Eight years ago today I hit the road for the first time. But I didn’t “go” somewhere, I actually stayed on the road – or rather on the streets, the pavements, the city squares and the metro exits. It’s been quite a journey.
When it all started, I had the task of bringing as many new supporters as I could for the campaigns of Greenpeace Greece. On November 19, 2007 I managed to bring five people in around five hours which is what we call a 1.00 sign-up/hour (goood). I was as much excited by my good performance as I was by this new sensation of having a positive effect on unknown people in the street. Little did I realise then how important this job, these numbers, those streets would be to me, for so many years to come.
The streets have a totally diferent meaning for me ever since. We, the recruiters (or fundraisers, frontliners, canvassers, captadores, DDers – Direct Dialoguers, or in “Greek” ddcakia), were joking with each other saying that we belong to the streets, we are “workers of the pavements” which in greek is an expression for prostitutes. We would continue the bad joke saying that we sell our heart to strangers, or look how much money being in the streets can get you. Bad, I know. But if you do work in the streets and you want to survive the day, you need a good dose of humor – good and bad.
Another greek expression is that the road is a school (of life). I think Jack Keruac would agree on this one. I certainly believe so. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:
- I’m smart. And a good person. I’ve heard so many things that are beyond making sense that I simply started apreciating myself more for being sane and nice and logical and kind and probably happier than many people I met in the streets (or in my life in general).
- Hope and action is a killing combination – in a good sense. Greenpeace is an organization based on this combination. And where pure logic wouldn’t help, or the problems of the world seemed always too big, it made all the difference when I could show that our actions can bring the change.
- A smile can really make your day – whether you give it or receive it, it lights up your life, even for a few seconds. (which reminds me: please don’t ignore people in the streets, you don’t have to stop, you don’t have to donate, but you can still say ‘hi’ to the person who just greeted you)
- If you don’t believe in what you do, if you don’t like what you do, you can maybe do it for a while. But you will never be good at it. And in the streets, as well as in life you have ‘no scripts attached’, no magic recipe that will tell you where to go, what to do, what to say. All you have is your thoughts, your needs and your beliefs – and they are better than any well-written script.
- People are used to saying no. And then they say yes. What makes this shift is simply the fact that you did not give up.
I also learned how to keep calm when I’m angry, how to be persistent instead of desperate, how to use arguments in a conversation, how to listen to people in order to respond to them, how to defend what I believe in without backing up, how to get away from simply mean people, how to be prepared for any weather, how to love, help and accept help from the team, how to give power to each and every person I spoke to – power they normally do not know they have.
Oh, and when I go to the supermarket I also know if I can sign-up the person paying in front of me, because I have this habit of looking at people’s wallet, in order to see if their credit or debit card is one we can use for donations. We used to call this “being DDsick”. Well, no job is perfect.
During these 8 years, I’ve been going on and off the streets, mostly off as my experience grew. I quickly became a team leader, then a coach, then a Coordinator, having to work more at the office, organizing, facilitating the job of the teams in the streets, training and empowering them to continue this important job. I love working with teams and see people, just like me improve their abilities, inspire people, learn the same or different street lessons and grow through our work. I saw people who I was certain that, had they met somewhere else they would not be anywhere close to being friends, working side by side, united not just by the cause, but mainly by the intense routine of this job. That’s another thing I learned: your job is yours, you control it always – but being part of a team that you trust makes all the difference in the world.
I also started being on the streets for different reasons; I would go to collect signatures, inform the public for a specific activity or protest. I once took the streets on my bike, riding together with almost 2,000 people to raise awareness for the protection of the Arctic. And I would still go back to my team, training and checking them and traveling with them around Greece, even in places where the streets are pathways made of stone with painted white outline.
The streets were not always a fun place. They started having too much tear gas. They started being sad. Too many people in the streets, with the streets as their home. Too many shops closed. Too many people without a job and without a hope. The streets were changing, we with them, but we kept doing our job. There was never a bigger need for organisations like Greenpeace to be on the streets of Greece than in the past few years.
And then I really hit a different road and ended up in the streets of Brasil. São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro. These are all cities in Brazil, but the distance between them is pretty much the distance between the capitals of the Balkan countries.
After the cultural shock, and as soon as I could understand the language, I realized that the people are saying the same things in the streets of Brazil, as they were saying in Greece, in the other side of the hemisphere. They have the same questions and doubts concerning the targets of our campaigns and “is this solution you propose really possible?” “Will this company really listen to Greenpeace and it’s supporters?” (yes it is, we have reports, we have examples where it already happened – yes it will, in fact, many times it has). They have the same excuses when they try to avoid commiting to donate – if I believed what the people told me in the streets, 1/3 of the population has lost their wallet, 1/3 has no job and the other 1/3 will do it online (they don’t). But it is in a way comforting to see that recruiters all over the world are facing similar difficulties and also similar joys. This moment of signing one person up is always magical, wherever you are.
However, my journey here has ended. Now I’m on the road again looking for the right turn. It feels at times that I am stuck in the gutter, but I know am getting back on.
Until then, I celebrate. Happy anniversary to me. I love my job. I love the teams I have worked with, each one for different reasons. I love knowing that the roads I went on have made me a person that I like. The bumps on the way are just what make the journey more valuable.
So, thank you, some hundreds of recruiters who have taken this journey with me all these years. Let’s keep rolling.