In the city, on almost every street corner, is somebody with a clipboard and a pommy accent trying to sign you up to some moral cause. It’s funny, but no matter the charity (old growth forests, empowering women in India, rescuing bears from evil circus masters) they all pick me out as a potential supporter. Some people get approached in the street because they look like they might want drugs; I get approached for some kind of principled vibe I apparently possess.
And it’s not a bad pick, on the part of the ethical spruiker. I work with homeless people (tick for Mission Australia); I don’t eat much meat (tick for Animal Liberation Victoria); I care about the environment (tick for the Australian Conservation Fund). I once campaigned for the introduction of Fair Trade products in universities and I used to be involved in the youth arm of World Vision (both ticks for Oxfam). I am the quintessential over-achieving bleeding heart, and they pick it in an instant.
I generally scurry past the clipboard-bearing backpackers with my hat low and my eyes cast down, lest they see what kind of person I am. Occasionally I accidentally make eye contact, or fail to adequately brush off a conversation hook.
“Do you like animals?” or “Do you care about the environment?” they ask.
I whimper, “Maybe,” and that’s it, I’m a goner.
“Fantastic! Now, before I got on, are you over twenty-one?”
I’m a little flattered that they still ask me that question. “I think so.”
“Great. Now – have you heard of Amnesty International?”
And so it goes, on and on, a barrage of questions that require only one-word answers that apparently give the desperate salesperson (paid by commission) permission to rattle off information and point at graphs at a speed I can only guess has developed from the fear of having potential signups walk away mid-sentence.
What really bugs me (warning: minor rant forthcoming) is that they don’t usually bother to engage with me as an intelligent person who is possibly interested in the subject area and not altogether ignorant. Actually, I was once the secretary of the Amnesty International club at uni – so clearly I care about the issue. I don’t need to be convinced to care; I need to be persuaded to give money. But you just get treated with the same eye-glazing spiel, like everybody else.
So I’ve never signed up with any of these guilt vendors – I always end the conversation with a declaration that I have no money and make a quick exit. That is, up until today. Because today, as I was hurling my grocery shopping home, I encountered Steve, who was playing with his dog. Stuffed dog. Steve introduced me to Bob, who was a very obedient dog and hadn’t bitten anyone in over five years. We got chatting and Steve soon revealed that he was from the Lost Dogs Home. That is, he worked for the Lost Dogs Home. We talked and joked and he told me about all the amazing things the Lost Dogs Home does – and I was impressed!
It probably helped that Steve had a cute Scottish accent. But it also turned out that the Lost Dogs Home don’t get government funding because they refuse to put down healthy animals (“We just work harder to find good homes.”), and have a 24/7 animal ambulance! When we got to the part where he was asking for money (or, in his words, become a member of the “Paw Club”), I felt so awful turning him down. I took the usual approach and told him that I had no money, which was true. Steve wouldn’t take no for an answer. He said I should busk more. So I agreed. I signed up to be a member of the Paw Club, making monthly donations of $20 a month. The first payment is set to come out 2 July – hopefully I’ll have more than 18 cents in my bank account by then.
And then I slipped him my number. I shocked myself. I’d done two things in the space of 5 minutes that I’d never done before – signed up to one of those clipboard charities on the street, and given a guy I liked my number without him even asking for it. After that I ran away, scared I’d do something else disturbing.
He hasn’t rung, yet. He probably has a girlfriend. But it’s only been 5 hours. Should give it a day or two. We’ll wait and see.