The latest installment of my “Salzburg Journal” opens with a somewhat peculiar item. I’d like to quote it, then make a comment:
There are a few Jehovah’s Witnesses about. They warmly offer their literature. It takes guts to do what they do — evangelize among strangers on the streets. Sure, such people can be annoying from time to time. But I admire them. How many of us would have the nerve? Or the courage of our convictions?
I have thought the same about Mormons, throughout the world. I remember a pair of cheerful young women who approached me on the streets of Oslo. First they spoke to me in Norwegian. Then, switching to English, they said, “Can we share with you The Book of Mormon today?”
I was rushing, but I wished them well, and I truly meant it. Hell, I would have trouble selling encyclopedias door to door (or whatever the modern equivalent is). I’m sure I couldn’t do it. I might wind up playing ding-dong ditch.
After writing this, I thought, “What about the clipboard people in New York? Are they to be admired?”
The “clipboard people,” as some of us know them, are young men and women who stand around Manhattan, usually on nice days, usually in pairs. They are Soros-funded, I believe. They stop people to ask them to sign petitions or something in favor of a variety of left-wing causes. For example, they’ll say, “Do you have a minute for equal rights?” They mean gay marriage. Or, “Do you have a minute for the environment?” They mean some form of green extremism. Or, “Do you have a minute for reproductive freedom?” You know what that means. I wish they’d just say “abortion,” flat-out.
I do not really admire these people, as I do those Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons I mentioned. Reason: What the clipboard people do is safe, easy, and banal. Here in New York, they’re doing the equivalent of giving away beer to thirsty frat boys. There’s nothing nervy or gutty about it.
Speaking of street people: Earlier this summer, I was stopped on the Upper West Side of Manhattan by a lone, clipboard-bearing man. Or rather, I stopped myself — because he was asking for signatures to get himself on a ballot. Congress, I think. I almost always sign to get people on ballots, no matter who they are. I think participation in democracy should be supported.
As I was signing, the man said, “What changes would you like to see around here?” I said, “Oh, my vote doesn’t really count. I’m a Reagan Republican. I have no effect whatsoever.”
Then he said something that quite surprised me: “I’m from Dixon, Illinois” (the Gipper’s hometown). New York is a city of people from elsewhere — a “city of newcomers,” as Myron Magnet says. (That’s one reason they could elect Bill de Blasio mayor last year: They had no memory of what the city was like when people such as de Blasio ran it. These lessons are unlearnable without experience, it seems.)