Before coming to Seattle, you couldn’t pay me enough to stand on a sidewalk with a petition yelling to strangers “Have you signed for clean energy on the ballot?” with an enthusiastic smile. Typically I’m like the majority of people I encountered while petitioning that would duck my head and mumble no under my breath. So when the head of the nonprofit that I am working for this summer asked if I was willing to petition, I said yes even though the thought made me sick with anxiety. When I was placed at OneAmerica, an immigrant and refugee community advocacy nonprofit, I thought I would be campaigning or helping with the Know Your Rights seminars the nonprofit runs. Wearing a huge sign that says “SIGN HERE FOR CLEAN AIR AND CLEAN ENERGY” was not part of the picture. I mean I’m not versed in environmental justice issues, and I’m not even registered to vote in Washington. The four years in the making initiative needed a few hundred more signatures to ensure that it is on the ballot in November. The biggest coalition Washington has seen for an environmental issue comprised of environmental organizations, tribal nations, and nonprofits representing communities of color all contributed hundreds of volunteer hours to get this initiative on the ballot. It seemed like the people all over the city were working overtime to get this initiative on the ballot and I didn’t want to my little bit of social anxiety to get in the way of helping any way I could.
When we got to our first location at a farmer’s market in what our organizer noted was one of the “most diverse neighborhood” in Seattle I felt my stomach drop. The market was huge and busy, and when I first tried to ask someone to sign the petition, I couldn’t speak. I just stood there awkwardly holding a sign and opening my mouth for nothing to come out. It took five minutes of internal convincing to try again and ask, and then ask some more. By the end of the whole ordeal, I learned that most people are not fond of petitioners, there are some kind souls out there that take pity on you and sign your petition and a lot of rejection.
Did I enjoy petitioning? No, not at all. Would I be willing to petition again for a cause I care about? Absolutely. I had a chance to see the required amount of signatures and way more be delivered and get to talk to people from other nonprofits and community members. The passion they have for their state’s investment in renewable energy and the time invested in addition to having a life outside of petitioning and campaigning is a testament to the people I’ve encountered in Seattle. I’m grateful for the experience because I saw what true community advocacy looks like beyond calling my representative or liking a witty political post on Facebook which is both important but easily done behind a screen. My first day at OneAmerica we were told that their advocacy was not being the voice of the immigrant and refugee community but setting platforms to amplify the voices that already exist. That looks different every day, and on the day I petitioned, advocacy looked like holding up a sign to further a cause important to the community.