To sign or not to sign

Save the children! Get out and vote! Stop the pipeline!

Sometimes it seems like you can’t go anywhere on campus without being stopped by signature gatherers. It’s as if they’re waiting like a red-rover defense line to block you from your destination.

If you’re lucky, you might see them stationed down the block before you reach them, their colored T-shirts and reflective vests decorated with the names of their nonprofit organizations across their torsos and backs while their clipboards are in hand.

If you notice them early enough, you may be able to engage tactical maneuvers of avoidance—I usually walk across the street out of their line of fire. When there is no other choice but to cross their path, the quick shake of the head in tandem with mumbling “no time” comes into play.

Perhaps you’ll be even luckier and they’ll be busy with someone else caught in their net as you pass completely off the radar.

Their unnaturally large smiles and too loud, too cheery, saccharine greetings are unnerving. All you can think about is getting to class or work. Even though you know that they are simply doing their jobs, you really want to ignore them completely. It’s not like they’re bad people; many of them are students just like us, trying to make an honest living one signature at a time.

Hell, collecting signatures is probably more honest than most jobs out there, with all the awareness they’re raising while trying to create change. The job is literally pounding the pavement, bringing issues to the forefront, fighting the good fight! I admire them.

So, why do most of us treat them like a blight on society? Usually we truly do have a moment or two to spare, and truth be told we could all pay more attention to issues in our community and in the world.

But let’s face it: Those bright-eyed optimists, the collectors of our autographs and personal statistics, are reminders of all that we don’t seem to have time for or feel capable of doing. We may think, “I’m just a student. What can I do? One signature won’t make any real difference!” and maybe that’s true. But what about 100 signatures? How about 1,000? Besides signatures, how about the old adage that knowledge is power?

We can’t enact real change without staying informed. Unbeknownst to them, they are holding a mirror in front of us as we hastily walk by, reflecting who we are and who we would like to be. What if the issue at hand affected us or someone we love personally? What if we were as empathetic as the people willing to stand there and fight day in and day out for the issues, even though we are seldom excited to see them? Would that quell our annoyance of their interruptions into our ever-so-important errands?

If we thought about signature gatherers in terms of teachers, facilitating a kind of informal learning right there on the street corner, listening with an attentiveness as if we had paid for the knowledge, might we treat them differently?

Let’s hope so.