The Clean Water Blog

Canvass_Long Branch_NewJersey_Photo by Katie McCarthy

Much more than just knocking on doors!

Clean Water Action works hard to keep people involved in the democratic process, even outside of election day. Contrary to popular belief, politicians are not working against the interest of the people. They just have a lot on their plates. Thousands of bills can come across an elected official's desk (if the bill number is A2500, that means it is the 2,500 bill introduced that 2 year session alone)! Big industries spend a lot of money to keep lobbyists in the capitol to be sure elected officials vote in the industries favor. We will never have the money that big corporations have to spend on lobbyists and shady politicians, so we rely on the strength in numbers generated from our canvass.

Clean Water Action has a team of grassroots community organizers called canvassers, but I like to think of them as superheroes. Canvassers go out everyday, regardless of the weather, knocking on doors to protect our essential resources. They ask residents to sign a statement of support, give a donation, and take a political action, such as writing a letter or making a phone call to an elected official. It may seem like no big deal - the interaction last all of 5 minutes at the most - but the fact is, this is where we get our political strength.

NJ Canvass by Katie McCarthy

Canvassers do not have a list of specific doors - we knock on all of them. We know that having clean and safe drinking water is a right every individual should have, so we want to reach as many people as possible and get them involved. Each night, an individual organizer collects 20 signatures and 5 letters per targeted elected official. These forms of public comment come from all over the state. At the peak of the year we have had up to 30 canvassers on staff - that’s 600 signatures and 150 letters per day! Elected officials pay attention, not only because of the vast number of public comments they receive from us, but also because they know a year later we will update their constituents on how they voted on the issues. This accountability is how democracy is meant to work.

Our canvass teams are made up of folks from all different backgrounds. Some are college students working for the summer while some are seasoned organizers who have been doing the work for decades. We are not volunteers. We are paid, trained professionals working to make your voice heard. Just like elected officials, we work for you!

The best way to help us out when we knock is to get involved however you are able to. There are many ways to be a supporter:

  • Sign our support statement: We need your contact information so we can keep in touch - we want to update you when we win! So be sure to print your name, address, email and phone number. We will never sell your information, because we want your continued support. Putting your name down also gives us political strength through membership - the more members we have the more elected officials are inclined to listen to what we have to say.
  • Donate: You do not have to give money to get involved, but we do accept donations. We rely on donations from the public because we prefer to be held accountable by real people, and your donations make that possible! The money goes towards our research, the education that we do across the state, and our lobbying efforts. We prefer check or credit card, for your safety as well as the safety of the canvassers. We will give you a detailed receipt with information all about our organization. There is no set amount to get involved - the sky's the limit! This money keeps our lights on, our canvass vehicles fueled and our canvassers out in the field collecting the public comment we need to influence our legislators to do the right thing. 

Kids Drawing_Long Branch_New Jersey_Canvass_Letters

  • Take action: Write a letter and leave it for us to pick up that night, or make a phone call on the spot. We do this so that we have a count of exactly how many pieces of public comment are made, so when we go into an elected official's office we can hold them accountable with real numbers. Walking in empty handed doesn’t get us very far, so keeping track of those numbers is extremely important. The best part about this is the entire family can get involved - these are issues that we can not vote on, so we need to tell our representatives which way we want them to vote. Kids can draw pictures, write their own letters, or make their own phone calls. There is no age limit, so get them interested in politics early. My dad always made me write letters when canvassers came by, and now I have a career in activism!

  • Vote: We create a collective voice to stand up and protect of essential resources by making sure the right legislation is passed. During election seasons we endorse candidates that have good environmental track records - filling our legislature with people who do the right thing makes it a lot easier to get the right things done! We also, as an organization, release “environmental report cards” on state officials around each election to help voters make a decision on who to keep in office.

The canvass is one of the most vital parts of what has kept Clean Water Action around for so long, with so many victories under our belts. We are always hiring, so if you know anyone who is looking for a great job, check out our website.

Lastly, please share this blog with your neighbors, especially on the nights that you speak with us. We love for folks to know more about why we’re out there!

If you have any other questions about the canvass, you can reach you local canvass directors from our website as well. For New Jersey's Montclair office, please contact Eric Benson at ebenson@cleanwater.org or for Long Branch, contact Lindsey Periard at lperiard@cleanwater.org.