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I'm Coming to Your Door

A canvasser for the Sierra Club in Minnesota shares his reasons for knocking on doors to educate voters about the candidates' positions on the environment.
 
 
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I'm used to speaking to groups of people – as a writer, a lecturer, and a former actor, I've done a lot of that over the years – but when it comes to introducing myself one-on-one to people, I can be very shy.

So you may well imagine that it takes something unusual to get me to go door-to-door, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, handing out literature and talking to people I've never met. But then, these are unusual times.

I've been a volunteer with my local chapter of the Sierra Club for several years. A few weeks ago, I was asked to join the steering committee for the chapter's Environmental Voter Education Campaign. It's a campaign that identifies infrequent environmental voters, contacts them more than once, and gives them comparative information about the environmental records of George W. Bush and John Kerry. With just the slightest qualm about all those doors, I said yes.

I'm selective about where I put my time and energy. But I've found that what feels uncomfortable at first is often the most rewarding in the long run. I've been involved for a couple of weeks now. That's included meetings, some phoning, a press interview, and more to the point, two afternoons of door-knocking. And you know, it hasn't been so bad. In fact, the door-knocking has been kind of fun.

Almost everyone has appreciated the information I've given them, and I've talked to everyone: from middle-aged ladies in bathrobes to a room full of Native Americans to a visiting grandmother from Arizona who practically sprinted over from the playground where she was watching her grandson. Nobody – at least, once they found out I wasn't asking for money – has complained about my interrupting their afternoon.

Before I was an activist – before I was a writer, or an actor for that matter – I was a teacher. Thirty years after the fact, I find I still like thinking of myself as an educator. In this case, happily, that pretty much means letting the facts speak for themselves.

FACT: George W. Bush has tried to reconfigure the rules to let coal-fired power plants emit up to three times more mercury than the Clean Air Act, as written, would allow.

FACT: John Kerry co-sponsored the Clean Power Act of 2003, which would have augmented the Clean Air Act and cut emissions of both mercury and carbon dioxide; Kerry also backed the Edwards Amendment, which would have delayed the Bush administration's efforts to let factories and power plants make equipment changes without upgrading their pollution controls.

FACT: Mr. Bush altered Clean Water Act rules to allow mining interests to dump mountaintop removal wastes into mountain streams.

FACT: John Kerry voted to maintain the Clean Water Act prohibition against the dumping of mountaintop removal and other wastes.

These few items are not even the tip of the iceberg.

It's my opinion that no aspect of the future of America is likely to be unaffected by the results of the upcoming presidential election. And for the environment, it's a watershed moment. What the people of the United States decide on Nov. 2 will impact every environmental issue – from global climate change, to air quality, to the water that comes out of your kitchen tap.

We need people to go to the polls not merely with these thoughts in mind, but with an education on both the positions and the track records of the candidates.

So, I'm going to keep knocking on doors. You could say, without being overly dramatic, that the times and the future demand it, but to me it's equally important that the people I'm talking to just seem to want to know the facts.

So please: get your bathrobes on, folks. I'm coming through again.

Christopher Childs lives in St. Paul, Minn. He is the author of "The Spirit's Terrain: Creativity, Activism, and Transformation" (Beacon Press, Boston, 1998; Foreword by the Dalai Lama). He currently serves as volunteer Co-Chair of the Clean Air Committee for the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.