heard. Like three others I met over the summer, Emily was canvassing for the New York State Public Interest Group.
In her second year of college at MCC as a Liberal Arts major with concentrations in Political Science and History, Emily embarked on journey to put into practice her convictions. With the spirit of activism in her blood, Emily is also the daughter of Noah Sargent who ran in a primary challenge against Louise Slaughter. Community-minded like his daughter, Noah and I spoke several times during his campaign, including at the Bernie Sander’s rally at MCC.
Like others on whose doors Emily has knocked, I was reminded of my own door-to-door days, in 1984 having worked with Dan Rosen and Laura Hayton for Freedom Summer. A while later, my friend Josue Ramirez and I canvassed for Massachusetts Fair Share in Boston in which the big issue was the Superfund cleanup.
Canvassing then was as arduous yet satisfying as now. A lot of closed doors but also unforgettable moments of connection. One time in Jamaica Plains I met a Hispanic family where only the children spoke English. The parents were unfamiliar with community advocates coming to their door to listen. The children translated my door speech. Then, the parents quietly went to a drawer in the living room and took out twenty dollars. I am convinced their donation made a difference.
Memories like that are why I — as you should too — admire Emily’s commitment. And glad today’s generation is passionate about making their own difference.
For nostalgia’s sake, Emily even let me knock on a door.
Saving the earth by killing turf
Too many of our federal and even state leaders are more worried about lining their pocketbooks and increasing their power than benefiting their constituents. Too many individuals will step on the fingers and toes of others in order to benefit themselves as quickly and as greatly as possible. I have seen this happen by both politicians and corporations, and it has broken my heart. Therefore, instead of sitting around simply just talking about it, I decided to embark on my own journey to become the ideal politician that I strongly believe we need running this country. Our federal and state leaders need to focus on serving their constituents instead of bending over backwards in order to get into or stay in office.
That is why this summer I become a part of NYPIRG, the New York Public interest group. We are a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that has been fighting in communities throughout New York State for 43 years by helping the environment and improving public health. Most recently, NYPIRG lead the campaign that banned hydraulic fracturing in New York State. NYPIRG has been so successful because of our citizen membership. Our voice continues to grow as more people continue to contribute their once a year donation. NYPIRG doesn’t spend anything on marketing. The reason we have over 100,000 members is because of our star canvassers throughout the state. NYPIRG canvassers are door knocking from 4pm-9pm every day in the blistering heat, pouring rain, you name it.
NYPIRG is by far the most physical and emotional job I have ever had. That does not stop a NYPIRG canvasser though. My second day I developed a blister on the bottom of my foot that I ignored. I continued to canvass every day regardless of the pain. I pushed until I physically could not keep going. The doctor made me take a few days or else it would not heal. The reason I pushed so hard is because change needs to happen. Our energy grid NEEDS to be made up of 50% renewable energy by the year 2030. We NEED to break up the monopolistic utility companies and open back up the free market setting. And most importantly we NEED to divide that iron grip handshake between the government and the utility companies.
I have been so fortunate to come across members who have really impacted me although our time together was short. Yes, I do have many doors slammed in my face. However, those three or four people I meet a night make it worth it. They are excited to donate their hard earned money to NYPIRG’s effort to change New York State for the better. The most remarkable thing about our members is that they do what they do and give what they give because they are genuinely good people, and not because they want to be viewed as such by others.
I am also so completely grateful to be working with such an amazing group of people. My bosses are the most real, genuine and caring people I have ever met. As for my fellow canvassers, I have never been able to connect with a more real group of people. I have developed friendships over the past couple of months that I will never be able to let go. My favorite element about being a part of NYPIRG is that I am totally free to be myself, regardless of how weird and wacky the real me may be. It is so reassuring knowing I can go to work every day and won’t be judged by the ones I surround myself with.
I am at NYPIRG because I believe in grassroots operations. I am acquiring a lot of really valuable campaign experience that I will be able to utilize in my future. Working at NYPIRG I am working toward the greater good for the people. All people. Not just democrats, not just republicans, not just the poor, not just the rich but ALL PEOPLE. Nobody deserves to struggle because of the actions of others. However, not everyone deserves to have money and nice things. But, everyone does deserve contentment. I am currently and will be fighting for the greater good of the people until I no longer have any fight left in me. I am so grateful that I found NYPIRG at my young, ripe age of nineteen because I know I will be able to fight for, and advocate for so much, before my time comes to single handedly change the world.
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