my job wants me to deal with shotguns, guard dogs, mud holes, and dark woods

A reader writes:

A few weeks every year, the staff at my large organization are sent out for fieldwork. We go door-to-door encouraging people to vote in elections or join our organization. Unfortunately, what we’re doing is unsafe. For the past two weeks, we’ve been driving through the woods down dirt roads looking for specific houses on address lists. Many of the houses have huge guard dogs, “no trespassing” signs, warnings that they have firearms, etc. Some are trailers held together with tarps, others have outhouses. These are deeply wooded areas. I’ve been worried that my car is going to get stuck in a mud hole, in which case I’d have to hike a couple miles to get back to anywhere with a telephone (as there is no cell service where we are). Generally three hours of each shift are in the evening during total darkness.

We do this several times a year for 6-8 days at a time, usually over weekends. Staff have been followed for hours by residents, had people show up at the door with guns, and been chased down by dogs. When we tell supervisors about these experiences, they laugh them off and then use them as punchlines in emails about how important this work is.

Our staff is largely women and/or people of color and this situation is particularly dangerous for them, but I feel like everyone is being told to do something that is far beyond reasonable. Most of us work desk jobs. The company line seems to be, “We do what we have to do to get the job done. If you don’t like it, leave.” Those who push back don’t receive opportunities to advance and are labeled as “non-team players.”

Morale bottoms out after these events. Everyone in the office is also sick after walking around in the woods, in the rain, for 8-10 hours a day. The thing is, I actually love my job the other 90% of the time. We do important work that I find really fulfilling, I’m expanding my skills, etc. I want to keep my job — the good part of it.

My questions: I know this work unreasonable, but how extreme is it? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? And how can staff deal with this situation, set boundaries, or otherwise negotiate to make it more safe and have our concerns taken seriously? Or are we just forced to choose between continuing to do this work or quitting?

Well, people do do this work, and in some contexts it can be important work — such as if you’re registering people to vote, which it sounds like might be part of this.

But that doesn’t mean that you should be doing this work if you’re uncomfortable with it, or that others who feel they’re being put in a vulnerable position they’re not comfortable with should. If this kind of work should be done, it should be done by people who aren’t being forced into and feel fearful — both because of, you know, ethics and because you’re going to be less effective if you’re terrified anyway.

(Of course, there’s also the question of whether this work truly gets results for your organization, and whether those results could be obtained some other way, but I don’t have enough information here to answer that, so I’ll just leave that question for you to consider.)

Regarding your question about how extreme the situation is: It sounds pretty damn extreme to me. Trespassing where signs tell you not to, spending hours in isolated areas in the woods and the rain, being threatened by people and dogs, trudging through conditions that leave you sick afterwards — those things are not typically part of people’s jobs.

Again, there are contexts where this can be incredibly important work, and certainly has been throughout history … but that doesn’t mean that you in particular have to be comfortable doing it.

Since it sounds like you’re not the only one in your organization who objects to this, I’d band together with the others who share your concerns and take your case to your management. Explain that you’re committed to the organization and its mission and normally love your jobs, but that you feel unsafe in this particular situation and want to discuss options to make the program work if you give people the choice of opting out.

You might hear that this work is part of the job and it’s not optional … or that opting out will restrict your advancement there. And if that’s the case, you’ll need to decide if you want to stay in the job under those terms. But it’s absolutely not unreasonable for you to feel that this isn’t for you.

{ 411 comments… read them below }

  1. Livin' in a Box*

    “Staff have been followed for hours by residents, had people show up at the door with guns, and been chased down by dogs.”

    OMG WHAT. Somebody is going to get killed.

    1. Kelly L.*

      This happened to my BF a few times when he worked for the census. He would occasionally end up at the home of someone who had decided the gummint was all things evil and that BF was The Man and must be run off the property with extreme prejudice. And he’s big, and a dude. I can only imagine how scary that must be for others.

      1. Adam*

        Working a door-to-door census was one of the most interesting things I ever did for money. Catching people at home and taking in some of the answers they gave to your demographic questions (without comments of course) was really a fascinating eye opener.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Answering questions for the census was eye opening for me too! I was interviewed in home a couple of times a year for about 5 years in my early 20s. I could tell by the facial expressions of the census worker that my answers to things like, “how big is your employer” and “do you have health insurance” were so normal, yet not at all routine. I was always interested in what kind of places they sent her where it would make my boring life seem like an anomaly!

          1. Adam*

            Without saying too much it was asking the race/ethnicity questions that really got my mental gears a whirling. Some of the answers I received seriously made me want to ask for more just for my own curiosity but obviously you can’t do that.

        2. weasel007*

          I worked the 1990 census, and was assigned the more difficult surveys at the end of the census. I had a woman put out a huge shotgun and point it to my head 5 inches away and told me to get off her property. She “wasn’t telling no government agency her business.” I was making $7.50 an hour and I left, went to the office and told them that I was done with that. Apparently, several other census workers had run ins with this house earlier and no one had warned me. I wonder if any census workers have ever been injured or harmed during this? $7.50 an hour plus milage wasn’t worth it.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            What the actually *&$#(*& is wrong with people. If you are against government, that’s your prerogative. It doesn’t give you the right to shoot anyone who knocks on your door in the head.

        3. OP*

          That’s the one perk. It’s very interesting to see what people’s lives are like, but I also completely respect that they might not want to share that with a total stranger.

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        I worked the 2000 census and ended up on the team doing group homes and work houses. 34-year-old me wonders what 20-year-old me was thinking (20 year old me was thinking that it was really good money at the time).

      3. chump with a degree*

        Ah, the census. I hope to do it again someday. I worked the 1980 one and the only place I refused to go were the apartments near Disneyland Hotel. Ten or more single men to a one-bedroom? No thank you. It was interesting to find the old homes where each room housed a family, and the people living in a homemade (mostly cardboard) shed in the backyard.

    2. Xay*

      I’ve heard similar stories from health workers that track down STD contacts. It’s work that has to be done and I admire the people that do it but it is not for me.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      When someone lives down on the end of a rural road, and puts up “NO TRESPASSING, NO SOLICITORS”, etc. signs — That means YOU.

      Census taker, voter register, religious campaigner, Fuller brush person, politician.

      Respect that, because the person who put those signs up may not respect YOU if you don’t.

        1. fposte*

          Now I’m curious–I know you’re legally required to respond to the census, but are you legally required to receive census takers in your home?

          1. Adam*

            When I did it we never went inside. In fact I think our trainers specifically told us not to. All interviews were done on the front step with the canvasser never setting foot inside the door.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I did the interview with our census guy sitting at my kitchen table with him. I didn’t think anything of it until just now, but I see your point.

          2. Dan*

            “Legally” just means if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.

            13 USC 224 just says that failure to respond is a $5k fine and false information is a $10k fine.

            My understanding is that the only time you have to let someone in your house is if they show up with a warrant and a gun.

            1. nonegiven*

              They don’t fine people who refuse. They just bother the heck out of them until the allotted time is up. If they were to fine someone, it would give that person standing to sue in federal court on the constitutionality of coercing someone into answering numerous intrusive personal questions. Information I wouldn’t put on Facebook, I’m not telling to a stranger, I don’t care who they work for.

              The American Community Survey has replaced the census long form and is sent to a quarter million households every month. Some people feel really uncomfortable answering the questions but do it anyway. Some start to fill it out, then stop and say oh, hell no. Some open the thing, see the questions and throw it out.
              One ‘census worker’ tricked a doorman into letting her into a woman’s apartment just as she was getting out of the shower. Some have gone through people’s trash or questioned all their neighbors. They send repeated mailings for a month, call for a month, if they can get your phone number, a certain percentage of nonresponders are chosen for home visits, repeated home visits for a month. (Repeated = just how stubborn is the worker. Three visits in a month or three a day.)
              If you put no trespassing signs on your property and tell the person they are trespassing and to leave your property, if they don’t or they come back you can have them arrested. Usually that means another worker will be assigned and you have to tell them the same thing. But no law says you have to answer your phone or door, either, and there is no fine for that.
              The constitution says they have to count the population in order to ensure representation in Congress. It doesn’t say you need to tell some stranger what time you leave for work.

          3. Jamie*

            We got ours by mail and it was crazy long – I cannot imagine standing at my door answering all those pages of questions. Just looked it up and they say it’s an average of 30 minutes per household. That’s filling it out yourself – add in time for someone else to ask the questions and write down your answers and that’s way too long to stand at the door.

            Apparently it’s illegal to refuse to answer, but no one has been prosecuted since 1970 (thanks quick Google.)

            I know a lot of people hate the idea on principle, but the old ones sure come in handy with genealogy stuff and there’s not much being asked the government doesn’t already have info on in one way or another where I’m concerned – so might as well consolidate it. I’m a big believer in the power of accurate stats – but I don’t think answering should be compulsory.

            1. Nancie*

              There are at least 2 versions of the census, it sounds like you got the long one.

              I usually get the short one, but last time I was sent the long form. It was sort of interesting, the odd things they wanted to know.

              1. Mackenzie*

                I’m interested by the word “usually” regarding something that only happens once every 10 years. I mean, you figure the first two in your life were done by your parents, right? So you’ll have only gotten 4 total to fill out yourself by the time you retire and have no more reason to be reading AAM!

            2. the gold digger*

              I think all you are required to answer by law is the number of persons in the household. I have never answered the race/ethnicity question because it ticks me off. The census office called me four times to try to get me to answer. I also did not answer the other questions – I was not going to spend hours looking up my average electricity bill.

              1. Jamie*

                Now I’m curious to see if my husband answered it – I’ll have to ask him when I get home. because I’m sure he’s dying to be quizzed about a piece of mail from years ago! I looked the length of it and tossed it to him – but I did look up online some of the questions and I just can’t see him answering some of those without a court order so I’m curious now.

              2. Natalie*

                The code is pretty vague, but it reads to me that you have to answer all of the questions. (Link to follow)

          4. Melissa*

            I’ve never had a Census taker come to my home. They just send the form in the mail, I fill it out and send it back. (Or at least, the one time that I was old enough and living on my own – 2010 – this is how it happened.) We got selected for the American Community Survey one year too, and that’s also how it happened.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          HA HA HA HA!!! Try telling that the meth cookers and the weed growers. They will be the last words you ever say.

      1. BOMA*

        Legally speaking, don’t you have to respond to the census? I mean, I get that plenty of people don’t, but it’s still the law. And I’d hardly call a census taker a solicitor – they’re not trying to sell you anything.

        1. Dan*

          If you don’t, the penalty is a fine. Lots of people I know break the law on a daily basis because the risk of getting caught is low, or the punishment is worth the crime.

          Merely being illegal isn’t going to stop someone who dosing agree with the law.

        2. Jamie*

          I wouldn’t call a census taker a solicitor either, since they are there because the household didn’t mail the form in. But solicitors aren’t only sales people. Religious people, political people, etc. Asking for your time, your opinions, etc. is still soliciting. They want something from you.

          The census taker is there because it’s the law that the household responds – totally different.

            1. Jamie*

              It is hard to find info on this. The closest I could get is that if someone is at the door it’s because the form mailed wasn’t received back by the deadline or mailing address is a PO box.


              So maybe not if they are coming after the mail in deadline? Interesting that they will try 3 times and then try to get information by proxy in talking to the neighbors. Wow. My neighbors would be full of info about my husband who speaks, but they’d have nothing on me except that I come home late a lot and never smile…so they may guess my occupation.

          1. BOMA*

            That’s a good point. I’m used to thinking of the term “solicitors” to apply solely to salespeople, but that’s not necessarily accurate.

      2. Interior Alaskan*

        Also worth noting – and you probably know this! – is that just putting up a “No Trespassing” or “No Soliciting” sign does not mean that people cannot come to your door. They certainly can, and then you’re free to tell them to leave or you’ll have them trespassed. However, a “No Trespassing” sign is not justification to run someone off your property with a firearm.

        Of course, it has happened that homeowners have shot and killed someone on their property and been protected under self-defense laws, so I wouldn’t try to push this issue if I suspected someone was going to answer their door with a gun.

        1. attornaut*

          Frankly, if someone shoots and kills me for going door-to-door, I’m less concerned about whether they eventually are successful with their self-defense argument than I am about being dead.

      3. Ted Mosby*

        When the government that paid for that road, and if not that road, all the roads leading to it, sends you your census, you fill it out.

        1. Gobrightbrand*

          You mean when the taxpayers paid for the road (including the person who lives on the road) and the government facilitated the project right? The Government can’t pay for anything until it collects funds from taxpayers.

          1. Melissa*

            Well, the taxpayers paid for it just like your employer pays for your groceries. Which is to say – saying the government paid for something is just as accurate as saying that the taxpayers paid for it, because once you hand your taxes over they don’t belong to you anymore.

            …and either way, it doesn’t matter. Part of living in a society – and reaping the benefits, like paved roads – means that you agree to abide by that society’s laws, and one of our laws is that you have to fill out the Census. It’s a small burden.

    4. Interior Alaskan*

      During the 2010 Census, a census worker was chased off of a property in Fairbanks, Alaska with a bulldozer. I don’t think there was any damage done to persons or vehicles, and the dozer driver was charged with a misdemeanor. I’m not sure what happened to the case after that.

  2. Colette*

    I think it’s important to differentiate between the unsafe expectations and the ones that are just uncomfortable.

    For example, being asked to ignore no-trespassing signs (if they’re asking you to do that) is unsafe. Visiting a residence held together with tarps or with an outhouse is not.

    The “everyone is sick” probably has nothing to do with being outside, particularly since you are apparently spending most of your time in your vehicle. (Everyone in my office is sick, and we’ve been here every business day.)

    One thing to ask yourself: are there changes that would make you more comfortable with this? For example, going in partners, not going to a house with a no-trespassing sign, etc.? In other words, is there middle ground between not doing it at all and not doing it the way you currently are?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Though depending on the area, they might be getting sick from pests in the soaking wet woods, such as mosquitoes.

      1. Colette*

        Mosquitoes like standing water, not rain. And even if they are disease-carrying mosquitoes (malaria or west nile), the odds are not good that everyone in the woods would get the disease.

        The problem is that when the OP brings up things like this, it sounds exaggerated and hurts her underlying message, which is “I’m not comfortable doing X, Y, and Z because they’re unsafe.”

        If the organization only decided to send people out on days when it wasn’t raining, would that address her concern? Probably not, because that’s not the unsafe part.

        1. Liz T*

          I agree–and it makes the OP sound classist where that really isn’t necessary for this argument.

          The organization really needs to make clear during the hiring process that this is part of the job. If it’s something that was just sprung on office works after they started working there, that’s just…dumb.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yes. Thank you for saying that. OP needs to differentiate between legitimate safety issues and uncomfortable ones.

            I’d stick to:
            – violating no trespassing signs
            – dogs
            – dark
            – mud/safe driving conditions

            1. Mister Pickle*

              Yeah. I think it is unconscionable for the organization to send people out with no support of any kind. If nothing else, they shouldn’t be doing this stuff after dark, and they shouldn’t be alone and out of cellphone range.

              Stories set in the Culture in which Things Went Wrong tended to start with humans losing or forgetting or deliberately leaving behind their terminal. It was a conventional opening, the equivalent of straying off the path in the wild woods in one age, or a car breaking down at night on a lonely road in another.

              ― Iain M Banks, The Player of Games

        2. Arjay*

          I agree that it’s best to separate the safety issues from the other issues. I do sympathize with the OP though because I think it’s very easy to just roll every issue up into one great big ball of misery.

          1. OP*

            “It’s very easy to just roll every issue up into one great big ball of misery.”

            This is probably a large part of what’s happening with my feelings on being sick. The 14-hour days probably didn’t do great things for our immune systems, but I should restrict my concerns to the specific safety issues (as there are plenty enough to go around).

    2. neverjaunty*

      It’s not only unsafe, it is ILLEGAL. And extremely dangerous, in areas where people live far enough from a 911 response that shooting trespassers is not outside the realm of reasonable behavior.

      As someone pointed out downthread, this is not simply a matter of comfort; this is an organization that is putting its employees in danger when it does not have to, and management’s approach to employee concerns is to laugh. To put it mildly, this is not an organization I would trust to react appropriately when employees are threatened or harmed. (And yes, following someone for hours is a threat.)

      OP, if you approach management I think you all need to put it in language they understand, like concerns about bad publicity or liability if someone gets hurt, since they clearly don’t care about your actual safety. This is also one of those situations where your checking in privately with a competent attorney might be very wise. For example, you would want to document your repeated attempts to tell management there is a problem, against that day when something happens and they claim to be shocked and had no idea this was a problem.

        1. OP*

          I should have specified. We were instructed not to let obstacles get in our way, with specific mentions of gates, fences, signs, and dogs.

          1. neverjaunty*

            That seemed pretty clear to me given that they were giving you addresses. Again, you have bosses who are urging you to do things that are dangerous, illegal, or both. And I’m guessing it’s less about THE CAUSE than it is about the money you make getting people to sign up for your organization. Right?

      1. 2horseygirls*

        OP, can you mention if you and your colleagues have had any training on interacting or dealing with sovereign citizens? It sounds like the area you describe might have pockets of those like-minded folks here and there.

        I’m also curious if you are under any mandated reporter regulations, since you might be getting out to some areas which aren’t visited by regular service providers?

        Finally, it’s entirely possible that you could stumble across a cockfighting/dogfighting operation, which frequently set up in remote wooded areas specifically for the distance and cover provided. Have you been briefed on an appropriate response?

        I’m curious if your employer is aware of these possibilities, and has provided training/appropriate resources (radios, other communication devices, prearranged signals or check-in points, up to and including prior coordination with law enforcement) so you don’t have an innocent civilian wandering onto a possibly violent criminal’s property with no one aware of where they are or to sound an alarm if they do not check in by X time?

        I’m raising these questions not to wind anyone up, but to perhaps be included on the list of concerns, as I’ve encountered scenarios similar to those OP described, and the only tools in my toolbox are a smile, bubbly personality and having 67 municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies on speed dial . . . provided I could get a signal.

        1. RuralAnon*

          Not just cockfighting and dogfighting – my father worked as a code enforcement officer in several rural towns, and received extensive training each year on how to recognize meth labs, and what to do if he found one (GTFO first, then call the police afterward)

        2. OP*

          We had no training at all, in any capacity. Nor did we have any preparation. They pretty much just took a bunch of office workers, handed us clipboards with address lists, and told us not to come back until we’d talked to a real human at each residence on the list. We just left our cell phone numbers with the coordinators in case we didn’t show up a few hours after the end of each 8-hour shift. There was definitely no discussion of mandated reporting or interacting with off-the-gridders. If this is going to continue to be a part of the job I’d love to work on bringing in some training resources. Thanks for the suggestions!

          1. Ethyl*

            Holy crap. OP, this is not normal and not ok. I used to work in environmental remediation, where we’d encounter any combination of remote locations, hazardous materials, crime and violence, unsafe structures, wildlife, violent or unstable locals who believe we are there as part of a communist invasion (true story), and more. But where these are expected parts of the job, there should also be extensive health and safety measures in place. Proper PPE, a site-specific health and safety plan, cell and even satellite phones, and regular check-ins with management were the norm. Sending untrained office workers out into dangerous situations with no safeguards in pace is a recipe for someone getting seriously injured, a PR disaster, and even possibly OSHA fines depending on what exactly happened.

            You definitely deserve to be treated respectfully by your management and your concerns taken seriously. Moreover, it sounds like there’s ways to make this more safe for everyone that should have already been in place. Good luck, this sounds terrifying :(

          2. Jazzy Red*

            OP, that is not good enough! Unless more training includes pepper spray and a gun, that’s not good enough, either.

            A real estate agent just got killed a couple of weeks ago. People knew where she was going (alone), but the time they determined she was missing, it was far too late.

            Don’t let this happen to you.

    3. Clover*

      I agree on your point about the rain, it’s unlikely being outdoors in the rain is making OP and colleagues sick. I used to work a job that was largely outdoor work all year round (in the Pacific NW so rain was not a rarity!) and sickness rates there were a lot lower than in many of the hermetically sealed offices I’ve worked in.

      It’s possible stress from how uncomfortable the employees are finding this work is contributing to higher sickness rates though.

      1. Was Layla*

        Could it be because you are used to it ? I’m seriously brought up to think that being out in the rain & cold will make you sick. Rechecking my assumptions !

        1. Melissa*

          Rain and cold don’t make you sick – getting infected with a disease, most often through bacteria or viruses, makes you sick. Sometimes being cold can lower your immune system response and perhaps make you more vulnerable to getting sick if you are infected. But cold and wet in and of themselves don’t make you sick.

  3. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    I’m pretty torn on this issue. Part of me says, This part of the job is unreasonable, and the other part is saying, But this is part of the job you signed up for (at least I’m guessing this was mentioned when you were hired.).

    I think it’s definitely worth banding together and talking to your boss about it and trying to come up with a compromise of some sort like the company at least providing you with bear spray. It sounds like your supervisors are pretty detached, as I’m guessing they aren’t doing this field work too.

    Also, are you having to drive your own vehicle to these locations (I really hope you’re getting reimbursed for mileage)? Can they provide with with a vehicle with 4WD?

    If the company doesn’t want to budge at all, I would suggest getting your concealed carry license (seriously) or finding another job.

    1. Clover*

      I was thinking that about the vehicles too – 4WD is pretty common, if the company are providing vehicles they should be able to stretch to that.

      When I used to do a lot of (extremely) rural travel for my job we were also provided with CB radios, satellite messengers, and an EPIRB. EPIRBs are extreme and not suitable for the OP’s situation, but there are personal locator beacons that are a less extreme version of the similar technology. They’re not cheap but it’s possible to rent them so if the OP only needs one for the odd week here or there it might be an option either for OP or OP’s employer to consider.

    2. OhNo*

      I’m with you on the company providing some amenities to make this part of the job at least slightly safer. Whether it’s bear spray, a taser, or whatever – just something that can at least help with the issue of violent dogs and possibly other animals.

      And OP, I can’t imagine that the people who have violent dogs, no trespassing signs,and bring guns to the door are too thrilled to see you, which probably makes them less likely to listen to your spiel, and may give them a very poor impression of your organization. You might want to bring up that point when you mention it to your supervisors.

      Seriously, is mailing surveys or tabling at a community church or event not an option here? At least that way you wouldn’t be going up to people’s houses alone in the dark.

        1. OhNo*

          Well, I was under the assumption that if they were attacked or threatened, then they would leave the premises. If they went to the door after they got attacked by a dog, that would show either some serious commitment to their cause, or a deep seated case of stupidity.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I agree, though I had a scenario in mind where the person didn’t open the door until the trespasser sprayed the dogs, and THEN all hell broke loose. Because if your dogs started barking you would look out to see why.

  4. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Reminds me of someone I know who worked as a FEMA contractor in southern Mississippi after Katrina. They were going to be sent out into similar situations – tossing in a decent helping of drugs and desperation. She quit ASAP.

    I’m all for reaching out to people about their right to vote, but if they’re greeting you with shotguns and dogs, I’d say there’s a decent chance they’re not going to vote the way you’d like them to.

    1. Adam*

      “I’m all for reaching out to people about their right to vote, but if they’re greeting you with shotguns and dogs, I’d say there’s a decent chance they’re not going to vote the way you’d like them to.”

      Hehe. In the election we just had a friend of mine was getting canvasing calls on his cell phone all the time. He got very frustrated with one person he spoke to who was just really insisting he go out and vote. He responded to her with “Fine, but just so you know if I’m going to go out I’m going to vote entirely [insert specific political persuasion here].” She never called again after that.

      1. BRR*

        Last presidential election I got a call from who I was going to vote for, I told them I was for them and would vote but please don’t bother me again. I got another call. I told them I was already called and if I got a third call I was going to vote for the other person out of spite then thanked them for volunteering their time.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I got a call once, years ago, from someone who was part of a campaign against Hollywood indecency. Now, I’m the wrong one to call about that anyway, but this guy was trying sooo hard to ask me leading questions that weren’t actually working. He kept asking things like “Don’t you agree that there aren’t enough movies out there that are appropriate for children?” I was like, “It’s December. I was just at the movie theater and there were, like, ten different movies of chipmunks and mice and princesses. Yes, I think there are enough kid movies out there.” :D

          1. Tinker*

            I got a call from MADD when I was 20 years and 9 months old, explaining to me that I should send them my undergraduate college student moneys because of all the awesome stuff they did and most especially that they were responsible for raising the drinking age to 21.

            They… did not get my moneys.

          2. Aardvark*

            I got a call from someone giving a political survey (for a candidate I didn’t support) who kept asking leading questions. I’ve had training in survey design, and so I took the opportunity to explain why their questions were bad, and suggesting alternatives. (Nicely, because the person who was calling was probably not the one who wrote the survey.)

            1. fposte*

              Though leading questions are the point of push-polling, which has been rampant at least in Illinois for years.

              1. Jenna*

                One of the phone calls that I got in October was a poll full of leading questions. When I asked if this was a push poll…she didn’t precisely answer the question, but, she finished up fast and let me go. Probably a push poll, where the questions were meant to influence me rather than merely measure anything.

            2. Melissa*

              I’m a social scientist with training in survey research design and I once got a terrible survey in the mail from a political organization with which I do not agree (leading questions, double-barreled questions, etc., all with the goal of steering you towards a particular type of answer). I deliberately filled it out in a trollish way and sent it back to them.

              1. Mackenzie*

                I keep getting surveys from a political party to which I do not belong. I have donated to some of their candidates before, because I’m a third-party member, and often my party doesn’t have anyone up for that particular post. But this party keeps wanting me to answer surveys, so I give them trollish answers telling them they’re not doing as good a job as my part would be.

          3. nonegiven*

            Sounds like when BIL was trying to convince me there was something wrong with same sex marriage and it would open the door to plural marriage and people marrying animals or whatever.
            I said, “I think they should let 2 or more consenting adults marry who and how many they want.” He closed his mouth after a few seconds and never mentioned the subject again. My sister laughed at him.

    2. puddin*

      A little stereotyping in that last statement there about canvassers and people with shotguns and dogs. Don’t fall into the polarity trap :)

      1. Kelly L.*

        Not necessarily. It’s more like, if they’re starting out that angry before you’ve even said anything to them, then they’re not likely to listen no matter what you say to them. They’re already predisposed to dislike you–no matter what party you’re from–because you’re on their property and they don’t want you there.

        1. puddin*

          Having dogs and shotguns in hand does not mean people are angry. For example, if you choose to live in a rural area because you do not want to be bothered and perhaps you think it is more safe than a big city. Now there is someone on your property, you know the four neighbors you have within a 5 mile radius and you can tell it is not them approaching, so why would someone be coming by unannounced?

          If you have never lived in a rural area, understanding how rare and sometimes disconcerting it is to see unexpected people can be a new perspective to take. When we lived in the boonies and heard someone coming up the road, we were on high alert. They were not invited and we were far away from help if this visitor had bad intentions.

            1. Liz T*

              It’s also worth pointing out that we have no idea what party the OP works for. There have been criticisms of conservative get-out-the-vote efforts, but “Clinton Supporters for McCain” definitely did a lot of canvassing.

              1. Liz T*

                (To be clear: by criticisms, I just mean that some experts have said this has been a weak spot in recent conservative campaigns.)

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Bingo. We have areas around here that could be straight out of “Deliverance”.

              The state police are not willing to go into these areas.
              I have been in some of the less tense areas and, yeah, you have to watch what you are saying and what you are doing. There is one area, I will never, ever go into.

            2. Nancie*

              Yeah… I guess it makes me guilty of being classist, but I was definitely hearing banjos as I read the OP’s letter.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            Puddin’s right. The dog, the shotgun, and the no trespassing signs are generally meant as security against unsavory folks who want to use your seclusion for nefarious purposes (ie: drugs, drinking, poaching, four-wheeling & tearing up your property, etc) and less about census-takers and the like. Not everyone who lives in a rural, secluded area like that is the second coming of Deliverance (although, yes, some are).

          2. Anonsie*

            Yep. For some reason, a lot of ne’er-do-wells think rural areas are just Mad Max and they can do whatever they want. It makes unannounced visitors concerning.

          3. Melissa*

            But they said if they are GREETING you with dogs and shotguns. I have a dog and I like to shoot, but I think it’s safe to say that if someone is *greeting* me with an attack dog and a shotgun that we probably will have some fundamental disagreements.

          4. nonegiven*

            When we lived in the country, if I was home alone, I always answered the door with a .357 magnum in my hand. It stayed out of site, unless they refused to leave. I never had to point it at anyone, but once they know you have it, most people will decide that you’re right, they do need to leave.

    3. OP*

      “I’m all for reaching out to people about their right to vote, but if they’re greeting you with shotguns and dogs, I’d say there’s a decent chance they’re not going to vote the way you’d like them to.”

      Normally I’d agree, but swing district residents in particular tend to have an interesting blend of social and political views that don’t fit neatly into boxes.

  5. Adam*

    Is it possible to take all those hours and turn them into some sort of canvasser position? It sounds like the days don’t come up often enough to make it a permanent position but perhaps you can higher some temp employees when the season calls for it who will know first hand what they’re getting into?

  6. H*

    Here’s the thing – canvassing can be very important work, but that doesn’t mean it should be done the way your organization is doing it. When I worked as a canvasser, we always went in pairs, obeyed signs that specified “no trespassing” or avoided houses with dogs that were legitimate threats, and quit once it got dark (for safety, and because people generally don’t appreciate you bothering them at night!). I think it is completely legitimate to request that your organization follows these best practices.

    1. puddin*

      Exactly…I would make recommendations like these, and others you get from like minded co-workers in a proposed safety plan.

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        It is reasonable to ask for guidance on specific situations you encounter, safety training and possibly having you buddy up so that you are not alone while doing this work. And if you lack cell coverage, I would also look into the organization providing another form of communication (like a radio, but I don’t know much about that).

        Many people do have these types of jobs so the work is reasonable. How it is being done may not be.

        1. puddin*

          Radio is an excellent suggestion. I also might think that letting the local law enforcement know, they might hekp you steer clear of trouble.

    2. Joie de Vivre*

      While I wouldn’t recommend it as the start of the discussion, it may be worth checking into the laws in your area regarding “no trespassing” signs. In my area, if you are uninvited and there is a “no trespassing” sign you are breaking the law by going onto the property. Those individuals must be contacted by some other means.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      I second all of these suggestions. Going in pairs is a great idea. It makes the canvass less efficient, but it’s much safer.

    4. fposte*

      I think this is a great point. Canvassing organizations need to think not just about getting their message out by brute force but also the needs and wishes of the people they’re trying to reach. It’s merely annoying with tone-deaf phone canvassing, but this is a real strain on workers and they’re not being used optimally for the cause.

      (I did horrify a get out the vote phone canvasser last week who had a script saying “We’re anticipating a large voter turnout for this election…” I burst out laughing at that and couldn’t help but say “You really shouldn’t be.”)

      1. Jamie*

        Phone canvassing and robo calls…I’m required to check my phone whenever it rings and I can’t turn it off due to work.

        The politicians that shoot endless robo-calls my way do not endear themselves to me. (Doesn’t help that my cell is a Chicago area code and they are all electronic so when I am wailing and rending my garments at the bazillionth call screaming that I can’t even vote in the city…there is no one to hear me.)

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          The old Chicago “vote early, vote often” canard is actually partially true. If you can vote early, it’ll make the phone calls & visits stop.

          1. fposte*

            The hell it will. I can’t swear to you that no one was fended off, but neither the individual candidates nor the party were put off by the vote already having been cast.

          2. Jamie*

            This is good to know to stop the county stuff next time – but a work issued cell gets me a lot of calls for city elections in my employers district and I’m not eligible to vote there.

            The upside is less annoyance from the local pols whose names were plastered everywhere. :)

          3. Judy*

            I’m not sure that the voter’s rolls are public information. In the years where I’ve voted early, it has not stopped the calls. And I’m pretty sure my home phone number and very sure my cell phone is not part of my voter’s registration anyway.

            1. jae*

              voter rolls are public information but campaigns have to have the man power to actually go through and cross off the list people who have already voted and it’s more time/cost effective to just keep the list and risk calling people again

        2. Xay*

          Robocalling to a cell phone is against federal law. You can report the campaign and they will be fined per call.

          1. Cautionary tail*

            And this is why I got rid of my housephone soon after the last presidential election. The Do-Not-Call list exempts politicians and I live in a swing state so the phone would ring constantly for several hours each evening putting the telemarketers to shame. We already didn’t answer the house phone sine those who knew us used our mobiles, but this was the last straw that broke the camels back and we have been generally telemarketer free since then. Now if I could just get rid of those Florida robocalls that are really from offshore that ring once and hang up.

      2. neverjaunty*

        I suspect this is less about ‘canvassing’ than it is about money – not for the OP, but for the organization, and if it’s one of those, OP’s bosses have quotas and bonuses. OP mentions that one of the reasons for the canvassing is to get people to ‘join our organization’. I am betting that joining is not free.

    5. Christian Troy*

      I agree with you about all of this.

      OP, I would strongly encourage you to research other organizations and universities that do a lot of field work to get a sense of what safety protocols are in place for their workers. Then I would request a meeting to go over safety concerns and offer some suggestions based on your research. If your organization still doesn’t budge or doesn’t care, unfortunately then you know where they stand.

    6. krm*

      YES! I worked on a state house campaign in college in a very rural, often remote, area. We traveled in pairs, particularly in the remote areas of our district, and always obeyed no trespassing signs. If we found a home on our list that had a no trespassing sign, we would send them a letter/postcard mentioning that we had been in their area, but wanted to respect their privacy. We would never knock on doors or do lit drops after dusk, because people would get quite annoyed, not to mention the fact that we were uncomfortable knocking on doors unannounced in the dark.

    7. OP*

      Thanks for the suggestions! Do you have recommendations for canvassing “best practices” resources out there? Or did your organization just use a general common sense approach?

  7. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Thank you for illustrating why I don’t do political fieldwork anymore, LW!

    AAM is right though.  There are people out there who are specifically trained to be doing these jobs.  They love and enjoy doing it, which is why the drawbacks, such as the ones you mentioned, are worth it to them.  Not everyone is cut out to do fieldwork, and your letter illustrates why.

    My hunch is that your organization doesn’t want to pay extra to find better people to do this kind of work as well as spend time training them.  That’s probably why your very real concerns are being laughed off.  It’s a pretty convenient deflection.

    As for the no trespassing/no soliciting signs and other dangers, you shouldn’t be approaching those houses.  At least in my fieldwork training, this is what we were told.  Don’t deliberately disobey someone’s wishes as that’s a quick way to turning them off your cause.  I wouldn’t even bother telling your employer that you’re doing that.  Just do it.

    In addition to AAM’s suggestion, you should invite the higher ups to come out with you just so they can see what it’s like.  It might change their tune or it might not.  But if you have to witness someone brandishing a weapon at you during your job duties, so should your bosses who aren’t taking your concerns seriously.

    1. Anonathon*

      I was thinking the same thing! This seems like a training issue to me. Of course, this can be very important work … which is why you hire and train people to do it effectively, and give them the tools to do it safely. You give them satellite phones, vehicles that can handle rough terrain, maybe some self-defense classes, etc. You prepare them. You don’t just ship your office staff into the field a couple times per year and hope it goes well. That’s not the action of an organization that genuinely wants to make change. (And getting threatened is not quirky. It’s scary. And it’s a sign that you’re not accomplishing your goals.)

      (Side note: their liability policy must be insane …)

    2. jae*

      I did political field work for several years too. One of the first things I always told my organizers/volunteers was that if there’s a house you don’t feel comfortable approaching then don’t – it’s not worth it. I agree that the higher-ups should go out and see what it’s like…I would never send anyone out to an area I wasn’t somewhat familiar with.

    3. OP*

      I think you’re definitely right about the org not wanting to invest in trained canvassers. Fieldwork has apparently also been part of the culture for a long time. That definitely didn’t appear in the job description, though.

      “As for the no trespassing/no soliciting signs and other dangers, you shouldn’t be approaching those houses.”

      I would love to do that and considered it, but 75-80 percent of houses on my list had “no trespassing” signs. I would have gotten a serious talking-to if I’d listed all those residents as not being home.

  8. AMG*

    I hate to advocate lying, but it may be the easiest way to deal with this. You went to the dangerous house, nobody was home, done. if they aren’t being reasonable and putting people in danger, perhaps you are justified. You shold be able to speak to them about this but that doesn’t appear to be a viable solution.

  9. Steve G*

    Wow! I’d love to know what state this is in. I’ve never seen any place so rural but would love to….

      1. Cat*

        Heh, there might be a place or two like that still in Western Oregon, but most of the parts of the state that fit that description are east of the Cascades, which is actually desert (there’s today’s fun Oregon fact).

        Though down in the forests on the Oregon-California border you might see this.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      I immediately thought of Appalachia, or maybe the Ozarks. Specifically, it sounds like rural West Virginia or Pennsylvania to me.

      1. Adam*

        That was my guess too, maybe because I’ve seen “Winter’s Bone” within the past year. That movie still creeps me out…

          1. littlemoose*

            Hi fellow Missourian! I used to live just north of you, in Springfield, though I relocated back to eastern MO after a short time.

            And yes, there are absolutely parts of Missouri like this too. Northern MO and the Bootheel in particular.

          1. Adam*

            It’s sort of quiet thriller type of movie staring a then 18ish year old Jennifer Lawrence. It’s unnerving in the sense that you know that there are people out there in the real world like this, sort of like how Misery is one Stephen King’s freakier stories because there’s no supernatural elements to it; just one psychotic person which we know actually do exist.

          2. littlemoose*

            Great, great movie. Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is impressive. I think it’s streaming on Netflix if you have it.

    2. AcademicAnon*

      There are places like this in every state, as a lot of this is about people’s personalities and how they want to live and that isn’t dependent on what state someone lives in.

      1. OP*

        It’s interesting to see how those little microcosms of mixed urban-suburban-rural landscape pop up in almost every part of the country.

      2. Melissa*

        Very true – every state I’ve lived in has rural areas like this. Most people think of New York as…well, the city, but upstate there are some quite rural, quite remote, very cold areas – and half the state’s population actually lives outside the city of New York.

    3. MaryMary*

      There are lots of parts of the country that are still very rural. I live in Ohio, and speaking from experience OP’s description could definitely fit sections of Ohio or the surrounding states (PA, WV, IN, KY, IL, MI…).

      1. Andy*

        uh. yeah.
        If you drive two hours west outside any metro on the BAMA (Boston-Atlanta megalopolis) you will see…what the place was before the city. Just two hours west of NYC and you will probs encounter someplace where running water inside is a new thing.

      2. Steve G*

        Not really, even in areas in the NE many, many hours outside of NYC I still haven’t seen places like this (trailers with tarps, etc, mile-long dirt driveways…..when people say areas like that exist in the NE, they are usually exaggerating, so when someone wrote in to this blog describing an area of the US like this, I am very curious where it is.

        1. Andy*

          you may not have seen them…but I swear they’re there, I’m not just trying to make a point on the internet. My uncle’s house (about two hours outside NYC) only just got indoor plumbing less than ten years ago. It has been startling to my friends who’ve visited with me, but reality has never been dependent on observation.

          1. Steve G*

            Wow. I try to get off of the beaten path but even deep in the mountains didn’t see much that was interesting (coming from a NYCer looking for some adventure). Guess I have to try harder next time!

        2. amaranth16*

          You may not have seen them, but I grew up in an area of the Northeast like this. Many parts of Northern VT/NH (outside of resort towns) and a very large part of Maine fits this description. Lots of communities in MA, too, and I’d be willing to bet that upstate NY has its share as well, though I don’t know that area as well. When I visit my hometown, I drive through two unincorporated townships. Trailers with tarps and mile-long dirt driveways are a dime a dozen.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Right you are. I can verify that about 6 hours away from NYC you will find this rural live. I am sure there are spots before this point, also.

          2. RuralAnon*

            Upstate NY is extremely rural – I should know, that’s where I grew up (15 minutes drive to the “corner store”, 30 to the grocery store, 3 to the nearest city, and that’s in Canada)

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There’s roads up that way where you do not see another building for miles and miles. And you can drive for an hour with out seeing another car. It is one of the US’s modern frontiers.

        3. going anon for this one*

          I can only speak to California, but areas like this do exist. There are plenty of them in California.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          They exist. I grew up in a small town in the Ozarks (though we lived near the golf course), and our school bus ride was rather long and went through some extremely rural areas. I saw plenty of places that were right out of Winter’s Bone. The author of that book, Daniel Woodrell, is from West Plains and that is not far from where I grew up.

          And this was in a place that was mostly farmland; it isn’t even in the mountain-y, backwoods, holler part. If you go deeper into the Ozark Mountains, I bet you would travel back in time about a hundred years.

          1. Jamie*

            My husband has been looking at land about two hours north of there (in the Ozarks) and my very first question was if you have wooded property how do you keep strangers off of it?

            I love the idea of being kind of remote (but near a town) and definitely wouldn’t miss the city at all…but not sure if I could adjust. We need to head out there and check it out so I could either realize I’m worried about culture shock for nothing or he could hate it and kill the 9 million pages bookmarked and emails from realtors.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              You don’t keep strangers off of it. That is the problem. The strangers take your timber, the animals on your land, heck if you happen to have a hill of sand they will come and steal your sand.

              One morning my father was having breakfast. An out of state car pulled up in front of his property. Two men got out. Shot a deer on his property. He said “What was I going to do? They have guns. There are two of them.” This is ordinary life in the rural area.

              1. nonegiven*

                Call the game warden and give them a description and license plate. Technically the deer belongs to the landowner, but they can’t be enriched by turning someone in. The warden saws off enough evidence to take to court and either gives the deer to someone he knows needs the food or takes it to a meat packer that donates the service, where it is passed on to charity.

        5. AMG*

          You need to get a bit more familiar with NY State. It’s a big place, with lots of rural areas, including trailers with tarps, meth labs, mean dogs, and no trespassing signs. As for mile-long dirt roads, I have family who live at the end of a two-mile dirt road, in NYS, and yeah, when someone comes down your driveway unexpectedly, you wonder what the heck they are doing there. Now, they are nice, civic-minded people who answer the census-takers questions rather than meeting them with a shotgun, but there are other people in the same community who are not so welcoming.

        6. Melissa*

          Nah, I live in the NE and although I live in a small town, if you drive ~1 hour in pretty much any direction you’d be likely to find places like that. And yes, upstate New York has many little rural places – perhaps not 2 hours (that’s about Poughkeepsie) but if you drive about 4-5 hours north into the Adirondacks you can find rural places like that. Not to mention rural New England, particularly Vermont, New Hampshire, and definitely Maine.

        7. LJL*

          They are there, just off the beaten path. I’ve seen them in every state I’ve lived in. In many cases, you don’t see them unless you’re looking for them, which is usually just the way the residents like it.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        Not necessarily. There’s rural, and then there are places so remote like in the ozarks where you still find people who speak the same dialect of French as the fur trappers who lived there 300 years ago

      4. Stephanie*

        It’s not Arizona! (Mostly because of the whole rain thing.) But northern Arizona is a lot of pine forests (at the higher elevations) and there are plenty of people living off the grid out here with limited utilities.

    4. fposte*

      This sounds like areas found in most states to me, actually. (Okay, I don’t know about Jersey or Rhode Island, but even Connecticut had some.)

        1. Laufey*

          I can confirm NW Jersey’s ruralness, but the odds of being greeted with a shotgun are much lower there than in other rural areas I’ve lived in (even in other places in the Northeast).

          1. Zillah*

            For that matter, I’ve definitely seen this in the Southwest as well, minus the woods and generally the rain.

      1. ella*

        The rain rules out Colorado, but there’s plenty of areas up in the mountains that you stay out of unless you know the people.

    5. Armchair Analyst*

      Go camping. Drive off the interstate. There are many, many places this rural. Make friends, Steve.

      1. Steve G*

        “Make friends, Steve.” Seriously? What does that even mean?

        I know the Adirondacks and Catskills of NY very well, which are considered really really rural by many people, but they are still 100X more civilized than the OP described, so I had to ask.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I understood what you meant Steve! I’m from a part of NY that is considered rural, but it is nothing close to what people are describing here.

        2. TychaBrahe*

          Except for the isolation, you can find places like this (tarps and trailers) within an hour of Los Angeles. There’s a reason Fontana is often called Fontuckey.

        3. Creag an Tuire*

          It’s not a “rural” thing, it’s a “poor” thing.

          I mean, aside from the “deeply wooded” bit, this could describe a lot of the urban areas where canvassers at my old organization went.

          1. Melissa*

            I was thinking the same thing. In college I was hired to do fieldwork in urban Mobile County, AL and aside from the woods (and the cold – it was hot ALL THE TIME), this was a pretty good description of what life looked like there.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        This is kind of mean. By definition, places this isolated have low population density and not a lot of businesses or other destinations. It’s very easy not to encounter places like this even if you routinely spend time in rural areas and small towns. Part of what the OP is describing is not just rural living, but high-poverty, off-the-grid rural living. You can leave the city or suburbs and still not see improvised housing (e.g. trailers with tarps) and outhouses.

        1. Natalie*

          Yeah, the interstate doesn’t go through these settlements. At least in my state, they’re generally not even served by the busier county roads. If you want to find them, you have to look very deliberately.

    6. going anon for this one*

      Other than the rain, you can find this all over California. I’ve surveyed many of these areas as part of a previous job. Some of them only an hour from Los Angeles, but most much farther away.

  10. Turanga Leela*

    I’ve never canvassed professionally, but I’ve done it as a volunteer. I always skipped houses with No Trespassing signs and aggressive dogs—I believed in the cause, but not enough to get bitten or shot. OP, maybe your organization can develop guidelines for handling houses that make it clear they don’t want to be approached?

    Also, in terms of the heavily wooded areas, maybe they’re willing to subsidize OnStar. You could at least get it for yourself.

    1. Laufey*

      Will OnStar be able to dial out if there’s no cell service though? Might be a waste of money for a sense of false security.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        It’s worth checking the coverage before buying, but I used to live in a very rural area, and OnStar worked on roads where there was no cell service. It made a difference for a friend of mine—he was in a serious accident on a rural highway, and his phone didn’t work, but someone with OnStar stopped and was able to call the police.

        1. Judy*

          At least in the past, OnStar numbers could be added to your Verizon plan. It’s probably just that they have antennas and can get more signal that way.

    2. OP*

      Unfortunately the company lines on clear that part of the job is winning over people who don’t want to talk to us. It might be worth re-opening that conversation with them, though.

  11. Artemesia*

    I’ve been run off a porch with a shotgun doing academic survey work — this was 50 years ago when I was an undergrad. It was pretty scary but in those days shooting people was less a sport then it is today. We know from the news that if one of these minority group members is shot, the shooter won’t even be prosecuted or will most likely be acquitted if he is — because ‘feeling afraid’ excuses people who enjoy shooting other people.

    This should not be a part time gig for otherwise office people. They should be hiring canvassers who are trained, and willing to take on the danger of this kind of work.

    1. Zillah*

      This is a really good point. There are plenty of states in the country where you would face no legal consequences for shooting someone on your land that you felt threatened by. POC in your organization could be especially at risk if you’re being told to disregard no trespassing signs, etc.

    2. LCL*

      The last incident that made national news, in Detroit, where a drunk accident victim was seeking help and was killed by the resident, resulted in the resident being found guilty.

      1. Artemesia*

        And it astonished everyone who is cynical about this because of a long string of people who were shot to death in similar circumstances and absolutely nothing was done — in most cases there isn’t even an indictment much less a conviction.

    3. OP*

      I’m particularly concerned for the safety of POC in my organization. I don’t want to be paternalistic, but it’s also important to acknowledge the higher risk people often face based on their race or ethnicity. Some people specifically expressed concerns about their safety and the leaders didn’t seem to take that seriously either, which is especially troublesome.

      1. Melissa*

        I’m a black woman and I can’t speak for all PoC, of course, but I can say that personally I would be happy and not offended if a white person voiced concern like this. Sometimes people take it more seriously when it comes from a non-PoC. And even if they didn’t, it would just be nice to know that a coworker was thinking about my safety in a sociologically important way.

  12. Rebecca*

    I live in a rural area. Under no circumstances would I ever open my door to a stranger, especially after dark. I don’t care who you are, what you want to talk about, etc. There are too many home invasions and thefts now due to heroin addiction and other drug issues. And as far as having a shotgun at hand? You bet. If I pick up the phone and report a suspicious person that insists on coming in and won’t leave, if my township police officer isn’t on duty, I could be looking at least a 30 minute to 1 hour wait on the State Police, and that’s if they’re not tied up with something else. I need to qualify this by saying I won’t meet you at the door pointing a shotgun at you, but it is at my hand out of sight next to the door jamb.

    People put up no trespassing signs and no solicitation/no peddling signs for a reason. I suggest leaving your literature on the fencepost, if possible, and then move on. Document this with your cell phone camera if you need proof you were at a certain residence.

    Let me also say just because people live in dire circumstances does not make them bad or scary. It just makes them poor, and they’re just trying to keep upright and breathing like the rest of us. And there are people who don’t have indoor plumbing yet. They probably can’t afford the upgrade. People lived like this for thousands of years, and I’m sure these folks will survive as well.

    Let me end with an anecdote: back in the 90’s, a van pulled up with 3 people, and they wanted to come in and demonstrate a Rainbow vacuum cleaner. They were quite insistent, and nearly got to see the 12 gauge. I called the police, gave a description of the van and people. 2 weeks later, this crew was arrested. They were demonstrating vacuums, and using the excuse to get into people’s homes to case the residences and steal from them when they were out of the house.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think there’s some conflation of “unfamiliar living style” and “dangerous and unpredictable” here.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Yes. While I believe the LW’s concerns are legitimate, there was something about her letter bugging me. It was the “fear of the other.”

            1. fposte*

              So do people with locks on their doors. Do you think that means locks on doors are unreasonable?

              These are normal things that normal people have in these areas. It doesn’t mark them as extremists or survivalists or people antithetical to the political process or any particular party. It’s understandable that the OP is thrown for a loop by lifestyles that aren’t like hers, but she’s seeing difference as more of a threat than it is.

              1. Whippers*

                Locks on doors don’t kill people though. I think being confronted with a gun or guard dog is pretty threatening. I mean there have been quite a lot of instances of unarmed people being shot by householders, so it’s not as though the OP’s fear is unwarranted.

                1. Judy*

                  And there have been quite a lot of instances of home invasion and murder. In my area in the midwest, at least what our local news reports, there are more home invasions with death than intruders shot. I can think of at least 4 people who found meth labs on their property killed by the people who placed the labs in the last year or home invasions, while there have been no people killed by property owners. There have been people held at gunpoint in someone’s home until the sheriff gets there, but no one killed.

                2. fposte*

                  I’m not saying that the OP can’t be scared of something she’s not familiar with; I’m saying that these people aren’t any more afraid of the other than you are, because they’re using established methods for the areas in keeping themselves safe from intruders, same as you do.

                3. Rebecca*

                  I’d like to add something. There are probably more guns than people in my township. We don’t shoot people. There hasn’t been a murder in as long as I can remember, and I’ve lived there almost 25 years. I can remember one case of accidental discharge resulting in death, and there have been a few hunting accidents involving stray buckshot over the years, but that’s it.

                4. Jamie*

                  Personally I don’t like guns – would never touch one and want nothing to do with them…but there are a lot of places like Rebecca mentioned where a lot of people have them and they don’t have issues with murder.

                  Chicago, on the other hand, had 487 handgun related murders in 2012 – with some of the strictest gun control in the country on the books. Concealed carry passed summer 2013 and the murder/gun violence rate has dropped last year and this – ytd.

                  There are so many factors that go into the crime rates – why they rise/fall…it would be great if it were simple as one thing, but of course it’s not. I was just surprised since frankly I expected it to go up, but my husband was sure it would go down.

                  Not advocating for an all gun society since they scare the hell out of me – just pointing out you can’t judge the safety of an area by how many people own firearms.

    1. the gold digger*

      I live in a city and I won’t open my door to a stranger, either. If I see someone with a clipboard, I don’t even answer the door. I get enough (unwanted) political conversation from my husband, thank you.

      1. MaryMary*

        And I live in a suburb and don’t open the door to strangers either. I know plenty of urban/suburban people who have guns and/or dogs to warn off uninvited visitors. Honestly, in this day and age, I wonder if door to door canvassing is effective for anyone (political, religious, or sales). There have to be better channels to reach people.

      2. HM in Atlanta*

        If I don’t know you’re coming, I don’t open the door. Even my mom will text me to say, “It’s me in the driveway” so I’ll let her in if she’s just dropping by.

      3. Stephanie*

        Yeah, same. I had a home invasion in college (while I was sleeping, no less) and do not open the door at night unless I know someone’s coming over.

        One of the few times I became livid with a former roommate was when she opened the door late in the evening and was chatting with some total strangers. We lived in a gentrifying part of DC. I realized she was ok answering the door because they looked like a harmless yuppie couple. I’m like “Noooo, we don’t know those people. We can’t just assume they’re ‘fine’ because they don’t look like some stereotypical image of a ‘robber.'”

        1. ella*

          On the other hand, it’s far more likely that they ARE a harmless couple (regardless of whether they look like yuppies). Being crazy scared of every unexpected person who comes to your door has gotten at least two harmless people killed in recent months, people who were just looking for help and got met by gunshots instead.

          1. Melissa*

            Not wanting to open the door for people =/= shooting them when they come to the door. There is a happy middle ground between “welcome everyone who comes to my door!” and “shoot everyone who comes to my door in the face!”

    2. Kristen*

      These are all awesome points!Where I grew up doesn’t sound quite as remote as where OP is working, but to echo Rebecca and others, I’d never EVER open the door to a stranger and would absolutely have a gun by my side until they left (and I’m pretty darn liberal, for any who want to insinuate/stereotype political affiliations.)
      re: the vacuum thing- I just saw a crime alert online for my hometown/ home county in rural NC about this exact scam going on right now!

    3. kozinskey*

      Thanks for writing this out so well. I have a lot of family living in rural areas and I’m glad they have guns and dogs. It doesn’t mean they’re mean or scary, they’re just doing what they need to do to stay safe. OP, I wonder if you could suggest adjusting the canvassing hours so you’re not going to strangers’ houses at night? But more than that, it sounds to me like the 90% of the work you like is what you’re a good fit for, and your organization should hire people who would excel at the canvassing aspect. If that’s not a possibility, though, I would consider moving on if I were in your shoes.

      1. jag*

        What is happening in rural areas of the US that guns are needed to stay safe?

        I was under the impression that US crime rates are way down. What is happening where your relatives live?

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          Drugs are a big one. Meth cooking for example. Small towns like their drugs as much as anyone else and they aren’t exempt from crime. But they are isolated. When it can take an hour for a law enforcement response, you need to be self-reliant and in rural areas that can mean a shotgun. Especially if you already have one for subsistence-hunting. Viscous animals (ie: coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, grizzlies, etc) are also a concern that can be handled with a shotgun.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It sounds like you read the news in my area. We had one morning when a lab blew up and something else happened. It tied up all our fire companies and emergency med people for the entire area, ie. hell broke loose.

            Just in my town- that is not that rural, it can take two hours or more for county police to arrive. Neighbors know they have to watch each other because no immediate help is coming. The rescue squad building is close by. It is not always manned. It can be twenty minutes or longer to get an ambulance. I could walk to the building in three minutes.

          2. Natalie*

            “Viscous animals”

            I know this was a typo, but I couldn’t help but picture giant melted gummy bears.

        2. Stephanie*

          Others can comment more fully on this, but the isolation opens you up to robberies, people using your property to do drugs, store, dump, or steal things, and so on. The isolation sometimes means a first responder call may take longer.

        3. VintageLydia USA*

          It’s the isolation. Many rural people have guns for hunting anyway, or to defend against bears during walks (seriously!) or whatever. But you got to remember that police can take literally hours to reach them if there is an emergency and the isolation makes rural homes prime targets for burglary. Also there is a LOT of heroin and meth addicts out in the country for whatever reason, so these people are robbing while drugged (and therefore less likely to be swayed by the presence of a weapon.) Even my step father, who isn’t a hunter and very politically progressive and doesn’t even live that far from town (10 minutes, tops) has a shotgun and a couple rifles. There are bears, coyotes, feral dogs, and meth addicts in the area and if something happens, he’d be SOL.

        4. going anon for this one*

          This is what I saw when I was surveying certain rural areas. One, drugs. Lots of meth cooking happens in some rural areas. Two, foreclosures. The foreclosure rate, at least in California, was higher in rural areas than urban areas and the problem started much sooner in rural areas. Three, this resulted in many vacant and abandoned homes that people used for cooking meth and just hanging out and doing drugs and other things. These vacant homes were severely vandalized; you would not believe the photos I took during those surveys. The larger number of vacant homes attracted bad people, who then tended to commit more crimes like robberies of people and homes and assaults. It’s really a shame.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, foreclosures were particularly bad in Arizona exurbs (I am unsure about the rural areas). But there definitely was a problem for a while with foreclosed homes being used for nefarious purposes.

            I saw an ad from a salvage company looking for people to aid in clean up of foreclosed properties. It had a disclaimer: “Note: this job is not for the squeamish.”

        5. Clever Name*

          I don’t live in a rural area, but my parents have a cabin outside a very small town in a somewhat remote area in the mountains. We were there over the weekend, and my husband went for a walk. An hour and a half later, he still hadn’t returned, and his cell phone went directly to voice mail (reception is spotty if it even exists at all out there). I went through some mental calculus of when I should drive around and look for him if he hadn’t returned by a certain time that would give me enough time to call the sheriff’s department such that they would have enough time to start conducting a search before dark. And finding him before dark would be important not only because of the cold at night (he was wearing a t-shirt and light jacket), but also because there are bears and mountain lions out there.

          My point is, there are parts of the country (I’ll hazard at least half of the land area) where the dangers are markedly different than the dangers that urban/suburban folks experience, and reasonable people in those rural areas take reasonable precautions against those dangers that reasonable people from non-rural areas might think are overkill or unwarranted or whatever.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            We sometimes have crews of people out looking for a lost hiker. I can tell you this- if that person does not want to be found they will never find him. If the person DOES want to be found, they still may not find him.

    4. Cleopatra Jones*

      I live in an suburban area and I won’t let you in my house to talk about ANYTHING.
      Mind you, the police headquarters is about a half a mile down the road and they could be at my house in less than a minute but I’m still not letting you in to talk. Leave your info in the mailbox and if I’m interested, I’ll call you.

      It’s not just rural folks who feel this way either.

      1. H*

        Just as an FYI, it’s illegal for political campaigners to leave literature in a mailbox, which is why we would drop literature on front doors.

      2. Jennifer*

        Seconded. It annoys me that due to the layout of my apartment, it’s very clear when I’m home at night, so people keep on knocking.

    5. Kiwi*

      Yep. When pay an unexpected visit to a perfect stranger in the sticks, you should remember that the last 10+ unexpected visitors were weird/threatening/robbed their tools from their shed/possibly WORSE. We had to call the police about one of these threatening weirdos once. Police said they couldn’t come as they were understaffed. That’s the countryside for you. You’re on your own.

      Each time someone jaunts onto your property, unexpected, you’re thinking “oh cripes, what now…”

    6. OP*

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m not scared of people who are poor. We’re all trying to get by and trying not to get screwed over, and people in poverty face a particularly steep hill in those departments. I wasn’t trying to imply that I’m afraid of their poverty, just trying to paint a picture of how rural it was.

      I like the idea of dropping literature at the fence and documenting with cell phone pictures. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.

  13. City Planner*

    By any chance are you working for one of the PIRGs? Because I had this same experience during the 8 months I spent working in that organization (before I had enough and quit right before they were going to move me to canvassing full time for the summer, putting my program work on hold). The organization at the time seemed very much of the mindset that everyone who worked there needed to have a canvasser’s mentality, and if you weren’t willing to get out and canvass, then you weren’t a valued part of the team. So keep in mind that you might need to evaluate whether this is really the organization for you. It sucks if that wasn’t made clear to you from the beginning (and it definitely wasn’t made clear to me), but that was definitely my experience, and I was much happier moving on.

    Beyond that, you might make a case that if you’re canvassing in such rural locations, you’re not likely to be in very good turf – you could argue that spending your time in more urban/suburban locations in order to be more efficient and safer. You might also explore with your supervisor whether there’s another kind of event that you could focus on that would accomplish the goals of fundraising/membership without requiring the canvassing. But if they’re not open to that, then maybe this isn’t the organization for you.

    1. Mouse*

      ugh PIRGs are the absolute worse. my college roommate was hired at one after we graduated because she was desperate for a job but she quit very quickly, which actually seems like the norm there. they sound like absolute hell to work for :/

  14. Mike C.*

    If nothing else OP, when asked, “Why are you leaving this job” in interviews, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about many of the conditions you talk about, and then finish up with a “this line of work just isn’t for me”.

    1. Anonsie*

      Yeah I think if you said “there was an increasing amount of canvassing” most people would understand right away.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Actually, OP probably should not say everything s/he said in this letter. If someone told me “they made me go canvasing in areas that had tarps on the roof and outhouses, can you believe it” I would assume they were being classist, and might say something to offend someone like me who’s father grew up in a house with a tarp on the roof and an outhouse.

      Just leave it at “they made us go canvassing door to door in rural areas, and canvassing is not one of my strong points, I signed up for the job because of ABC, not for canvassing”

      1. Mike C.*

        The parts about having to work alone in remote areas are perfectly fine to discuss with new employers.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I was thinking about this, too. Hire someone who lives in the area. Locals know who is okay and who to stay away from.

  15. Whippers*

    I know that some jobs are dangerous and people do them because the work is important. However, I would really question whether getting people to vote is so important that other people should have to put themselves in danger for it. For one thing, I’m assuming that your company wants people to vote a particular way, so their motives are not altruistic in this.

    Saving peoples lives, getting food and aid to people… these are what I would consider important jobs and ones that it is reasonable for other people to put themselves in danger for.

    1. JMegan*

      This, all of it. If you’re starting off by annoying people (by ignoring no trespassing signs, etc), are you really going to be effective in getting your message out?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It really depends on the context. For instance, think of the civil rights workers who risked their lives registering black people to vote in the south in the 60s (and some of whom were killed doing it). That was highly important work.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’m glad there are people who do this, truly. Because one spider or snake and my namby pamby suburban butt would be long gone.

      2. TychaBrahe*

        There’s a huge difference between registering someone to vote who *wants* to be registered to vote but who lives in an environment opposed to the idea and attempting to register someone to vote who clearly doesn’t want to be registered. I’m pretty sure Mr. No-Trespassing can get himself registered if he wants to vote.

          1. Whippers*

            I don’t think that it’s always not altruistic or important work. However, if it a politically affiliated organisation which is trying to get people to vote a certain way, then I definitely don’t think that is altruistic.

            1. Cat*

              People who think the cause they’re trying to get people to vote for will better society see it as altruistic.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Absolutely. Lots of people do political campaigning because they genuinely see how it will the world a better place for other than themselves — reduce inequality and injustice, increase civil rights, help fewer people go hungry, etc. Most aren’t just motivated by partisanship for partisanship’s sake or “I want my candidate to win.”

    3. cv*

      Making sure that people who want to vote actually can vote (know about the election, are registered, have transportation to the polls, have the appropriate documents, etc.) is incredibly important work, especially with all the new voter ID laws and other vote suppression tactics that are spreading in the US. But not all of it is dangerous, and the dangerous parts in particular should be done by people who know what they’re signing up for and actively choose it, not people who signed up for a desk job and are given a clipboard and no training and sent off into the woods.

      1. Whippers*

        Yeah, I can’t really argue with that! I think the main point is that people need to be trained and have the proper equipment and protection, as well as knowing exactly what they are letting themselves in for.

        But to be sent off willy-nilly into the wilderness and put in danger to try to get someone to register to vote who couldn’t care less about it; I think I would be seriously questioning how important that was. And the fact that the organisation are using the notion that it’s really important work to emotionally blackmail their employees into doing it, without any protection or training, is what really gets my goat.

        1. Zillah*

          But you can’t tell who couldn’t care less about it from the outside. Just because some people in a community don’t care doesn’t mean that everyone is ambivalent. You can’t tell just by looking at a house.

  16. Csarndt*

    Just another voice of reason: I grew up in a rural area, and very, very normal people kept shotguns behind the door. Probably more than one shotgun and more than one door. Also, our dog would have charged you if she was out, though never would have bit you, she would have brought you a stick to throw for her. No visitors were ever harmed at our home. But rabid animals were. And when someone rolls their car in your front yard at 4am, you sure as hell are going to grab a sidearm, the cordless phone, and some clean rags on your way out…just in case…

    If this intimidates you, you are probably not effective at reaching this demographic anyway. Judging by your letter, they (we) all know you are uncomfortable being there and think they (we) aren’t good enough for you.

    And maybe you’re all sick just because of the abnormal amount of contact with all the random strangers.

    1. Whippers*

      I’m sorry but who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone coming to the door with a gun or being chased by dogs?
      It’s got absolutely nothing to do with her thinking that people “aren’t good enough for her”, and everything to do with her being worried for her safety.
      What, should she regard the guns and dogs as some sort of initiation where she has to prove herself worthy so that people will listen to her?

      1. jag*

        “I’m sorry but who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone coming to the door with a gun or being chased by dogs?”


        1. Kiwi*

          “I’m sorry but who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone coming to the door uninvited, in the middle of nowhere, where experience dictates that uninvited visitors are usually casing your property to burgle it (or worse), and when the police/neighbours are too far away to even get there in time to help you?”

          Translated that into “country” for ya. ;-)

          1. Whippers*

            Well it’s clearly a cultural thing that I just don’t get. I’m not in the US, but I have to say I’m surprised by the number of people who say they don’t feel safe in their own homes; I suppose I always assumed it was a similar environment, safetywise, to where I live. I’ve never experienced that insecurity and fear, and I’m from somewhere that isn’t exactly known for its lack of violence (political).

            Is violence really so widespread in rural US that people are frightened in their own homes, and assume that a stranger at the door automatically means harm?

            1. Natalie*

              I’m curious if your part of the world is as thinly populated as parts of the States. I’ve found that people from denser countries, even from the rural areas of those countries, can’t quite grock just how isolated large parts of the US and Canada are. Urbanized areas (cities and suburbs) encompass less than 5% of our landmass but contain 80% of the nation’s people. I suspect, then, that your average rural resident doesn’t feel so incredibly frightened as much as they are keenly aware of the fact that they are entirely on their own when it comes to interacting with some stranger at the door.

              1. Whippers*

                Yeah, that’s probably a pretty good explanation for it. I don’t live in a particularly densely populated part of the world but it’s probably a lot more evenly spread than the US, so that no rural parts are really isolated.

                1. fposte*

                  The other thing is that the US has several kinds of wild animals that will kill you. That’s true of a lot of the planet, but it’s something that’s really news to a lot of Europeans, especially UK folks. We’re not exactly the plains of Africa, but a lot of the places where people live isolated down dirt roads in the woods are the kind of places where big predators are comfortable, and even smaller ones can be a danger in the wrong situation (I’m still creeped out by that Canadian folksinger who was apparently pack-killed by coyotes, which are nearly as common as rats).

                2. ella*

                  Adding to fposte–it isn’t just the carnivores that’ll kill you. Actually, it isn’t usually the carnivores that kill you, it’s the mule deer and the occasional grouchy moose or rabid raccoon.

            2. A Non*

              It’s not a high level of violence so much as a really low number of people. There are areas where there’s almost no legitimate reason for a stranger to come to your door, so the odds that they mean harm are high.

            3. Cassie*

              It’s not just rural US, though – I live in a suburban neighborhood and I am hesitant to answer my door if someone knocks, especially at night. It could just be a high school student trying to get donations (at 9pm at night? really?) or it could be a would-be home-invasion robber. I’d rather not find out.

              When you think about it, it is really sad that we can’t feel 100% safe in our own homes, but that’s the way it is. Maybe it would be different if I lived in a high-rise apartment building with a doorman, maybe not.

            4. neverjaunty*

              Do you live in a rural area outside of the US? I know folks who live in rural areas of Canada and believe me, they’re equally cautious. It’s not about being paranoid. It’s about living somewhere that a stranger is a rare event and calling 911 is not going to get immediate results.

            5. nonegiven*

              I feel safe in my own home. I don’t feel safe answering my door for a stranger when I’m home alone. If someone kicks the door in because I didn’t answer it so they think they can burgle in peace, well I’m perfectly safe with my pump shotgun. If they see it and don’t turn around and make tracks, I’ll be fine, even if I have the shakes afterward.

          2. jag*

            “where experience dictates that uninvited visitors are usually casing your property to burgle it (or worse)”

            Really? Most uninvited visitors are criminals. Really?

            1. A Non*

              In some areas, yes. My husband’s been to parts of Alaska that are so far from any help that there’s very strict protocol about going onto other people’s property – namely, you don’t get out of the car without some sign of welcome from the homeowner. If no-one appears to be home, you turn around and leave without setting foot on the ground. Any other behavior is taken as a possible threat and will likely result in seeing the wrong end of a shotgun. It’s not that everyone’s paranoid – they’re not. An extreme respect for each other’s safety and letting them vet you from a distance is how you live when there’s nothing else to protect you.

            2. Melissa*

              In a remote rural area where you know all of your neighbors and there’s been a rash of problems with meth dealers squatting in foreclosures? Potentially yes. There’s an entire thread about it.

              I live in a small town without any of these problems – in an apartment complex – and I would still be very suspicious of an uninvited visitor I did not know coming to my door.

      2. Anonsie*

        Well, as noted above, plenty of us grew up in areas where this is common and would not be particularly ruffled. Like Lizabeth said above, it’s a smart move to use people who are actually familiar with a community to do your outreach for a whole host of reasons.

        It’s not a slight against the LW that she doesn’t fall into that category, but there is a difference between “going out there is unreasonable” and “we need someone better suited to trying to reach these areas.”

        1. Judy*

          Several of my aunts and uncles live on farms. I can remember being 5-10 years old and when we drove up to their houses, my dad would get out and go up to the door, although usually they would already be coming to the door. Until someone answered the door and said to the dogs OK, no one wanted the kids out of the car. Once OK was given, the dogs were very friendly.

        2. nonegiven*

          Those better suited people would know better than to violate no trespassing signs or enter a gate where a snarling dog is waiting.

        1. Csarndt*

          Yup, wrecked motorcyclist ruined the neighbors porch bleeding all over it. Don’t think the new owners know what the stain is…but we do. His misfortune that motorcycles crash much more quietly than cars…we always heard the cars, but he had to crawl to the porch and ring the doorbell. Then the dog got out…

          And, yes, if someone came to the door with a dog and/or gun, I wouldn’t’ve batted an eye, I’d’ve sold em Girl Scout cookies…it was normal behavior.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        I was wondering about the clean rags too. A small one will wrap up a booboo for first aid nicely while a larger one might wrap up an entire body.

        Size and context please.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Having punctured both my knees in two accidents I have learned the importance of large rags. When you get a large gushy wound that is the only thing that is going to help. A friend of mine used to work on an ambulance crew decades ago, they carried maxi-pads for this reason. Now we have bulky pads that serve the same purpose.

    2. OP*

      “They (we) all know you are uncomfortable being there and think they (we) aren’t good enough for you.”

      That’s a pretty brash assumption. I’m just scared of guns. I don’t think I’m any better than the person holding it.

      1. Brisvegan*

        I would be scared of guns, too. I live in Australia, where guns are very rare compared to the USA. If someone showed me a gun, let alone pointed it at me, I’d be on the nope train out of there. In my poverty-stricken semi-rural upbringing and middle-class urban adulthood, I have only ever seen guns as part of military and police uniforms and not in the hands of civilians. Some rural people have them for hunting, but they’d probably be seen as violently unstable if they pointed them at someone.

        I wonder how much you are encouraged to fear the “other” by media and politics in the US, to the point that people start lashing out? We are seeing a rise in that rhetoric here, under a government that is very in the pocket of certain US media moguls. It’s concerning.

        To let you kniw, much of Australia is even more sparsely populated that the US. I have been to parts that sound like the rural areas above and are considered only “country” not “outback”. While you might wait for someone to settle dogs, I haven’t ever been menaced with a gun. That includes parts where there was probably a marijuana patch in the back hills.

        I can’t speak for the parts where you can’t get from one homestead to another without a plane or driving 5-6 hours, but the people there are usually depicted as not threatening to shoot people, even though most strangers would be very unexpected indeed.

        1. nonegiven*

          If you aren’t careful where your muzzle points at all times or careful about keeping your finger outside the trigger guard or keeping your safety on, nobody will invite you to hunt or target shoot with them, and they’ll warn their friends. Those violations will get your ass kicked off any firing range in the city, too.

  17. Allison*

    While I’m not a stickler for job descriptions, and I don’t think it’s inherently bad, wrong, or a bait & switch to occasionally make people do stuff outside of what their job normally entails (provided they’re not being made to do something they were told they wouldn’t have to do), I draw the line at stuff like this. It’s so far beyond what people with desk jobs do that it should either be made clear that the job will involve occasionally doing it, or the company needs to bring in temps for that kind of work. OR, and this may be a crazy idea, stop having people do it period. The whole door-to-door stuff seems incredibly outdated in this day and age, where modern technology gives us ample alternatives. I’m pretty sure no one likes people coming to their home for stuff like this.

    If your boss is adamant about sending their office workers into this line of work, I’d look for another job.

  18. Jamie*

    I’m less tolerant of this than some other posters because of the trespassing signs. Those signs means they don’t want you on their property without permission – yet your organization feels it’s message is more important than an individual’s right not to be bothered by strangers on their own property. I can’t wrap my head around that kind of hubris.

    I did political canvassing back in college, some people are reached this way and some people don’t mind answering the door to engage. Those people won’t have signs. Nothing wrong with the requirement to canvass – but any sign be it trespassing, no soliciting, or hey our giant dog don’t want you here should be respected and you should all be required to avoid those houses.

    A political group is suing my town because:

    “The organization contends that the village has infringed on its First and Fourteenth amendment rights by limiting “anonymous and spontaneous core political speech.”

    The town didn’t say they couldn’t canvas. They ticketed someone for canvassing without a permit which is required of anyone passing out literature and going door to door even if no funds are being solicited and charities and political groups are specifically included in the verbiage of the statue. The town requires a group register and wear visible identification and they can canvas. They are also suing over the requirement to wear identification because it places a:

    “tremendous burden on protected expression,”

    So the rules don’t apply to them because they believe in their message, and somehow their right to be anonymous and spontaneous politically trumps our rights to have some regulation over people knocking on the doors to our homes. So they would be the only ones anonymous as they’d know where we live.

    If someone has a sign up clearly indicating you’re not welcome, then you have no business being there. We don’t have a no soliciting sign up anymore – but when we did I felt nothing about pointing to it and shutting the door. Now, if someone rings the bell I don’t get mad at them for trying – it’s the job – so I just quickly say I’m not interested in a polite way and then shut the door. Unless they are selling candy in which case I get my purse.

    I really just do not get how this could help any cause – the statement you are making is what your organization wants to say is more important than anyone’s right not to hear it.

    But if this weren’t orchestrated to blow past clearly posted signs and just normal canvassing then yes, it should be done by people who can do it without hurting their cause with resentment or visible fear…respecting the local ordinances governing it. And anywhere you have staff out where they could get stuck due to unpaved roads they should have arrangements to deal with that. Cut a deal with a local towing company, make sure everyone has cell phones, etc.

    1. Anonsie*

      Boy I would love if people canvassing had to be licensed and openly identifiable as to who they worked for. I wouldn’t mind talking to political canvassers if I knew that’s actually who they were.

      1. jag*

        “Boy I would love if people canvassing had to be licensed and openly identifiable as to who they worked for.”

        Transparency – identifying who someone works for – seems fine to me. But licensing would have crushed or radically delayed the US civil rights movement.

        A license should not be needed for political activities like this – that undermines groups fighting for change.

        1. Jamie*

          At least in my town it’s not a license – just a permit where you fill out a form and need to show ID so they can issue you a badge to wear while canvassing. There is no cost and it’s done on the spot.

          I can see some having a legitimate issue with privacy concerns, but imo public safety trumps that in this instance. Mileage will vary on this.

          If you had a political rally in a public area there would need to be a permit, or if you were canvassing at intersections or the mall – but that permit is for the group. Each individual doesn’t need to show ID.

          But when you want to go onto private property and approach people in their own homes a higher standard is required. Holding signs at an intersection that I see as I drive past isn’t intrusive and if I’m interested I can pull over and get a pamphlet and talk. Opening the door to my home, where I live with my kids, and I have to either engage or disengage, but I’m no longer a passive participant. And if you’re not an honest canvasser and are up to no good you can learn a lot who has kids, who might have some nice stuff, who may live alone…bad people can learn a lot from casing a neighborhood.

          No, getting a permit doesn’t keep nefarious people from casing a neighborhood, but it can lessen the likelihood of them doing it under the guise of solicitation or canvassing if they have to go to the police station for a permit – and knowing they need permits keeps neighbors vigilant when they see people without them. And some people do get chatty and over share what they think are insignificant details with strangers because to them it’s small talk…but to a person with bad intent it’s information that the lovely 89 year old gentleman down the street lives alone, or the guy across the way works nights and his wife is home alone, or the kids down the block who are alone until their parents get home from work.

          This information is more dangerous in a criminals hands when they got it by chatting you up on your porch where they know where you live, can glimpse into your house, and get a lay of the land.

          So I do agree there are privacy concerns with legitimate canvassers, but I’d rather make it more inconvenient for them to knock on doors about the election than make it more convenient for criminals to assess the living situations of residents. If you knock on my door and are over 12 I’ll be polite when I turn them away, but I’ll also find a way to work in that my husband is a cop within the first sentence or two…if they’re not a criminal I’m inordinately proud of my spouse. If they are…now they know.

          Fwiw I do live in a neighborhood which is statistically very safe – but I don’t think that’s an accident. I am sure much of that is vigilance on the part of the local police and an emphasis on neighborhood safety.

          1. jag*

            You think in the American south in the 1960s local officials would give permits like that? To this day there are police departments that intimidate people coming with 100% legit Freedom of Information Requests.

            We’ve got something called the First Amendment for a reason. Freedom of speech is a feature of democracy, not a bug.

      2. ella*

        It occurs to me that if the OP’s work can spring for bright, ugly, matching tshirts that can telegraph that they’re part of some sort of organization (extra points if it looks like they’re wearing it under duress), they might be safer. Not necessarily any more welcome, but someone looking out their windows would at least be able to intuit some reason for them being there besides trespassing hunters or burgling meth addicts. Dressing formally (in office wear) would accomplish the same thing, as I don’t think many people go robbing in high heels and suits, but then you’re getting your nice clothes muddy and wet.

  19. Lillie Lane*

    This may be a dumb question, but how effective (in general) is canvassing? I say this because most people knocking at my door are wasting their time. Unless they want to ask questions for a survey, I already know who I’m voting for and which organizations I agree with/support.

    1. Allison*

      I’ve heard that people have been reached that way, and it does work. It doesn’t really work on everyone (I hate unsolicited calls and visits, personally) but a lot of elected officials and campaign strategists truly believe that it can sway an election by getting non-voters to vote and by bringing neutral voters to your side. I get it, I do, but I wish these canvassing groups would know which people are worth reaching out to, and which ones aren’t.

      Also, despite my desire to get involved with politics, I’ve always drawn the line at canvassing and phone banking. I’ll conduct research and organize relevant information, I’ll maintain Excel databases, I’ll write the literature, I’ll create mail merges and stuff envelopes, and basically anything else that needs to happen behind the scenes, but the second you want me to bother people in any way, buh-bye.

      1. Mimmy*

        Honestly, I feel the same way about fundraising. My two schools (undergrad & grad) constantly bug me with calls and letters soliciting for donations. Occasionally I’ll bite, but most times I just throw away the material. Phone calls, though, are the worst, especially when they call juuuust before the allowable call-times (late evening) ends. UGH.

        1. Allison*

          I realized, after a while, that any call from my alma mater had the same six numbers (the area code, than a string of three digits only school phone numbers seemed to have). At first I’d pick up because I figured it could be a professor or someone from the office I used to work for, or my dad who works at the school, but then I realized it’s okay to screen calls from those numbers. They’ll leave a message if it’s important.

          Gotta love how they claim to be calling to “confirm my address,” and oh by the way the school needs money.

          I don’t mind letters and e-mails. They’re a passive form of communication, I can engage if I want, but I don’t feel trapped in a dialogue I have to somehow escape gracefully.

    2. Jamie*

      I think this all the time about telemarketing and it applies here, too.

      It has to work at least enough that the practice is still viable. People wouldn’t staff call centers with telemarketers if the sales didn’t justify the expense. Yet, I’ve never known one person who would buy something this way – everyone hangs up either politely or abruptly or (worst imo) after letting them do their whole spiel and then saying no, because it was rude to interrupt them. IMO I’m being more polite with a fast no thanks, click, since I’m not wasting their time while they run through the script.

      If we could collectively stop buying stuff from obnoxious marketing tactics that would be great.

      I can understand canvassing back in the day – but in the age where most people are bombarded with information overload (about 80% of American’s have internet access at home and > 98% have a television. Throw in radio and access to newspapers I don’t think people are uninformed these days due to lack of access to information) it’s unlikely that canvassers are offering information which can’t be obtained easier elsewhere so is the sell the personal approach? Has anyone changed their vote due to someone knocking on their door? It has to be yes, or it would have died out, but I would love to meet these people.

      Although I did know someone who changed their religion because they were lonely and invited the religious people in because they wanted someone to talk to…but that’s tapping into a much deeper psychological vulnerability than sales/politics.

      1. fposte*

        “It has to work at least enough that the practice is still viable.” I would disagree–it has to be *believed* to work enough that the practice is still viable, and it has to matter enough to people who have say over doing it. There’s no pure Darwinism when it comes to human preference–lots of stuff gets done as an article of faith whether it’s effective or not, just because people believe it does or think stopping would be even worse.

        I was thinking about that this year because I got so bombarded, including three “are you voting today?” calls on election day. Get out the vote efforts have been historically really important, especially in marshaling support for minority/female candidates, but mere repeated calls aren’t much of a facilitation (nobody offered to help me get to the polls, for instance, or inform me about voting options), and we’re so bombarded with noise that this was too spammy to really feel like signal. So I think there’s a place for such efforts, but mere phone calls are probably popular not because they’re so effective but because they’re so freaking cheap to do and look activist at the same time.

        1. Jamie*

          Yep – totally agreed. In my head I assume businesses evaluate efficiency of practices, but in the real world it could easily be a case of “this is how we’ve always done it.”

        2. Lillie Lane*

          I’m actually very interested in the effectiveness of political canvassing due to my own (1 anecdotal point) experience. Since I’m one of the “precious independents” that we’re told political consultants hang their hats on to sway elections, I always expected to be wooed by both parties. However, I hardly get any political literature or visits at all. It seems that each party has their list of their own registered members, visits/calls/mails those people, and that’s it — at least in my neck of the woods, anyway.

          1. Jamie*

            Interesting. I almost get the calls/canvassing from the party I’m least likely to vote for – but my town runs very heavily for one of the major parties so the only time we really hear from them is during the primaries. I always wonder if it’s so much cheaper for them to run here since it looks like they only need to pay for the lawn signs. It’s the other major party which doesn’t usually make a major showing in the polls that hit us.

            1. Lillie Lane*

              Wow, that’s interesting and somewhat unexpected. Maybe the canvassing strategy varies by area and party.

      2. jag*

        “If we could collectively stop buying stuff from obnoxious marketing tactics that would be great.”

        The other thing to do is drive up their costs. With unsolicited phone calls I pick up and say hellow, and as soon as I realize what it is I just put the phone down but don’t hang up. If everyone did this, the costs of making the calls would go way up and their number would go way down.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I have bought from telemarketers, but only from companies I was already doing business with. These days, everyone else gets my answerphone, because I don’t pick up my landline anymore. I’m considering doing away with it, if I can find a decent alternative to DSL that won’t bankrupt me.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I felt like I was under siege in the 2012 election. I got constant knocks on the door (wouldn’t answer) and if I went out for a bit would come home to piles of flyers jammed in the door. Wanted to start dropping water balloons from the upstairs window

      1. Stephanie*

        You live in Virginia, right? You poor dear. I was in DC for the 2012 election, which both parties (luckily) wrote off.

        1. Dan*

          Never mind that DC doesn’t vote for a governor, congress person, or senator, so that’s a lot less hassle to be had.

          I trend to work late and don’t get home until after the canvassers have called it quits for three day.

          1. Stephanie*

            Welllllll, we voted for mayor, which could get contentious (as could some of the city council races). The last time I was there during a mayoral election, the Democratic primary was effectively the mayoral race. There are the shadow senators and congressmen, but those do seem to be uncontested and usually filled by hand-picked candidates.

    4. Anon for this comment*

      Canvassing does work, but like everything else it has to be done in an effective way – ie. not what the OP describes.

      My SO is a political consultant and the way he uses canvassing to is to reach potential voters who probably are already inclined to vote for the candidate/issue but aren’t likely to go to the polls. So you’re introducing them to the candidate/issue rather than trying to change their minds and making voting more accessible through info about early voting, voter id law changes, absentee ballots, etc. His get out the vote work has been pretty successful.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        That makes perfect sense. The odds of me voting for [unnamed political party] are nonexistent, but I’m lazy enough to not bother to find out about absentee ballots

      2. Turanga Leela*

        And it’s possible that the OP is doing this, actually. It might be that the people she’s contacting are likely to vote for the candidates/issues that the OP’s organization supports, but that they may not know about the election, may not be registered, may not know their polling place, etc.

        1. Anon for this comment*

          I was thinking in terms of violating no trespassing signs and canvassing alone at night.

    5. Anonsie*

      Well, you might be surprised. A family member was running for (very small, very local) office this year and he went and stood with his signs outside his local polling place, and he was telling me later that all the other candidates were there as well. I said that was dumb and there’s no way it helped to hold up signs at people that were in line at the polls.

      But apparently, the reason everyone does it now in that district is because last election one guy who had been lagging in the earlier polls did it and suddenly won by a decent margin. Folks were overheard saying they liked that he was there showing he really cared and a number of people admitted to changing or deicing their votes because of it. My mom said she heard a family ahead of her in line all saying they still weren’t sure, then collectively agreeing to vote for him because they liked that moxie.

      Now, did the sign actually win him the election? No real way to know that, and probably not all by itself anyway. But none of the candidates now will ever risk not showing up and potentially finding out the hard way how much it could change their numbers to be the one who’s not there holding up their dumb sign with their name on it. It was raining this year and they were all just standing out there holding up big banners with their own names and waving at people, all in a little cluster.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wait. What? I thought candidates had to stay away from polling places. Or maybe they have to stay back a certain distance?

        1. fposte*

          I was thinking she meant just outside the limit–I often see a ton of electioneering signs and sometimes people just at the limit near polling places in big years.

  20. Armchair Analyst*

    Do you work for a Union? I did, at a desk job, but had to spend a week canvassing, in a city, but still, not the safest area of the city.
    Talk to your own Union leadership, if you’re a member of a Union, too. There are Best Practices for these kinds of things, and your (Union?) Employer is NOT following them.

  21. Mike C.*

    I think the thing that really drives me nuts there is that yes, there are dangerous jobs out there. Important jobs, but dangerous none the less.

    But when you are doing a dangerous job, it is the responsibility of your employer to give you all of the appropriate tools, training and staff to perform that dangerous job in the safest manner possible. I really don’t feel like this is happening here, especially the fact that employees are traveling alone outside of cellphone range.

    1. NoPantsFridays*

      Yes, this. It doesn’t seem the OP is trained properly to do this work. I knew someone who had a desk job as a software developer and all his coworkers had similar desk jobs, too. Suddenly, they were expected to spend 20% of their time in a warehouse near their office moving heavy boxes — which is a different skill set that people are trained for so that they can lift safely and not get injured. Plus, some of my friend’s coworkers had disabilities that didn’t affect their ability to do their jobs at all until they were suddenly expected to lift heavy boxes. This is basically what happens when job responsibilities suddenly change and training is not provided.

  22. Nodumbunny*

    As Gold Digger said above – I live in a nice house in a pretty safe but very urban area where sometimes drug deals in nearby neighborhoods go bad and I don’t answer my door to strangers after dark. I have double doors and the outside door has a window. More than once I’ve turned away a canvasser by telling them through the door “this isn’t safe for me or you, so I’m not going to participate.”

  23. BrownEyedGirl*

    I do this kind of work too. Most of the year I’m a desk jockey with a direct hookup to high speed but every few months they drag us out for a week or so to canvas in inner city Detroit and surrounding areas. Our cell phones work but it is dangerous. Here are general best practice rules:
    Everyone works in pairs–women are encouraged to pair with men as much as possible, if there’s an odd number then someone’s in a trio
    No trespassing signs mean DO NOT GO THERE
    Fences mean DO NOT GO THERE–you might not see the dog, but do not take the chance
    No apartment buildings or buildings with interior courtyards–similarly, don’t approach large groups in some neighborhoods
    Use your best judgement/don’t be stupid/don’t put yourself in danger

  24. Creag an Tuire*

    Ugh. This could quite literally be describing my old job, OP.

    1) The organization had plenty of professional canvassers, good ones, but there were plenty of “all hands on deck” events where everybody in the organization canvassed (to be fair, this included management). I always wondered whether they were getting a decent ROI by forcing an introverted geek to take time he didn’t have away from his highly technical job to go out and talk to people — but bringing that up would mark me out as an “elitist”.

    2) I don’t think management was ever stupid enough to openly advocate lawbreaking — but the “best” canvassers would brag about times they’d ignored a no-trespassing sign, or sneaked in to a locked apartment complex behind someone else — and those folks got promoted to lead. So yeah.

    My sympathies, OP. The bad news is your organizational culture is unlikely to change any time soon, the good news is that not all “mission-oriented” organizations think like that.

  25. shellbell*

    I think the point that there are very serious saftey concerns was well made and did not require the addition of “Some are trailers held together with tarps, others have outhouses.” Living in these conditions indicates poverty not criminality. Despite what many people believe, one is not proof of the other.

    1. OP*

      OP here. With my comment about tarps and outhouses I was just trying to provide an image of just how rural and isolated this area was, not demonize the residents. I’m not scared of poor people and totally understand that their material circumstances don’t reflect their worth. Just wanted to show that we were way deep in the woods.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That is how I read it. I have seen these areas and sometimes I go into areas that are like this. But I only go during daylight and someone knows I am coming.

      2. the_scientist*

        OP, I’m imagining scenes out of True Detective based on your description, so I don’t for a second blame you for your trepidation (not due to fear of poverty and poor people, just because who KNOWS what you could stumble upon).

    2. Jamie*

      I understand what many have said about it seeming as if this was a jab at poverty, but I didn’t read it that way. To many people such conditions could give pause to whether it’s a legitimate, established address or not.

      I don’t equate criminality to poverty, but I would be more wary of approaching a trailer in the woods held together with tarps than one not violating building code that was clearly a residence. Because people do have makeshift buildings in the woods for nefarious reasons as well as legitimate living situations due to poverty and it is probably much harder to assess in those situations. And additional caution is certainly warranted whenever one is so isolated, because while one may very well never encounter a bad situation, if you do you’re in a lot more trouble being out of the range of help or even a cell signal.

      1. Lillie Lane*

        It can also be confusing when a lot of these types of places don’t have clear indications of a main dwelling, address, front door, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a building is a home, a garage, a business, a chicken house, or whatever. And that can get even more unsafe if you’re wandering around the property trying to figure out which door to use, if anybody’s home, etc.

          1. Lillie Lane*

            Exactly — an accident could easily occur. For some reason that scene from Anne of Green Gables when she fell into the old well comes to mind.

        1. OP*

          “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a building is a home, a garage, a business, a chicken house, or whatever.”

          There was a lot of this. I spent a lot of time wandering around buildings trying to figure out whether they were houses, which must have looked that much more suspicious to residents.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        You don’t have to be a engaged in criminal activity to have dogs and guns. In rural areas, dogs and guns are a necessary part of life. When I see this, I think to myself- here is a person that is protecting their property. I don’t automatically go to “they are doing something illegal”. Reality is that they have probably had plenty of illegal stuff done to them. (People steal animals, timber, break into houses and barns. Heck, you could have a transient person living in one of your barns for days before you realize.)

        Here, strangers will come in on your land and plant pot. Putting the legalization issue to one side for a moment, this is currently illegal. Which means the property owner has an illegal activity going on within his property. So the property owner calls the police. But in the mean time what happens if the property owner accidentally runs into the one who planted the pot???

        1. Zillah*

          Hell, forget about the legalization issue – it should always be illegal to intentionally grow something for your personal/financial benefit on someone else’s land without their explicit consent. I would be livid. Thanks, I get to decide what I grow on my own damn land, and if I don’t want marijuana to be one of those things, I get to make that call. Ugh.

        2. jag*

          Someone above explained to me why guns are so important in rural America, but why are dogs necessary? Is it due to crime also?

          1. Stephanie*

            Dogs can hear better than humans, so they can alert to an intruder quicker. I’d think, too, a dog would know which sounds are squirrels versus an unfamiliar human.

              1. Diet Coke Addict*

                Dogs are a huge deterrent to people who may be trespassing on your land for nefarious reasons (planting pot, illegally hunting, dumping trash, whatever). They can run faster through the woods than a man on foot and a barking, bellowing dog is going to seriously discomfit any trespassers. Wild animals are usually less of a concern in rural areas than people unless you keep livestock–in which case, a guard dog can be a wise investment for the animals’ safety as well.

                1. Jamie*

                  I personally would have dogs even if they were silent because they are family – but the practical aspect is absolutely a deterrent.

                  Even dogs that would never in a million years attack anyone prevent someone from creeping around without you knowing about it.

                  My dogs have the same reaction to squirrels as I imagine they would have to bus full of murders who pulled into the driveway wielding machetes – which is a reaction that you will not sleep through. Dogs barking in the middle of the night tells you someone had better get some pants on and see what’s going on outside.

              2. fposte*

                And remember that in a lot of these situations there’s livestock to protect as well–the dogs are to keep animals like coyotes, foxes, feral dogs, and if they’re ambitious wolves and cougars away from the livestock. That’s also what the gun is often for–when it’s chasing your cattle/horses into the wire, it’s going to get dropped before your livelihood bleeds out.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                Dogs will also alert you to fire. My old dog went nuts on me one night. Would not behave. It was not the dog, it was his dense owner. The field behind me was on fire. And it took the dog 20 minutes to get me to understand that. Finally, when I saw the fire (you know, you pause for that 2 seconds of NO comprehension/total disbelief) his crazy behavior went away. He shifted gears and instantly obeyed every command I gave him.

            1. nonegiven*

              They’ve been known to protect their owners from wild animal attacks. Some dogs are stricting hunting dogs. Some dogs are cattle dogs or sheep dogs and help with the livestock. Some are pets. Many hunting dogs and working dogs are pets, also.

          2. Elsajeni*

            Well, it’s pretty similar to guns, in that scaring off (or fighting off) intruders or dangerous animals on your property is a secondary use; a lot of people who keep a gun for hunting also keep hunting dogs. And there are various other uses for a working dog on a piece of rural property, plus of course dogs are just good company in an isolated place; the fact that they’ll bark and growl at strangers is a side benefit.

          3. Andy*

            My dog is my best friend. I trust her, I depend on her, I never knew how much she would do for me until it was done. She stopped a coyote from getting near my son and gave me enough time to grab him and run in the house. I’m in no way as quick as my girl, RaRa. She’s the best, and her brain is independent from mine and can make judgements about stuff much quicker than me. I didn’t even realize that coyote was there till she was barking. Even when I saw him I didn’t register danger immediately like she did. My human brain couldn’t comprehend that this was a coyote and not a tall, blonde, thin dog. She’s the eyes in the back of my head. She’s my chubby, snuffly, rolly, scruff protector.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              If you raise chickens, letting your dog pee here and there keeps the coyotes away and you don’t lose your chickens.

          4. Rebecca*

            Dogs have excellent hearing and sensing abilities, and my lab “boofs” softly to alert me if he hears or smells anything (he’s blind now so he can’t see). If I don’t react appropriately, he will break into loud, dangerous sounding barking. Then I know something or someone is about, and can be on alert. Most of the time it’s just a skunk, deer, or bear. Sometimes it’s the neighbor’s dog, or my neighbor. But it’s always wise to know who’s out and about, especially at night.

          5. Zillah*

            Beyond dogs just being awesome, they’re great protection in a lot of ways. For one thing, a dog is often a lot more alert than a person, so you’re a lot less likely to get taken by surprise, even if you’re asleep or elsewhere in the house or out. And, the sound of a large dog barking is a really good deterrent, so you’d be less likely to need to use a gun in the first place.

            Also, cute! And wonderful companions!

  26. Durwood*

    Two points here:

    A) Obviously people don’t want what your selling. Here’s a hint: if there’s a sign that says “No Trespassing” then don’t go there.
    B) Your bias against these people disgusts me. Perhaps if went in with a smile rather than a “I’m better than these hicks” attitude, you might be better off.

    1. OP*

      Not sure why you were so rude. I don’t think I’m better than anyone, just describing how rural it was. Saying that there were outhouses shows that we weren’t on the outer edge of a suburban area. It was the woods. I’m sure most people who live there are perfectly nice and pleasant to their friends, but I understand that I’m seen as an intruder and therefore not welcome. And that’s totally okay. It’s their house and they want to be left alone. I’m just trying not to get anyone hurt, myself included.

  27. going anon for this one*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, though I am very interested in doing so.

    This sounds like a situation I was in with a previous employer. We went into dangerous areas of cities, towns, and rural areas because we needed to document conditions for a variety of reasons. Like you, we normally worked in the office but had to do these field surveys a few times a year. When we expressed concern about our safety or even our qualifications to evaluate certain conditions, we were told to deal with it. Near the end of a particularly grueling field survey that lasted for more than a month in the summer in one of the the most dangerous areas of southern California, I experienced heat exhaustion most days and ended up in the emergency room, likely due to the cumulative effect. When the company had to downsize several months later, guess who was one of the first to go?

    So my advice to you is you probably either need to deal with this or find another job. Your employers remind me of my previous employers: It’s almost like this is a rite of passage for that type of work, and to become a true member of the team, you have to do it and not complain. It is unreasonable, but someone has to do it and if you won’t, they will likely find someone else who will.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for sharing! Sorry to hear that happened to you. That’s my concern. The “rite of passage” part hit the nail right on the head.

      1. going anon for this one*

        I think all you can do is take steps to ensure your personal safety. Don’t go alone. Make sure you’re gone before it gets dark. Heck, on the field survey I described above, we were gone before school let out because that’s when the drug dealers and other criminal element came out. Pay attention to your intuition. I don’t think you will have any luck with your employers if they see it as a rite of passage, unfortunately.

        Ultimately, I ended up in a better place and, while there are elements of old job I liked, I am much happier now. Plus I have time for a life and volunteer work. In fact, some of my volunteer work includes habitat restoration and I enjoy telling those former co-workers that I keep in contact with about my new field work, which is much more fun and involves plants and animals, not crime-ridden areas and scary people.

  28. AndersonDarling*

    We went through a bout like this at my company. We are a non profit and it was decided that every employee would put in xx hours pushing the mission in the public. We all love our jobs, and really believe in our mission, but we are not public speakers. And it was a delicate topic that people could get upset over.
    After a year, we started documenting the “success” of this method. We found out that the results were pathetic compared against the regular events we hold. The company stopped the practice and decided they would hire a specialist if it was ever decided to go that route again.

  29. Not So NewReader*

    I am not too sure if we have really addressed your main problem here. Your bosses are laughing at you and using your stories as their fodder for whatever.
    These are two displays of total disrespect. This totally bothers me.

    I suggest you challenge your bosses to ride with you through your work day. Get them to see what you are actually contending with. I know first hand that your description is real.

    If you cannot get your bosses to flex here then for your own safety you have to move on. This job is not safe.

    My father had property in a very, very rural area. And yeah, there are some people that you do not go on their land for any reason. There are also woods people. Unknown persons who are seen once in a while, that live in the backwoods and live off the land. They probably have no birth certificates, no social security number, nothing. There is all kinds of stuff to be aware of.

    Check with the police department for the area you canvas. Tell them what you are doing and ask them their advice.

    My husband used to chuckle. He would say, “If a country person goes to the city, there is always someone there to ask for help. If a city person goes to the country, there may not be anyone around for miles to even ask for help.” I tend to agree.

    1. going anon for this one*

      I am going to guess the OPs bosses have done this particular work. This is why it’s so funny to them. They’ve done it, they’ve survived, what’s the big deal.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OP, if this is the type of bosses you have then you can move ahead to considering if you want to work there or not.

      2. neverjaunty*

        The big deal is that people are being asked to do illegal and dangerous things. Anyone who thinks that’s funny is not wisely speaking from past experience; they’re a colossal jerk. “Well I did it and I managed to escape serious consequences!” is not a real argument.

        1. going anon for this one*

          I agree it may not be a valid argument, but it is an argument, nevertheless. I was in a situation similar to what the OP describes and the owners of the company never let us forget that they did this for years, they survived, now it was our turn (I was imputing the “big deal” to them, it’s not what I think). Good or bad, surviving experiences like this does make for *good* stories when you look back on them. The owners of our company bonded over them, shared them with us. Certain people looked up to them in awe because of these stories.

          If the OP cannot get on board with this, and I can completely understand why he or she would not want to, the only option is to quit, in my opinion. Unless and until someone suffers serious consequences, nothing will change. If her employers are anything like my previous employer, they will in fact figure out a way to get rid of anyone who suffers a serious consequence so business can proceed as normal. It’s not pretty, but there it is.

    2. ella*

      This. I think part of the reason why morale bottoms out during these events is not just because the canvassing work is hard and frustrating and at times scary, but because the management refuses to acknowledge any of those things. How different would it be if the management thanked their employees for getting out of their comfort zone this way and paid for an office breakfast or two as an appreciation? (In addition to all the stuff above about getting them more safety training and putting them in pairs, etc.) Or if the managers were also participating in the canvassing?

    3. OP*

      “I am not too sure if we have really addressed your main problem here. Your bosses are laughing at you and using your stories as their fodder for whatever. These are two displays of total disrespect. This totally bothers me.”

      Honestly that’s probably my biggest concern about the whole thing. It’s that it feels unsafe and not only is it not being taken seriously, but it’s then turned into a talking point about why we need to do it more.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Your bosses do not care about your safety. (Or at least, they care about your results more.) I don’t think emphasizing the safety angle as if they cared at all matters. Try framing it in a way that shows how their behavior hurts them and the organization.

        “It would be very bad publicity if someone got arrested for trespassing or shot.”

        “So if I get bitten by a dog I guess I can collect workers’ comp, ha ha!” (Not actually joking.)

        “I’m concerned that is going to open up liability for the organization if a canvasser is assaulted or killed.”

  30. Lily in NYC*

    My office tries to get everyone to count homeless people sleeping outside in bad neighborhoods twice a year. It’s all night long. You don’t quit until 6 am and you have to bother homeless people who just want to be left alone. In the middle of the night in winter. Luckily it’s not mandatory because there’s no way in hell.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Is that the HOPE survey? I understand why you don’t want to do it, but seriously, thank you to everyone who participates (including the homeless people). Speaking as an outsider who has used statistics on homelessness, it’s hugely valuable.

      1. Mimmy*

        Exactly. My county does a homelessness count once a year in late January (I don’t think it’s what you’re describing though), which includes outreach during the mid- to late-evening hours. I’ve never participated in the outreach–just the daytime part where the homeless or those at high risk of becoming homeless come to specified centers–so I don’t know how invasive it gets. However, I absolutely echo the importance of doing the count. We ask about their situation (that’s the part that feels invasive sometimes) and then invite them to get a meal, clothing or resource tables elsewhere in the building.

  31. CMG16*

    I’ve done this kind of political and community organizing work for a long time and I’ve supervised lots of people to do it. I would never, ever minimize people’s fears (and honestly there’s nothing scarier than a dog on the loose!). I think your bosses might not accept your premise that the work is, in and of itself, dangerous. Chances are that, even if they are not doing it now, they have done it in the past (if that’s not the case, then your organization has other problems!).

    I would also add that I really love doorknocking and house visiting. I have met some incredible people, some who later became leaders in our organization, and I firmly believe that there is no better way to understand a neighborhood (assuming you don’t already live there) then by doorknocking. If you think there is no value in this activity, and there isn’t any part of it that speaks to you, then it is probably pretty miserable work!

  32. OP*

    It’s very interesting that so many people assume I’m a woman. I wonder how, if at all, the responses would have shifted if I said I was a man. Just a reflection on what risks are seen as acceptable for men and not for women.

    1. Liz T*

      There’s also a tradition on this blog of using female pronouns generically. (AAM does so when referring to hypothetical managers.) Might be some of that.

      1. OP*

        Ah! Thanks for clarifying, I noticed this when talking about managers but didn’t realize it was the generic for OPs as well.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Er, wasn’t that reflection in your original post? “Our staff is largely women and/or people of color and this situation is particularly dangerous for them”….

      1. Laufey*

        The staff being largely women does not necessarily mean that the OP is female. The odds are higher that the OP is female, but it’s not a certainty.

  33. Jazzy Red*

    OMG, indeed! I live in Arkansas, and it is damn dangerous to go very far off the beaten tracks (hidden meth labs and marijuana fields that the owners will protect by any means. Innocent people have been known to disappear, although I haven’t heard of this happening in a few years, but still). No one should be forced to go into dangerous situations. This boss is insane, and either he needs to be replaced, or the OP & friends need to find new jobs. I would quit on the spot if my boss told me I needed to do this, even without a new job lined up.

  34. HR Manager*

    I don’t know if your bosses have the same field experiences, but maybe raising these concerns in a different manner might get a different response? It sounds like so far the tactic has been “This is dangerous, we don’t like it, and we need this to change”. Maybe it should be raised as “I would like to see this implemented because of the danger here.”

    Maybe they’ve always done it this way and have never thought about how to make it safer and more comfortable for your team. If you have ideas of what would make this a better experience, you and your team should toss those suggestions to your boss and management and see if they are willing to provide that.

  35. MR*

    I’m a bit late to the party, and I didn’t read all of the nearly 400 responses to this post, but let me offer my expertise in this area.

    Unless this work happens to be with the census circa 2010, then this organization is operating in an extremely inefficient manor.

    When doing canvasing for any political organization, you want to hit as many houses as possible in as short of a time frame as possible. Wandering around in the bush or going up and down long driveways is not an efficient use of resources for these organizations. If you can hit 10 or 15 houses in the time it takes to hit one, then you go that route.

    You may want to spend your time with an organization that better utilizes their donor’s money. Good luck!

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