ACLU should hire me to write them better canvasser scripts

Christian Patterson
2019-02-04
Underground Mall

the River City building in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago

At the end of 2017, I temporarily worked as a canvasser for Grassroots Campaign, a for-profit organization that works on behalf of non-profits to fund raise. If you live in most large American cities with, you’ve probably encountered these canvassers.

I only worked there for a month because you have to meet a quota. If you get below quota (what the company pays for your labor per day — $125 in Philadelphia) in a week, then you are on review the next week. If you don’t meet quota the next week, you are fired. If you raise 80% or more of the office average, you receive $12/hour. If you raise below 80% of the average in a week, you are paid minimum wage (a degrading $7.25 in Pennsylvania).

The script they gave us to memorize and recite to people sucks in a lot of ways. If you’ve stopped for a canvasser, you know they go into a long diatribe that they’re reciting into thin air.

I typed up the script they gave us last year, and I will revise it. The revisions are based on what I realized were better ways of talking to people. The original version is wordy and laden with borderline legal or complex language that people get bored by.

I hope to demonstrate that Grassroots, ACLU, and whoever else, that they should give me a job, writing their canvasser scripts. Also, just for full transparency, this script was originally an April 2017 draft, but was used as late as October and November 2017, when I worked there. I may be wrong, but it seems ACLU is not currently canvassing through Grassroots, because I have run into former co-workers and they are all canvassing for Planned Parenthood now.

Ultimately though, when the script is from doesn’t matter. I’m not proposing the content of their scripts, but rather the presentation of their scripts.

a Brutalist building on a waterfront

Here is the complete script, no edits:

Thank you for stopping, my name is [blank], what’s your name?

I’m a paid fundraiser with Grassroots Campaigns, working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union — the ACLU.

We’re out here leading the resistance against President Trump’s attack on the Constitution.

As you know, Trump has the power to make his troubling campaign promises a reality — promises that aren’t just un-American, they are unconstitutional.

We stopped Trump’s muslim ban four times, but we have to keep the pressure on.

Right now, Trump and his allies are trying to:
– Deport 11 million undocumented immigrants
– Pass state laws to punish protesters
– And control what a woman chooses to do with her own body;

That’s why we need your help to make sure that Donald Trump will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU.

Here take a look! [Hand over tablet]

The best way you can help defend the Constitution is by making modest monthly contributions to the ACLU. Monthly contributions are best because on-going support is essential to sustaining the fight against Trump’s assault on civil liberties. We suggest $30 per month, and it’s easy to sign up.


Immediately, there’s a few things I want to improve:

It resorts to vague wording that is supposed to appeal to pathos too often. From my experience, people were more attentive when you give them concrete things. It sneaks in casual verbiage to make it seem less recited, but this casual verbiage is nested within a blatant script, making it seem inauthentic as hell, like the stereotype of the cool youth speaker sitting backward in a chair. Generally, it reads like some type of ad copy, and not like anything someone would actually say.

Without further ado, here is how I would change the ACLU and Grassroots canvassing script, and why:

Thank you for stopping, my name is [blank], what’s your name?

I would keep this part the same. It’s nice to thank people for stopping.

Original:

I’m a paid fundraiser with Grassroots Campaigns, working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union — the ACLU.

Revision:

I’m a fundraiser out here on behalf of the ACLU. Are you familiar?

I took out the bit about being a ‘paid fundraiser’ (I don’t know if they legally have to include that). I also took out the ‘American Civil Liberties Union’ bit and turned it into a question. When I was at work, I’d ask “why do we assume everyone knows the ACLU?” and my manager would say “everyone who would give money already knows about the ACLU.” From my experience, that was patently false. Plenty of people have never even heard of the ACLU, and if they hadn’t, they still may give a one-time donation, which isn’t as useful as a monthly donation, but something.

The ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s a group of attorneys and legal experts who have been fighting civil rights violations for almost 100 years.

I added this if the person says they’re unfamiliar with the ACLU. This is basically what my coworkers and myself taught ourselves to say, because like I said, the managers said it would be uncommon to find someone who doesn’t know the ACLU. But I asked everyone I stopped and about half of the people I canvassed knew of the ACLU, 25% had heard of the ACLU but knew nothing about it, and 25% didn’t know the ACLU at all.

a weird building partially overrun with nature

Original:

We’re out here leading the resistance against President Trump’s attack on the Constitution.

Revision:

The ACLU is resisting President Trump’s attacks on our rights.

I changed ‘we’ to ‘the ACLU’ to make it sound less culty. I get why it’s included, because it’s meant to empower the person you’re canvassing as part of the ‘we’. However, it also shows the canvasser’s hand as being someone reciting ad copy. It doesn’t sound organic that someone on the street would say ‘we’ instead of ‘the ACLU’.

I also got rid of the ‘leading the resistance’ bit which was one of the most repugnant parts of the script. That is the moment that cements this script as feeling like ad copy, written by a bot that combs Twitter for buzzwords.

I also changed ‘attacks on the constitution’ to ‘attacks on our rights’. My reasoning is that you have to treat the person you are talking to as the ideal audience. You have to assume they already hate Trump. So, if I assume this person hates Trump, then I assume they believe Trump is trying to take our rights.

I get that the ACLU protects rights that are granted in the Constitution. But, as a rhetorical device, the Constitution is usually evoked vaguely, to get all Americans, on both side of the alley, wound up. It’s a rhetorically hollow gesture. Trump taking away rights is a more grave threat to people who already hate Trump. Trump attacking the Constitution is what you say when you want to convince conservatives that Trump is bad, actually.

Original:

As you know, Trump has the power to make his troubling campaign promises a reality — promises that aren’t just un-American, they are unconstitutional.

Revision:

As you know, Trump is trying to fulfill troubling and unconstitutional promises he has made.

You may notice, I kept ‘unconstitutional’ here, but ditched the constitution last section. The reasoning is

The ACLU clearly likes the use of Constitution, since it’s evoked twice in a row, so I feel obligated to the original script in some ways. It makes more sense to use it in the second context. It’s more rhetorically powerful with this use of ‘constitution’.

Generally though, I just simplified this section. Part of the problem with the original is it was outdated — it implicitly suggests Donald Trump had just became president.

Original:

We stopped Trump’s muslim ban four times, but we have to keep the pressure on.

Revision:

The ACLU stopped Trump’s muslim ban five times in court, but they need to keep the pressure on.

Again, I changed ‘we’ language to ‘they’ language. Also, I changed ‘four times’ to ‘five times’. This was actually a change they told us to implement while I was there, and shows how the script is outdated.

This section about ‘Trump’s Muslim ban’ is actually one of the best parts of the script. If a Trump supporter was holding out from challenging you, that verbiage is the best way to weed them out. If they haven’t screeched about Trump yet, they almost always do when they hear ‘muslim ban’.

Original:

Right now, Trump and his allies are trying to:
– Deport 11 million undocumented immigrants
– Pass state laws to punish protesters
– And control what a woman chooses to do with her own body;

Revision:

The ACLU is currently working to stop Trump and his allies from:
– Deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and
– Passing state laws to punish protesters
I’m sure your familiar with all of those and more.

I changed the intro to emphasize that ACLU is fighting against these things that Trump is trying to do. I had several people who didn’t speak English as a first language, and they misinterpreted, thinking I was in favor of Trump’s policies, so I wanted it to be more clear.

Also, this might be controversial, but I deleted the third bullet point, which is about women controlling what they want to do with their bodies, i.e. abortions. I deleted it because the pitch works best when there’s a clear narrative, from A to B. Since the majority of the script is about immigrant/travel rights (Muslim ban, undocumented immigrants), the women’s rights bit feels like a detour. When I would flag people down to stop for me, I would usually say ‘Will you help defend immigrant rights with the ACLU?’ and I wanted my pitch to stay close to what I originally flagged them about.

Finally, I added the part at the end that suggests the listeners knows what I’m talking about. A lot of people want to rant with you about Trump sucking, give them a chance to express that! It has been awhile since you let the person you’re canvassing talk, so here is the time for them to express their agreement.

a weird patio in a courtyard of a desert home

Original:

That’s why we need your help to make sure that Donald Trump will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU.

Revision:

That’s why we need your help to ensure Donald Trump will contend with the full firepower of the ACLU.

I didn’t change this section much at all. I did condense the language and take out a couple of words, but didn’t change the message. To be honest, I kind of hate the ‘full firepower of the ACLU’ bit, but to get rid of that, I feel I’d have to drastically rewrite it.

Original:

Here take a look! [Hand over tablet]

The best way you can help defend the Constitution is by making modest monthly contributions to the ACLU. Monthly contributions are best because on-going support is essential to sustaining the fight against Trump’s assault on civil liberties. We suggest $30 per month, and it’s easy to sign up.

Revision:

Here take a look! [Hand over tablet]

The best way you can defend civil liberties is monthly contributions to the ACLU. Monthly contributions provide on-going support for fighting against Trump. We suggest $15 per month, and it’s easy to sign up.


The original version of the money pitch had issues with word salad and legal sounding language. It’s verbose and repetitive. It felt like the canvasser was verbally clearing their throat to get to the bombshell of $30 (THIRTY DOLLARS) per month at the end.

I simplified it, made it more direct, with clearer links between objects verbs and subjects, instead of getting bogged down in word soup. I also changed it to $15 instead of $30 because LITERALLY WHO has the audacity to ask a stranger on the street to voluntarily give $30 per month to an organization? I never had anyone give more than $20 per month, and if people give monthly, it’s typically only $10 per month (the minimum).

Balfron Tower in the Poplar District of the East End of London

So there it is, my frankly modest revisions. I say modest because it still has the same frame and structure of the original, and a lot of shared language. But it is more concise, direct, and conversational, while still being changes I could see ACLU making.

I will say though, the times I was most likely to get contributions was when they already had it in their mind they wanted to contribute, and didn’t want to listen to the spiel, or, when I talked to them like a normal human being and sprinkled in bits from the script.

And that is why ACLU and Grassroots should hire me, an actual non-attorney (but with legal experience!) writer, to write their scripts.

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