Before this summer, I never envied door-to-door knockers, people that placed petitions into my hands, or anyone requesting donations. Their work seemed difficult and uncomfortable. I could never have imagined myself stopping folks on the street and persuading them to care about something, regardless of how passionate I felt about the cause. Even when it came to women’s rights, I was perfectly happy being a quiet supporter. That is, until this summer.
My first year in college helped me form a new perspective on feminism, women’s rights, and activism. My campus was full of engaged, hopeful, and driven students who jumped at any opportunity to make a change in the world. This attitude was infectious, so, in June, I took on that uncomfortable role I never imagined for myself.
I began canvassing for Planned Parenthood, asking people to pledge to protect women’s rights, sign up to receive emails about legislation and clinics in their area, and hear about volunteer opportunities. My fellow interns and I embarked on our first canvas near a lake on a sunny afternoon. We met around noon, all sporting our bright pink shirts and clutching our sign-up sheets. I was nervous, holding onto the miniscule chance that someone might declare, “You know, this is a bad idea. Let’s try canvassing another time,” so we could all avoid the anxiety of approaching strangers. Unsurprisingly, no one spoke up and we began.
We got used to the rejection—the people who faked phone calls as they walked past us; those who just shook their heads and say ‘no, thanks’; the ones that listened to our entire spiel and then explained they just did not want any more emails in their inbox. Naturally, there were folks who disagreed with our values, and although I did not share their perspective, I began to appreciate the civil way in which we engaged. I started to get invested in the number of people who responded well to our campaign. Each new email was a success and each new potential volunteer was worth celebrating. The nervousness waned.
As I reflect on that first canvas and the many since, I realize that I’ve become bolder. In a society where women are often expected to take up little space and speak quietly, the act of interrupting people on the streets and asking them to care about women’s rights is the polar opposite. Each time I begin, “Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m a volunteer with Planned Parenthood…” I assert myself far more than I am used to. I take up more space.
We interns will continue our canvassing this summer, searching for that small but great victory of talking to just one more supporter. Each time we do, we are strengthening not only the Planned Parenthood’s community of supporters, but also ourselves.
-Sarah, Planned Parenthood Intern