chuggerAnyone who lives in Britain is probably well acquainted with the “Chugger” phenomenon. Since I’m not sure if our transatlantic friends have “chuggers” or not I’d best spell out what they are. “Chugger” is short for “charity mugger”: people who work for charity fundraising companies and hang out in the street trying to make money out of us. Once upon a time charity collecting simply involved a little old lady standing outside a high street shop with a collection box that she rattled every now and then to alert you to her presence. If you gave her a few pennies you got a little sticker to wear proudly on your lapel to let everyone know you support “Cancer Concern” or “Save the Children” or, my personal favourite when I was a child, “local spastics.” But these days it’s a much more aggressive phenomenon as “fundraising professionals,” aka Chuggers, bounce up to you in the street and start talking to you, normally loudly and frequently zany.

Frankly it’s become a pain in the ass. I’ve started walking through Belfast’s brand new shopping centre on my way home and almost every time I exit I get approached by no fewer than 5 of these people in the space of about 200 meters of pavement: one chugger per 40 metres of footpath, or one every 15 seconds. Last Thursday three of them were working for a charity called “Children in the Crossfire” (or something like that) and another group were working for a cancer charity of some description. Apparently there’s a one in three chance I’ll die from cancer, and I guess I’d rather not see children caught in any kind of crossfire, so these charities are worthy causes but I’m put off supporting either of them because they use these fundraising companies to harass people on their way home. I hate the fundraisers and their methods, so I have a problem with those who employ them.

Because of the annoyance they cause I was delighted to discover recently that “chugger” is also a slang term for “wanker”: which therefore doubly justifies that description.

We’ve had this kind of activity in Belfast for several years now. In my own experience of these people I have found that a firm “not interested,” accompanied with a hard stare usually does the job of fending them off. However, a new species of chugger appears to be evolving. This new “super-chugger” (or “big wanker,” if you like) isn’t so easily deflected. I have noticed that they particularly enjoy shouting at strangers across a pedestrian precinct, (a habit shared only by those who are drunk and disorderly), perhaps in an attempt to embarrass people into stopping for a chat. Some go to even greater lengths. I was once followed by a super-chugger a short way along the pavement despite having told him that I wasn’t interested in his spiel. Undeterred he followed me, saying something like, “yeah, but once you hear these kinds of statistics you can’t ignore it.” Even more firmly I said “I’m really not interested.” He simply continued, “but how can you not care…” at which point I stopped and turned to him and said, “for the third time, I’m not bloody interested.” The look on his face would have suggested that I’d just shoved an angry tom cat up his arse. On another occasion a young female super-chugger tried to put the guilt trip on me. After my firm “not interested” she shouted after me, rather righteously, “really sir? You’re not interested in helping out a charity?” I ignored her, and I shouldn’t have. I should have walked back and asked her what gave her the right to assume I wasn’t interested in charity on the basis that I didn’t want to stand being patronised by, and within flea jumping distance of, some dirty little dreadlocked holier-than-thou tramp. Lost opportunity, damn shame.

These pimples on the backside of humanity are a pure nuisance, and obviously getting worse. But, we, the public, have the power to put an end to this practice. I always found it highly bizarre that anyone would hand their bank details out to a complete stranger in the street after a 10 minute marketing speech. I guess many people allow themselves to be bullied into giving a donation either via the guilt-trip or just to get away from some wind-bag chugger before the universe ends. But, there is another way of escape. The proper approach is be as firm as possible with these folks that you are not interested. If you still end up in the clutches of a chugger then there is a plan B: if you really like the sound of the charity then tell the person politely and firmly that you would like to think about it more so as to make a rational decision, and then contact the charity directly to make your donation. This way your money goes directly to the charity and not partly into the coffers of the charity marketers, and, killing 2 chuggers with one stone, sends the message to the charity that this form of collection is not working and should be dropped. In addition a quick message to the charities who use these fundraisers that we refuse to support them as a direct result of their aggressive tactics might also help.

Notice that I never suggested a ban: which some other commentators on the chugger phenomenon have done. Bans are almost always a bad way to do social business: morally and practically. The problem is the charities must benefit from these tactics otherwise they wouldn’t use them. So, the only way to change the situation is for the general public to start following the suggestions in the previous paragraph. Unfortunately it sounds too much like hard work for many people so we are left with only two options: ban it or suffer it. In true libertarian fashion I’m afraid I must, regrettably, bite the bullet and suffer it. However much we may hate something banning is never the right policy unless rights are being infringed, and in this case they aren’t.

Despite my loathing for these people, despite wanting to punch them full in the face every time they give me that wide-eyed “hey, buddy” look, they are entitled to free speech like anyone else. Sometimes I really hate being a libertarian.