The summer door-to-door canvass has been at the heart of VPIRG’s work since 1985, the first year a small group of passionate young activists took to the streets, roads, and mountain tracks of Vermont and began a political movement through the simple act of having face-to-face conversations. But even before the first canvass, since our founding in 1972, VPIRG’s work has been rooted in the idea that when we make the effort to connect with people and build a movement around a common issue, we can accomplish big things – together.
Over the last several decades, our summer canvass has grown to become a beloved Vermont summer tradition. What once was an operation comprised of 10-20 canvassers knocking on doors in and around Chittenden County, has become a force of 70+ canvassers each summer that walk, bike, and talk to residents in all 251 cities, towns, and gores in Vermont. And the conversations we have each year inform the work our team of advocates goes on to do in the State House.
The impact of our summer canvass is exponential; in addition to building grassroots support for pressing public interest issues and increasing community engagement, it also gives passionate young people a voice and teaches them the skills they need to change the world for the better.
Knocking on strangers’ doors and engaging them in conversation can be scary and challenging. Our summer canvassers quickly become comfortable with this unique experience, and along the way they gain valuable experience in grassroots organizing, fundraising, and effective communication with people from all walks of life. By the end of each summer, we have effectively built a stellar team of organizers who are tuned in to the most critical issues facing Vermont and better prepared for a future of civic engagement.
Canvassers return to work with us year after year, moving up through the ranks to take on leadership roles as Field Managers and Assistant Directors.
Some will even go on to work full time for VPIRG through our Fellows Program. This is a two year program that gives young activists the opportunity to work for VPIRG on our legislative goals during the fall and winter, and direct the Canvass over the course of the summer. In fact, many of our current full-time employees came up through the canvass in this way.
Take Ben Edgerly Walsh, our Climate and Energy Program Director: he started off as an assistant canvass director in 2008, moved on to run our canvass the following summer, and then became an organizer and eventually field director before taking over our Climate & Energy advocacy.