Like bees over the landscape, dozens of young canvassers with New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group and Environment New Hampshire reap and sow, door to door, all summer long: social justice and social change.
It is a life philosophy played out against the backdrop of an upstairs office thick with the work of young minds and hands, with the language of activism and social justice.
"You own the stars if you own the thunder, but you have to share it all," says canvasser Jess Gealy, 20, of Danbury who has given up her summer to canvass for Environment New Hampshire and the Fund for the Public Interest's research interest group for New Hampshire.
"We remind people that they are part of something bigger - and they have to share the responsibility."
For canvassing director Ben Thompson, 21, and this group, hard work comes with results and some pressure; for the dozens of young activists who are trying their hand at canvassing in New Hampshire this summer, results are paramount to their continuing success in being able to raise the money needed to put pressure on political candidates. The fund has had great success in actually changing laws and making an impact.
A list of accomplishments might look like this: Protect Lake Sunapee from storm runoff, check. Protect the Great Bay Estuary with research and recommended action plans, check. Raise money to fight changes in the Clean Water Act that leave New Hampshire's streams and lakes open to unlimited dumping of toxins, check. Stop childhood obesity in its tracks - well, working on it.
If the world can be changed one Twinkie at a time, Ben Thompson might be able to tell you about it.
Thompson says that he started working with the group a year ago "because he saw the campaign work" as important. "I wished to help the community and fix a problem," he says.
With more than 50 offices across the nation including the one in Concord, the fund puts thousands of students and young people on the ground going door to door to talk to people about tough issues in each state. The day, locally, starts with a teambuilding meeting at the Concord headquarters, across from the State House, where Gealy builds clipboards, placing informational materials, laminated pages detailing past successes, postcards to legislators or the EPA, and membership enrollment forms carefully together-enough to last the day.
From there, groups of three and four pour into cars to make an often hour-long drive out to communities to do the hard work: knocking on doors.
Cold calling people door-to-door at their homes can be grueling work, work that can be emotionally daunting if people don't wish to be disturbed. Combine that with inclement or hot weather, a lack of places to use a restroom or fill up water bottles and the whole thing can just get challenging. And of course, it's not easy to convince a stranger to open his or her wallet, even if the donations the canvassers seek are for a good cause, like this summer's campaigns against childhood obesity and for clean water.
Thompson's job is to canvass all day - and to keep his troops optimistic. "Whether they canvass for a week, a day, or a year, they are training to act, to be that active part of democracy that we need no matter what the issue is," he says.
Back in the office, pizza, nightly frisbee sessions, outings to local restaurants and a steady dose of music and encouragement keep the ball rolling. Despite dust or peeling paint, the office manages to maintain a slightly young, slightly hip sense of morale.
"Music is all about morale," says Jessica O'Hare, 24, canvass director and advocate for Environment New Hampshire."Music always brings people together."
It's true; there's always someone's iPod or a Pandora radio station plugged in.
"We could give you a playlist of our office," O'Hare quips.
Asked what music they would cite as particularly inspirational, Gealy cites the Bowerbirds' "House of Diamonds," whose song of thunder she quoted earlier. Alexi leans back in her chair, thinks for a minute, and responds. " 'Summertime' by Janis Joplin." "Everyone is chilling out and then we go out and wake people up." "Mumford & Sons, all of it," O'Hare says. "Jack White's 'Two Against One,'" Thompson says. "It's about acting to balance the power struggle - and end it." (next page »)