By Grace Luk
On my first day of TOLA, I was faced with one of the most nerve-racking tasks: canvassing and approaching strangers. Clipboard in hand, I became one of those people I often ignore on sidewalks persuading others to sign a petition, or support a cause. My job was to educate the community about the Oakland Soda Tax and persuade them to sign a visibility card to show their support. People walked by as if I didn’t exist and avoided eye contact. Between the disengaged audience and the store manager who asked me to move away from his store entrance, I wasn’t too excited about being a community organizer. By the end of my first day, I was ready to throw in the towel and call it quits. I felt mentally and physically defeated by the shear fear of approaching strangers and being rejected. Knowing that it was my first time canvassing, I turned to my peers for support and guidance. With their help, I learned that the more I forced myself to talk to others, the more my fears subsided.
With feedback from my team members, I changed my approach when talking with people. By simply asking the question, “How are you doing today?” I’ve been able to stop strangers on the street and educate them about the measure. One day I approached a father and his son at Eastshore Park. I asked how their day was going and then quickly shifted gears to talk about the Oakland Soda Tax. Both father and son intently listened to my explanation of the measure and how it would benefit their community. The father agreed and acknowledged that sugary drinks are bad for children’s health. He said he would take his son to the park and play on the weekends for exercise, instead of sitting at home watching TV. He ended up signing the visibility card and thanked me for the work that I was doing! In that moment, I understood why I needed to continue the fellowship and learn how to become an effective community organizer.
In the past, I’ve been able to avoid my fears by not dealing with them. But as a community organizer in training, I have had to confront all my fears simultaneously. The passion I have developed for the success of this campaign has overpowered my fears. Moving forward, I’ve been able to accomplish tasks with ease. When I run into obstacles, I identify the root problem and don’t let fear get in the way of accomplishing my goals. In some cases, I’m still thought of as “the ‘shy’ one” in the group. Little do they know that I have developed the confidence to approach anyone on the streets about issues that are closest to my heart. I know that I’ll never completely get rid of my fears, but I now have the tools to conquer some of them, and display a level of confidence that I never knew I had.