Im looking for a job that deals with politics or activism
December 21, 2005 4:58 PM   Subscribe

The other day a few college - aged people came to my door (and everyone's in the nieghborhood) lobbying something political. I didnt talk to them but by dad said they made pretty good money doing that. Anyways, I am personally kind of obsessed with politics, and would be thrilled to have a job in the field of politics. My question is does anyone have suggestions on where to look or who to ask for a job? I am looking for a job that I can start right away, without any schooling etc. Something that doesnt take any special qualifications.

It doesnt have to be high paying or anything, currently I work in a fast food restaraunt, so even minimum wage is fine. I am intelligent and motivated, I can speak to people well. Perhaps an assistant somewhere? I'm pretty open to any suggestions, I have not spent much time thinking about this.

I guess I should mention that I'm left leaning, independent.
posted by JokingClown to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, the bad news is that the people who came to your door were most likely volunteers. Almost all of the door-to-door/phone-call people are, especially for local/state politics. Paid positions are usually reserved for people who have a background in organizing or have been with the organization for a while.
posted by trey at 5:00 PM on December 21, 2005

How old are you? In high school? Over 16?

I'll assume that you're 16-18 years old and living in a state where you can legally work.

Rather than trying to make money, try calling your local Democratic party or political leader. They likely need help and by being exposed to their operations, it could be very useful for you later.

Keep the fast food job for a little extra cash.


If you're a legal adult and you want to get into politics, it may be tougher without a degree. You can still certainly volunteer for a political party or candidate.
posted by k8t at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2005

Yes, and door-to-door activities are usually unpaid.

Does your school (if you're in school) have a student council? Get involved with it!
posted by k8t at 5:02 PM on December 21, 2005

Pretty good money??? BA HA HA HA. I worked for CALPIRG (California Public Interest Researcy Group) right out of college as a field director. I went door to door canvassing for donations to environmental causes. I ran an office. I trained staff. I made 11,000 dollars a year. In LOS ANGELES. In 1993. I would like to know in what universe this is good money.

Anyway, if you want to do this, find a PIRG office in your state. Nearly all states have them. Or Greenpeace.
posted by spicynuts at 5:13 PM on December 21, 2005

Response by poster: Im 19.

Also it doesnt have to be a door to door job, that was just one example.
posted by JokingClown at 5:44 PM on December 21, 2005

I know (from chatting to them) that the people in DC who stand in the middle of the street and try to engage you on a particular issue to get charity donations make around $6 an hour. I don't know if that's cash or not.

If you're not planning on going to college and you are REALLY committed, look into (paid) internships with ACORN or the A.F.L.-C.I.O., working with Labor Unions. It's not a casual job, but (I think) it's exciting and you'd learn a lot. If you're good you will get far, quickly. If you're not, you'll have helped out for three months, made $450 a week or so, and crossed a field off your list.

It would help to know whether you're thinking of this instead of college, before, or during. That makes a big difference.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:31 PM on December 21, 2005

Best answer: Jokingclown, I have done exactly the sort of job you are seeking: Paid Door-To-Door Canvasser. There are organizations in any major city which will hire anyone with a reasonable level of communication skills to do the job, but most of these orgs pay COMMISSION ONLY based on how many contributions you are able to garner. The group I worked for, Minnesota COACT, paid minimum wage+commission.
This is a part-time job (catching people at home in the evening) and it is hard, soul-sapping work. Many left-leaning groups make at least part of their cash flow using canvassing fundraisers.


Minnesota COACT

There are many other groups that seek this sort of worker, these are just three that I know of directly. Check the job listings in your local paper under "Political Activist" or something similar, or contact your state Democratic Party office (assuming you are in the USA) and someone there should be able to refer you to some similar groups locally.

Be Warned: this work (though the qualifications are not particularly stringent) is not for everyone. Really, It is a SALES job, not a political one. I was fresh out of college with a Poli-Sci degree and could talk politics with the best of them, and in fact convinced many people I spoke with that the cause we were backing (Single-Payer health care) was a good one, but I never managed to make my quota. Not once. Consequently, I made hardly any money.

Some of my colleagues, however, had a supernatural ability to get those checks, and made a comfortable living off their commissions (considering the part-time nature of the job). In order to succeed at this. you need to be a closer, a la Glengarry Glen Ross.

Good Luck!
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:42 PM on December 21, 2005

In many states its legal to pay people to gather signatures for initiatives. I don't think it pays that much, though I'm sure they people who actually organize the for-pay signature gathering do all right.
posted by Good Brain at 6:46 PM on December 21, 2005

JokingClown, it would help to know what state you live in. I can probably recommend some places for you.

I work for a grassroots non-profit who uses door-to-door canvassers (paid part-time positions) year round, with a much larger staff in the summer than in the winter. Our employees are on a daily salary (around $50 - $60 per day) plus a commission if they meet their weekly fundraising goals (quota is $100/day; if you average your $100/working day during your 10 day pay period - you don't need to work all 10 days - you also take home 25% to 35% of what you raised). Hours are generally 2pm - 9pm, and we're pretty flexible as to hours. Most of our employees are students.

Take a look in the help wanted section of your local alt weekly (or craigslist). You're looking for an ad that says something like "Hiring full time activists who are tired of the direction our country is currently taking. Come and join a team that wins against the system. " It won't mention anything about canvassing or door-to-door because that scares most people away immediately. BigLankyBastard is correct that its primarily a 'sales' job, although the product you're selling is, in this case, social justice.

Greenpeace often hires canvassers, as do the state PIRG organizations. My email is in my profile; if I knew what state you were in I might be able to give you more targeted examples.

Also, FYI, this job is what you make it. We have dozens and dozens of students who come in for a week or two, can't do it, then bail. But we also have a core of devoted people who started as door-to-door canvassers who now have much higher positions in our organization. Our Executive Director started 20+ years ago doing canvassing, and our current Canvass Director is leaving us in January to start his Master's in Political Science. He got a personal letter from our Governor explaining how valuable his organizing had been in getting a certain piece of legislation passed as part of his grad school application packet.

If you're committed, and passionate about it, and you like being outside, it can be a very fun and rewarding job.
posted by anastasiav at 7:07 PM on December 21, 2005

Be careful while considering work for canvass groups. As mentioned previously by a number of posters, canvassing is essentially a sales job, and while the organizers will naturally put up a veneer of both fun and political involvement it eventually all comes down to making quota. Canvassing groups like the Fund (FFPIR, the organization that anastasiav works for) essentially operate as hired guns for political organizations- including, but not always, the various state PIRGs. These agreements are set by contract at the national level; there is basically zero control of the agenda at the grass-roots level. As a result of this and of the extremely thin margins that canvassing groups operate at, canvassers are judged neither by commitment or passion but by how well they bring in the cash. You will be put under intense psychological pressure to make quota at basically any cost. If you don't, you will be fired summarily; over the course of a season the canvass staff often can turn over several times. If you are fired, be very sure to get any back pay you are entitled; for groups that claim to support progressive politics, the canvass organizations are unusually dismissive of federal and state employment laws. There were reportedly horrible consequences when the the LA Fund office's canvassers decided to unionize- googling will turn up a good bit on this.
I probably put this experience in a more negative light than it often is, but this comes out of experiences that my girlfriend had as an assistant canvass director for the Fund: 100 hour weeks for the equivalent of less than minimum wage, zero time off in months, socializing outside the group frowned upon, very slippery promises to canvassers, etc. etc. etc. She eventually decided to bail. While her office seemed to be particularly Glenngarry Glenn Ross the Fund's national reputation seems to be roughly in the same key. No offense intended to anastasia's hard work, but there's got to be a better way to handle canvassing than the way it's currently done.
So getting back on track, as many have said it may be better to hold on to that job and to do volunteer work in your spare time. Try to find an organization where you have some chances to get involved with planning and setting goals along with the legwork, even if it's just attending meetings and getting into discussions with people. It will be more rewarding, and might serve as a better line in later on for a 'real' political job.
posted by monocyte at 9:39 PM on December 21, 2005

Personally, I think political activism is incompatible with a paid job. If you're a paid canvasser (as monocyte was discussing), your salary is taking money away from the people you are campaigning for - not good. If you're paid to work in a political organisation, there will come a time when you disagree with your organisation, and will wonder whether to say so and risk losing your job, or keep quiet and keep getting paid.

An idea might be to get involved with a political group that you like at night, on a volunteer basis, and just get a regular job in the day.
posted by pollystark at 4:30 AM on December 22, 2005

Clean Water Action. I interviewed and did a test-day-type thing with them. I am not particularly great at sales, but apparently did OK, since they offered me a job. They make decent hourly and get benefits for full-time. You do have a quota. Very progressive and friendly, in my experience, but a little culty.

Be aware: you work evenings, and are on your feet the whole time. Doors will be slammed in your face. You will be called names. Mostly you will just be ignored. Some people will be very nice, though.
posted by fidelity at 6:12 AM on December 22, 2005

My question is does anyone have suggestions on where to look or who to ask for a job?

You might try for a job answering (constituent) mail or doing other basic work for an elected representative (state or federal; local politicians don't typically have more than one or two staff). My guess is that you probably will be more likely to get a permanent job if you start out as a volunteer and, unfortunately, that a recommendation by someone well-connected to the representative (for example, a close friend or a large donor) could be the difference between a yes and a no, at least for a paid job. (As a volunteer, you're probably have a reasonable shot at a permanent job IF you do well.]

Obviously, if you go this route, it would help to find a representative whose politics you generally agree with.

[An alternative is to take the same approach with a group that does a lot of lobbying and has some low-level paid staff of the type you want to be - that is, start out as a volunteer. If nothing else, being a volunteer - wherever - gives you some experience and something to put on your resume; after you've done it a bit, you'll probably know - or can more easily find out - what it takes to jump to a paid position in that organization.]
posted by WestCoaster at 12:25 PM on December 22, 2005

I was a paid door-to-door canvasser last summer (during the Kerry campaign) and, unlike BigLankyBastard's job, it was a full time position. We had to do an hour of training every day, go out to the turf we were set to canvas, have lunch, canvas for 5 hours, and then return to do paperwork for about another hour. We made a weekly salary of $250 if you didn't make quota, $300 + commission if you did make quota. I did pretty well and was able to support myself, although I was staying rent-free with my best friend. My co-workers all paid rent though, and they got along. I always made quota+, but that wasn't true for everyone. I wasn't doing it for the money, I was into talking to swing state voters, that's why I went there.

The company I worked for was contracted by various political organizations, so while I was there we canvassed for the DNC,, and an environmental group that was shady. The best contract was the DNC, because it was easy to promote to get people to contribute. On election day we worked for, and that was cool because their techniques were so innovative. We had no say in who we went out canvassing for, which I didn't realize at first because I signed on during the DNC contract & thought that would carry on through the election. It didn't.

I agree with spicynuts, you should contact the PIRG office in the state you'd like to work.

One of the major perks of the job is I absolutely loved my co-workers. We became an incredibly tight group of friends. I didn't have the extremely negative experience that monocyte describes.
posted by palegirl at 12:57 PM on December 22, 2005

FFPIR, the organization that anastasiav works for

monocyte, sorry, but no, I don't work for them. In fact, I've never heard of them. I work for a grassroots organization in Maine which focuses on Universal Health Care and some Environmental Issues. We also recently worked on the "Vote No on 1" campaign to make sure that discrimination based on sexual orientation remained illegal in Maine.

Your very unflattering description of the life of a canvasser sounds nothing like the working environment at my organization. palegirl's story sounds more like us, although we've never formally worked with either the DNC or MoveOn. Most of our canvassers are college students; our schedules are flexable, most of our canvassers work 3-4 7 hour days per week. Folks who choose to work full time (5 7 hour days per week) and meet some other criteria are eligible for fully paid health insurance and some other benefits including paid vacation and sick time.

I'm sorry your girlfriend had such a rotten experience, but just as there are good and bad work environments in office jobs, there are good and bad work environments in canvassing jobs as well.
posted by anastasiav at 4:31 PM on December 22, 2005

anastasia, I'm sorry to have mislinked you with FFPIR- I seem to have misfired on your mentions of Greenpeace and the PIRGs. I'm sorry if I insulted you or your organization through association with the Fund or through the general impression I gave of canvass work practices there.
By no means is the anecdote I related a blanket condemnation of canvassing organizations, and it's certainly possible to have a range of experiences good or bad as the variety of responses in this thread can attest to. I continue to hold a very poor opinion of the Fund, and from what I've seen many (not all) canvassing organizations have at least some of the problems that I touched on to a greater or lesser degree, usually arising from the need to stay in the black. One thing that the posters on this thread who had good experiences with canvass organizations hold in common is that they give reasons to be out there that go well beyond money. I'd suggest that anyone going in to canvass have the same ready as they go in, and that they ask themselves throughout their experience if it affirms those reasons. In a better organization, the answer should be mostly yes; in a middling or bad organization, far less so. Ditch if the latter.
posted by monocyte at 10:13 PM on December 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest that anyone going in to canvass have the same ready as they go in, and that they ask themselves throughout their experience if it affirms those reasons.

This I completely agree with. If you don't love the product you're "selling" then you can't do it. Period.
posted by anastasiav at 6:20 AM on December 23, 2005

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