12.6.06

My two days as a professional activist.

According to Wikipedia, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equal rights organizations in the United States. I worked for them for two days, knocking on peoples' doors and begging for money. I'm convinced that they are a scam, masquerading as an activist group to cash in on peoples' desire to change the world for the better.

I found their ad in the paper claiming I could make money as an activist fighting for justice. I called and set up an interview.

At the interview, they sat me at a table with 3 other applicants and handed us questionnaires to fill out. They weren't typical job applications, and included questions such as "What do you think the biggest problem with our country is?" One of the applicants, an older woman, took a brief look at the questionnaire before quietly leaving, leaving me and two young girls. After we had some time to write answers, one of the guys who worked there sat down to discuss them with us. He was roughly my age, and a total douche bag. He was smiling and friendly with the girls, saying "Right on" to absolutely everything they said, no matter how ridiculous, and then he would roll his eyes and look at me like I was crazy whenever I said anything. I thought he was about to send me on my way, but then he told us that we had passed the first part of the interview and it was on to the second.

For the second part of the interview, this short girl took me in the hallway to talk to me. She was a lot friendlier than the guy, and seemed to like me. She hired me within 5 minutes. The job would start in a couple days.

On my first day, I was introduced to the people I was going to be working with. It was all nice girls, the only other guy was the asshole who had interviewed me, and I wouldn't be working with him. They were going to spend the first few hours teaching me what to say to people when I knock on their doors, and then we were going to go knocking on peoples' doors, begging for cash.

One of the things that initially struck me about my co-workers was that they didn't seem to fit the activist mold. It could have been that having just moved from a rural area, my entire experience with activists had been either grubby punk rockers or the old Marxist professors I had in college. These were preppy college girls who seemed more motivated by their desire to pad their resumes than their desire to change the world for the benefit of others.

The short girl taught me the spiel I was supposed to give. She had me say it over and over again, all the while moving closer and closer until her face was literally inches from mine. It made me really self-conscious and worried about whether my breath smelled fresh or funky, and so I kept speaking with less and less volume, which would prompt her to tell me I needed to be louder.

"Hi, my name is Paulo, and I'm with HRC, The Human Rights Campaign! We're America's largest gay and lesbian civil rights group! We're out here today to fight discrimination..."

I was supposed to knock on the door, give the spiel, and ask for money. If they declined to give money, but sounded vaguely in favor of the cause, I had another, shorter speech ready to try to get cash out of them. When the short girl was confident I had my lines memorized, she brought me back into the main room for a pre-begging pep rally.

We gathered in a circle, myself and the 4 girls I was working with, while one of them whipped us into a frenzy.

"We're gonna go out there, and we're gonna do a good job! 'Cause we're good! And we're doing a good thing! And we're awesome!"

I felt awkward as hell trying to act even half as excited as everyone else. I let out a couple of wimpy cheers that were drowned out by the excited screaming of some girls about to go out panhandling.

Before we left, they sent me into the office to ask that asshole for a clipboard. He sighed loudly, indicating his annoyance with me, and then grabbed one off of a shelf. He sneered when he handed it to me and told me in a condescending tone not to lose it. I guess I must have looked like a completely inept monkey. Or maybe he was just a stupid fucking dickhead.

Out we went, armed with maps of our route and clipboards to write down the addresses of the houses we went to. Everybody went into the neighborhood we were canvassing on their own, except for myself and a girl who was going to help me with my first day on the job. She showed me the ropes, delivering the spiel and collecting money. She made it seem so easy.

At one house, she convinced the guy inside to give her $100. The guy obviously thought it was going to be a tax write-off, because he asked for a receipt.

"Yeah, no problem," she told him, and then gave him some HRC promotional materials instead. When I asked her later what we're supposed to do when we get asked for a receipt, she told me that nobody had ever asked her for one before, and that I didn't need to worry about it. This was my first sign that something wasn't right about this.

Throughout the course of the night, I did most of the knocking and talking, and she would only say something if I ran into trouble and didn't know what to say. Together, we raised $160. We also got yelled at by an angry homophobe who was convinced that gay guys are out every night actively trying to rape people, and that the solution would be to enact legislation so that these acts would be considered hate crimes.

When I went home that night, I looked over some of their promotional material. I noticed DONATIONS ARE NOT TAX DEDUCTIBLE written in small print on the back of one of their newsletters. Not tax deductible? So that means it's not a non-profit group, right? Still, I needed to make some money, so I put the thought aside and hoped I could get paid. They still hadn't told me how I was going to get paid, but the ad had claimed $300-$500 weekly, so I wasn't particularly worried.

The next night, I was sent out on my own. I did significantly worse, this time only earning $60. I also had some asshole fratboys invite me inside to give my spiel while they drank 40s and played video games. I knew damn well they weren't going to give me a cent, but they made me go through the whole thing before saying "Nope."

When we went back to the office that night, the girl who was the boss told me she wasn't going to ask me to come back. That was fine by me, because I had already decided I didn't want to do that shit anymore. She told me I could come back in a week and get my check. I still had no idea how much it was going to be for.

When I came back in a week, they told me I was wrong and would have to come back in another week.

When I finally got my paycheck, they explained to me that I got paid half of what I brought in, so my check was $30. All together, I had spent 12 hours working there.

The section of the newspaper under which their ad was listed said that none of those jobs were commission-based, but that turned out to be false. Just like the claim that I could make any kind of decent money doing that crap.

Where exactly does the money donated to HRC go? Supposedly it goes towards lobbying congress and shit like that. Half of it definitely goes to whoever you handed it to. A chunk of it goes to weekly parties at places like Mongolian Barbecue. The Wikipedia entry says this:

Sometimes referred to as "Headed by Rich Caucasians" or the "Human Rights Champagne Fund", the HRC has often been the target of critics who claim that the HRC and HRCF do not produce any significant policy advocacy, and only serve the interests of a select minority of wealthy, white gay men. In the same vein, it is heavily criticized for its national, top-down structure instead of a local, grassroots focus.

The HRC is considered by some to be too cozy with the Democratic Party establishment. For example, during the 2004 elections, the bulk of the organization's time and funding was focused on the unsuccessful effort to elect John Kerry ("George W. Bush, You're Fired!" became the group's heavily merchandized signature line). As a result resources were not spent to defeat state ballot initiatives that sought to ban same-sex marriage — all 11 of which passed overwhelmingly on November 2, 2004. Given that Kerry was a supporter of such state ballot initiatives, many questioned why he had received a "free ride" from HRC, and why more effort wasn't made to defeat the marriage initiatives.

I see people driving around with their logo on their cars, and I just want to yell, "Hey, you've been scammed!" Whenever I'm downtown, I notice their fliers everywhere. ACTIVIST WORK! MAKE MONEY FIGHTING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS!

If I have a writing instrument on me, I write SCAM on them.

The Human Rights campaign is bullshit.

2 comments:

Lew said...

I think pretty much every flier hanging on a phone pole is a scam, with the obvious exception of "yard sale" and "lost cat" although I suppose it's possible that some of those are scams as well as I have made fake posters for "lost bird" and "stolen airplane"

The most frequent scam around where I live is definately "work from home, make $5000 a month" As it turns out this is part of a pyramid scheme selling weight loss pills.

See a while back, the pyramid scam was outlawed. You know, you give me a dollar and get 10 other people to give you a dollar. The dudes on top make millions but the ones on the bottom get screwed. So they figured out how to make a pyramid scheme that technically qualify as legal. Basically you have to sign up with them and pay all this money to get into the program and buy a massive amount of inventory. As it turns out the diet pills are pretty impossible to sell and make money on, and the only way to make a profit is to recruit other people into the organization so you get part of thier fees and inventory money.

One thing that surprises me about this human rights group is that you get 50 percent. The average dude who calls you on the phone asking for a donation, their company is a private telemarketing group. They give like 10 percent to the charity they are working on behalf of and keep 90 percent of the money, so it's definately not a good idea to make donations on the phone.

I've never heard of this outfit before but this is a more rural area. I bet you that if I went door to door asking for money for gays, some hick would punch me in the face. I'm not going to give gays my hard earned money but I'm not gonna punch them in the face either.

I think a lot of areas have laws against door to door solicitation. Your average charity/Iehova's witness gets around this because they're non-profit. But since these dudes aren't I wonder how they're even allowed to operate. Maybe because they're political?

I guess I wrote all that because I have nothing relevant to contribute. I'm going to crawl back under my rock now.

Rob said...

This is definitely discouraging. I wish we had more alternatives!