Causes for Concern

Downtown Portland is overrun with clipboard-carrying, young bleeding-heart liberals who try to stop every passerby to earn a financial commitment for the charity they work for. Greenpeace. Amnesty International. International Children’s Fund. You name it, these bright-eyed pups think you should pay up.

I usually take the MAX right on past all the shark-infested corners, but it was ridiculously nice out Friday after work, so I walked about six blocks before hopping on. Big mistake.

I was stopped by a young girl who — OK, let me stereotype, because you’re never going to meet her. She was probably 18. She had probably done shrooms at multiple Dave Matthews Band concerts and described each experience as “an awakening.” Vegan. Didn’t believe in make-up, although she didn’t appear to need it. She wore a beanie, and she looked the type to always wear a beanie, no matter the temperature or situation. She thought, without a shard of doubt, that she was saving the world by hawking financial commitments to orphans in South Africa.

(I mean, my judgments aren’t entirely misinformed. Take a gander at the Greenpeace Street Fundraisers Facebook page. Click through the pictures. Yeah, that’s a pretty good depiction of all street fundraisers, no matter the charity.)

Normally, I wouldn’t have stopped, but I didn’t have my iPhone earbuds in. Earbuds shield you from 98.9 percent of all nonsense that takes place around you, be it money-seeking charity workers, hobos or the street drummer who’s rhythmically impaired. I was screwed.

“OK, I’ll let you give me your spiel,” I said.

Did she ever. She laid it on thick. She, of course, had photos of malnourished South African children with pathetic facial expressions that could break the hardest of hearts. She worked the math, made $100 per month equate to something like two cents per hour. This girl had been trained, and well. Her overwhelming compassion wrapped around me like a noose, and Andrew 2008 — the one who was terrified of confrontation or conflict — may have said, “OK, take my money.”

Not I.

“You know, I just can’t make the financial commitment right now,” I said, thinking that would be enough.

Nope.

“OK, tell me why you can’t give,” she said.

Had she not heard me? No, she had. But the answer didn’t seem good enough.

“No, really, why won’t you give to these children?” she asked.

She had clearly missed her calling as an interrogator for the Department of Homeland Security. (She was probably unwilling to work for The Man.)

“I have to have a reason why I won’t give? Doesn’t that contradict what charity is?” I asked.

By now, I was seething. I was offended by her guile and utter lack of common sense. I know these charity workers answer the craigslist.org ad, endure boot camp for solicitors and probably deal with a lot of rude people day-to-day. But here, she was completely undermining the spirit of charity. Charity is about willful giving, not coercion.

I wanted to ask her, “How good would I feel about giving money now that I feel I’ve been forced to?” I came up with that zinger roughly 51 hours after our stand-off. I hate how that happens.

I ended up just walking away. She wasn’t going to hear me, and, ironically, I needed to get to the bank before it closed. I was going to open a savings account and a secured credit card to help boost my credit rating. These were both perfectly honorable things on my part, but they felt dirty and devalued after being ambushed by the clipboard bandit and her third-world orphans.

Maybe that’s what it’s come to in Portland — either you’re part of the solution or you’re an asshole.

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2 thoughts on “Causes for Concern

  1. Cambridge is swarming with the same people.

    Generally, my iPod is the way to go and gets me out of jams, but when I’m without it I often come up with a quick “sorry, gotta get back to work” or “I’m running late” type of thing simply because I don’t want to hear it.

    I’m of the mindset that if I were going to donate to charity, I’d do it by my own volition.

    Although Cambridge is instituting a new plan wherein they send out markedly more attractive people in heavily-trafficked areas and the more homely looking troops get sent out to bus stops and grocery stores.

    It was pretty effective, I nearly gave one chick $5 if she’d take a picture with me because she looked so much like Elizabeth Banks, I figured I could convince the world I’d met a celebrity.

    Alas, she wanted to hard sell me and we parted ways.

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