5 Tips to GOTV with Kids This Weekend

By Jenn Kauffman, PL+US’ Political Director

After the birth of my first daughter and emerging from the newborn haze, I was eager to find ways to hack some semblance of our former social life. I discovered babywearing, baby-friendly beer gardens and restaurants, and the corollary to Murphy’s Law that dictates blowout diapers will occur whenever you are furthest away from a diaper changing station or without a change of clothes.

And then it was 2016, and because my husband and I both work in politics, we were in the thick of it. Suddenly the things we used to do so easily — show up at rallies, door knock, phone bank, lobby our representatives — were a lot harder, but also a lot more important. It wasn’t about our future anymore; it was about hers.

The stakes have only gotten higher in 2018. My daughter is now a sassy, no-let-ME-do-it three-year-old, and we also have a brand new baby boy. And the future also feels more precarious. After my daughter overheard a clip in Spanish of a 6-year-old immigrant child in detention, she looked at me and said, “she just wants to be with her aunt.” I was in shock; at first because I didn’t realize my daughter had become that fluent in Spanish, and then because I couldn’t find the words to say something that would make sense of what my daughter had just heard.

Instead I told her, “It’s important to use your voice to speak up when something isn’t right.”

So we got right back to marching. And lobbying. And reaching out to voters.

As we head into the last weekend before Election Day, this is the last chance for families to get out the vote. Door knocking with kids is great! You’re able to have longer conversations with voters, and your kids get to meet a lot of new faces and learn about the value of voting and being involved. Here are some hacks that I’ve learned along the way on how to make canvassing kid-friendly and some lessons I gathered from friends and other civically-engaged parents.

Have the Right Gear:

As you get setup, ask for turf in neighborhoods where there are sidewalks or roads that are easy to navigate with kids.

Bring babywear for your youngest to make stairs and hills easier. A mom in Charlotte told me that if it covers your campaign t-shirt, then plaster a campaign bumper sticker across the carrier. For older kids who might not be able to walk the entire turf, bring a stroller.

And the number one piece of advice from the informal poll on my Facebook feed. SNACKS. Lots of snacks. Fill a backpack with your most beloved kid-friendly snacks and water for mini breaks throughout your canvassing.

My daughter melting down because it’s not possible to vote twice.

Sh*t Happens:

You can map the cafes or fast food restaurants along your route for a quick snack or bathroom break — but those Murphy law moments will still happen.

My son had a massive blowout in the middle of a historic Senate hearing, and I couldn’t do much about it other than cover it up with a blanket and smile. Somehow knowing you’re making a difference makes a really gross diaper a little easier to clean up.

Make It a Game:

Make canvassing a game not a chore that keeps kids engaged and shows them that being politically active can be fun.

CJ Grimes, Campaign and Digital Strategist at M&R and veteran door-knocker challenges her daughter to try different kinds of walking on different blocks (backwards, sideways, skipping, difficult combinations) and have them bet on whether people were home or not. And if they would be wearing pants.

Adam Ruben, former Political Director at MoveOn and dad of an 11 and 12 year old shared that they gamified it with points to earn donuts. One son handed out lit, the other tracked points at each house. “Towards the end they were so desperate to earn more points and hit our goal that they each learned the rap and started canvassing people themselves. They even cooperated and did doors together.” The true measure of success? One son said was it was weirdly fun and offered to go canvassing again next weekend.

For those who want to play this weekend, the goal was 100 points for the whole family with points for things like excellent Halloween decorations (1 point), cats (2 points because they’re hard to spot!), and purple doors (1 point). Yippy dogs cause you to lose 1 point. And if you’re playing the PG-13 version a “F*** off” gets you 5 points.

Let Them Lead:

Ringing doorbells alone is a thrilling enough task for the under 5 set. For older kids, have them hand out literature, check off the sheet, or make up a rap or rhyme about why people should vote for your candidate.

To make this more manageable for your kids, ask for two smaller canvassing packets instead of just one in case you need to leave early. It also makes it easier for the campaign to if you can complete one small packet rather than turn-in a half-completed regular-sized packet.

Be Safe:

Safety is always important when canvassing, especially so with kids. Don’t enter fenced yards because there may be dogs that get skittish around kids. For parents of color like myself, having kids with you can make you seem more approachable, but don’t be afraid to say no to canvassing in areas where you may be subject to unwarranted scrutiny or you feel uncomfortable.

These tips have helped me door knock, attend hearings at the Capitol, rally at senators’ offices, and continue my activism — and along the way teach my kids to do the same. Parents and families are at the epicenter of this election whether they’re on the ballot or policies that will support them are. So with my 3-year-old and baby boy in tow, we’re going to do everything we can to use our voices and to make things right.