Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Two summers ago you couldn't walk down the street in New York without being hassled for money. Not the homeless, the college kids. Well, next time you see them, clue them in to how badly they're being exploited.

canvassers are not members of any particular organization—they are outsourced labor, often making less than minimum wage.
A canvass itself doesn’t raise money. A successful canvass campaign covers its own overhead. The organizations make their real long-term financial gains from the donor rolls that a canvass generates, which can be sold or used in-house.

Read the whole article. It's not that long, and it describes how the Fund for Public Interest Research (son of PIRGs and the leading national nonprofit canvassing outsource shop) squashed a union drive in its Los Angeles offices. If you want more, the author has expanded in a series of three blog posts here, here, and here.

Why does this matter?

Miller and Harris’ personal stories—of idealism beset by frustration and turned to disillusionment, and of “mysterious firings” and “staff purges”—are wholly typical of the many accounts recorded in Activism, Inc., a new book by Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at Columbia University. Fisher interviewed hundreds of canvassers over a period of several years, with the permission of an organization that in her work goes under the pseudonym, “the People’s Project.” This organization is acknowledged to be one of the largest canvassing organizations in the United States.

Fisher found that canvassing experience severely limits the entry points for young people looking for a career in social justice. According to Fisher, the canvass industry yields a remarkably “small percentage [of canvassers who find] other work in politics after canvassing.” Far more often these young people go to the private sector. (This summer, Miller took a job with a solar panel installation company.) Activism, Inc. suggests that rather than a breeding ground for new generations of grassroots activism, the industry is eating the left’s young.


  • At 5:56 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    i hated canvassing for a PIRG back in the day. the whole thing definitely felt like a scam to me.

    the useful counterexample would be the way the Right nurtures its young.


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