Jason Underwood is more of a poet at heart, but poets aren't well-paid nowadays. So, for money, he circulates ballot-initiative petitions, usually getting paid 50 cents to a dollar for each signature. You may have met Underwood downtown or on Fourth Avenue while he was working. He's been circulating petitions for about three years now, off and on, since petitions go in and out of season. He also studies theology at Pima Community College during the school year.
It must be tough, trying to get random strangers to sign a petition.
Most people are fairly cool. They're either willing to help, or apathetic and just don't care.
What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on the job?
Some people have threatened me.
What did they threaten to do?
Physically, just, you know, to hit me, but that's very rare.
How many times has that happened?
It's happened two or three times.
Is this hard to do, to get people to sign the petitions?
Not really. A lot of people approach me and say, "What are you doing?" And I tell them, "I'm collecting signatures for a petition." Besides, I'm not a bad salesman.
Do you think this is like selling stuff?
It's like sales or any job that deals with people, except (the petition signers) don't get anything out of it. So, you need to convince them they're doing a good thing. But most people are willing to help the cause.
What was the hardest petition you ever had to push?
They're all pretty easy.
Was there ever one you didn't like doing?
Last year, there was a petition to ban same-sex marriage. I only did it for a couple of weeks.
What did you think about gay marriage at the time?
I was indifferent at first; it didn't matter to me. Then I realized that things like that are violating the separation between church and state. Gay marriage is a moral issue--it's not something we need a law for. It's just a law against something that's not hurting anyone. So, I stopped circulating it. It was one of those things where I thought, "It's not hurting anyone, so let's focus on bigger things."
You get to choose which petitions you want to collect signatures for? Can you do whichever ones you want?
Yeah, we can choose whichever ones we want; it doesn't really matter.
Are there any petitions that you've really liked?
A good one was (last year's successful drive to increase the) minimum wage. People do deserve a certain wage for what they do. Even the most menial jobs deserve more than $5.15 and hour, or whatever (workers) got then.
Do you think that what you do makes a difference of some kind?
I deal with a lot of crap, a lot of misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge. But every once in a while, I meet some 18-year-old kid who's still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and not jaded by the world yet. I tell them about democracy, and I register them to vote, and that makes me feel very good.
Any weird reactions from people that stick out?
One woman told me, "I'm voting for myself!" So, I said very light-heartedly, "Well, who's gonna vote for you if nobody knows you're running?" And she said, "God's going to vote for me."
Where do you go out and hustle signatures?
In public places, on street corners, at libraries, public offices, public buildings--it's the easiest way to get people. Some of my fellow petitioners have agreements to work in front of stores, but I don't like to do that much.
What's the biggest excuse not to sign?
The biggest excuse is, "I don't care."
Do you like your job?
I have the best job in the world. I get paid to stand around, when I want, and where I want, for as long as I want, and all I have to do is ask people, "Are you registered to vote?" And if they say yes, I ask them to sign a petition.
Do people try to sign their names with blue pens, like I did?
Legally, you're supposed to use a black pen for petitions. So, I always have a few black pens with me, and if someone gets out their own pen, I make a point to make sure it is a black pen. Blue pens are unacceptable on most petitions.
Do a lot of people try to use blue pens?
No, never. Just you.
What do you have to say to apathetic people?
A lot of people think that their vote doesn't count, but the only time that's true is when you don't vote. No one is capable of everything, but everyone is capable of something.