“I’m sure you’ve heard our bees have been dying, right?”
This is the question I ask about thirty times a night, because I am a door-to-door canvasser, and my job is to save the bees. Most people do not know that America lost forty percent of our bees last year, or that more bees died off in the summer rather than the winter, or that colony collapse has been linked to pesticide use. Scary stuff, considering that bees pollinate the majority of the food we eat.
I get a range of reactions, many of which fall into what we canvassers call the “common response” category: I’m too busy, I’ve got food cooking on the stove, I’ll have to talk it over with the wife, I’d prefer to give online, I never give money at the door. Many folks will say just about anything to get a canvasser off of their doorstep.
What they may not realize is that there’s a reason I’m taking the time to knock on each and every individual door, rather than say, just sending them an email. Grassroots organizing works. We activists walk through the rain, the dark, and the cold, get yelled at, brave angry guard dogs and ‘No Soliciting’ signs, because we’ve reached critical point; a crisis that seriously threatens our food supply, our economy, and our ecosystems.
We need to hold each and every person accountable.
Getting the public involved online just isn’t effective enough. Without a beating heart at your door, there’s no one to explain your personal responsibility and pressure you to help shut down the use of dangerous pesticides used by big chemical companies like Monsanto. It doesn’t work if you wait for other people to take care of it. I personally believe that it is the responsibility of anyone who likes food to get actively involved in saving bees and banning bee-killing pesticides.
I’m a reserved, sensitive person, and it doesn’t feel natural for me to knock on stranger’s doors, let alone engage them in conversations about bees that will make them feel comfortable enough to donate large sums of money. But that’s what I do, because every day, as I walk through my community, I feel one hundred percent morally okay with my work. Sure, I talk to people all day long, but ultimately I’m working for the bees.
My favorite houses to canvas have huge gardens filled with lavender and pesticide free zone signs. They host honeybees that float from flower to flower. On a small scale this is wonderful, but it isn’t enough. The best houses contain the people who realize this, who can look at their impact on the world at both a small, individual level, as well as on a grander scale. Although I wholeheartedly believe in simplicity, acting locally, and doing our own individual part, we can’t lose sight of the greater picture. We all have the responsibility to speak out about injustices perpetrated by forces greater than ourselves, like Monsanto.
Given my empathic nature, how do I knock on sixty doors a night, speak with thirty fellow humans, convince fifteen of those people to put their name down, and eight of those members to donate money? How do I let go of the intense feelings present at each door? The feelings of judgment, anger, stress, fear, annoyance, sadness, appreciation, attraction, and love? Sometimes I let them bounce off me. I take in what I want while protecting my own energy. Sometimes, though, I get completely overwhelmed.
Because entering other people’s personal spaces and negotiating the ups and downs of their moods, while constantly monitoring and managing my own, is hard. Sometimes I make an easy target for someone who’s had a rough day and wants to take it out on somebody. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but occasionally a feeling of despair creeps in. A feeling that I live in a world where human beings are this cruel to each other, even to people who are doing positive things like saving bees.
One rainy Wednesday I ducked under a porch surrounded by what was one of the loveliest gardens in Portland. It hadn’t been the best day so far, but this was definitely promising. The lady opened her door, hesitant, and when I told her what I was up to, she grabbed me by the arm.
“We’re all fucked, my dear,” she said, making intense eye contact. “Don’t even bother trying. I am the original environmentalist and feminist, and I’ll tell you, we should all just give up.”
I responded with something about the promising bee bounce-back statistics we’ve seen in Europe (twenty percent of bees have come back since the EU banned neonicotinoid
pesticides,) and also about the value of hope, pulled my arm away from her, and left as quickly as possible. I sat down on the curb and cried.
Some people say we are met with the energy we send out, and while I realize this is often true, it also sounds a bit like victim blaming. It’s not my fault that some human beings are filled with desperation, rage, and hatred, and that sometimes they choose to unleash these feelings onto me. What is under my control, though, is how I choose to respond to these energies on a daily basis.
The houses that make it worth it—and there are many—invite me inside when it is dark and rainy, they give me something to drink and eat, often produce that they’ve grown in their bee-friendly gardens. They’ve given me books, and stories, and kind words. They engage me in dynamic conversations about bees, and give me generous contributions. From passionate beekeepers to those with bee-sting allergies, I find love and support every night, and I hold onto it when I do.
Sometimes I’m not sure if there’s hope for human beings or for our planet, but I’m never going to stop fighting, because I’ve learned that magic is everywhere, waiting for opportunities to reveal itself. I can’t project my own sadness and hopelessness onto good people, of which I’ve learned there are many. I can’t judge people, because my knowledge is limited. The humble, run-down looking houses often hold the most giving people with the biggest hearts, who realize how important it is to invest in our bees. Because of that, it doesn’t matter how many mansion doors I’ve had slammed in my face.
Saving the bees is about more than just liking honey, or hating large corporations. It’s about human connection. No matter who we are, or who we’re voting for, we must respect every working part of this earth that brings us the food we eat and the water we drink, this earth that has so generously leased us our precious life.
While I urge you, kind reader, to get involved in banning bee-killing pesticides, the next time you see a honeybee, I also encourage you to send it a little love and gratitude, because each and every individual creature really does matter.
To save bees, check out:
Friends of the Earth Action: FOE Action is a political lobby that puts its weight behind advancing legislative causes designed to help the environment.
Beyond Toxics: Beyond Toxics is an Oregon-based nonprofit that relies on grassroots organizing to push for environmental change.
This article was originally published on November 1, 2016.
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman