Atmosphere

Got a Minute?

Why the pesky petitioners on the 16th Street Mall won’t leave you alone.
May 2011

It’s springtime, and on the 16th Street Mall that means one thing: It’s time for clipboard-carrying, overzealous activists (read: college students on summer break) to pound the pavement. They’re everywhere—sometimes you can’t walk a block without being asked to support a politician, sign a petition to save baby seals, or donate money to help disadvantaged kids. Don’t get us wrong: We don’t hate politicians, baby seals, or disadvantaged kids, but come noon we just want to grab a sandwich.

Alas, the petitioners are here to stay, because these grassroots fund-raising techniques work. Look at Grassroots Campaigns, a company that works with organizations like Planned Parenthood. Nationally, the group’s foot patrollers have signed up more than one million new donors and potential volunteers for the nonprofit since 2003. (Up to 10 Grassroots Campaigns folks canvas the Denver area daily.) “It’s a great way to reach people who aren’t already involved but might get active if approached more personally,” says spokesman Wes Jones. “It cuts through the overwhelming clutter of mail, e-mail, and online ads.” Greenpeace, another familiar face on the Mall, has had similar success. About 90 percent of monthly donations nationwide are the result of grassroots fund-raising. “The front-line program is one of the primary ways that we reach the average American,” says spokesman Joe Smyth.

And it appears campaigning on foot is equally effective for politics. Bob Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College, says canvassing is an established part of the local political climate: “This form of democracy is widely accepted in Colorado.” The message: Get used to stopping—or perfect your dodging techniques.