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The Socialist Case for Bernie Paying His Canvassers $15 an Hour

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Here’s a ridiculous idea to fuck with: what if Bernie Sanders, champion of the working class, actually paid his canvassers in 2020?

Before you jerk your knees in protest and insist that canvassing is a civic duty and that anyone who loves Bernie Sanders should be honored to do it for free, consider for a second that canvassing is most definitely labor.

At the surface level, canvassing is a job. Outside of electoral campaigns, unions pay staffers to knock on hundreds of doors each year. Many nonprofits pay people $15 an hour to canvass every day. In any major city, advocacy outfits such as Greenpeace and The Humane Society routinely pay street canvassers to organize their campaigns and hit up people on the sidewalk for contributions.

But even in the electoral arena, canvassing is physical and emotional labor. It’s taxing work to walk around for two hours, climbing stairs and knocking on doors of people you don’t know, asking the people behind them if they’ve started thinking about the election and listening to them explain their positions on issues that matter to them. This, times 100.

But even beyond the physical aspect of it, it is laborious for women canvassers to put up with the constant sexual harassment that they encounter knocking on doors of strange men. It is laborious for people of color to talk to so many white people who are ready to call the cops on them for the apparent crime of knocking on their door. It is laborious for trans comrades to risk themselves at the doors of people who have decided that they should not exist.

If you are still not convinced that canvassing is labor, then obviously I don’t know what else to say to you and you might as well stop reading here and go back to your business being unsufferably wrong.

But assuming that you might agree with me that canvassing is laborious, a radically socialist idea that we could put forward for the 2020 election is to demand that candidates pay canvassers $15 an hour.

Paying people for the full value of their labor is an inherently socialist idea. It’s in fact maybe its core principle.

We could demand that ostensibly socialist candidates across the nation pay their canvassers instead of pretending like the billion-dollar campaign industry isn’t made up of highly paid consultants exploiting the bottom tier of free and underpaid labor. Last time I checked, consultancy firms for Presidential campaigns pull in millions of dollars worth of contracts. I’m watching a lot of “socialist professionals” flock to progressive-sounding consultancy firms right now in the hope of getting some of these contracts, under the guise of calling it “grassroots consulting,” but it’s the same bullshit.

Obviously, someone is getting rich during campaigns — it’s just not the worker.

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The alternative argument to this would be to admit that maybe canvassing as a tactic isn’t worth paying people $15 an hour to perform. I’ve heard this argument before, when I insisted that millionaire actor-cum-candidate Cynthia Nixon pay her canvassers $15 an hour in her 2018 bid for Governorship of the State of New York. During that campaign, Nixon sought the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of New York. Since Nixon lives in several mansions and is worth an estimated $60 million, I figured this is the least socialism she could do. I, of course, was immediately called batshit crazy by fellow socialists for making such a ridiculously socialist proposal.

But if canvassing were of no value to a campaign, then it would be simply irrational for campaign managers to put out calls for volunteer support. But I’ve worked on local electoral campaigns where we’ve paid canvassers $15 an hour because we needed the extra help. Unlike Presidential campaigns, which are Spectacles that consume all of our media focus to the exclusion of virtually anything else, city council campaigns receive virtually no media attention and canvassing is a required outreach tactic if voters are to have any hope of learning more about a candidate. At least at a local level, I absolutely know the real value of paying good canvassers for the contribution of their labor.

But perhaps it could be argued that paying canvassers in a national race isn’t a cost-effective strategy. After all, like I said, Presidential campaigns in America these days receive wall-to-wall media for years, making it hard to imagine that anyone would need a canvasser to tell them who Bernie Sanders is. Polls routinely show that he is by far the most recognized and admired candidate in the nation. Maybe he doesn’t even need canvassers.

But if he does need canvassers, and I assume as a candidate he would say he does, then as a socialist, Bernie should be moving to pay those canvassers $15 an hour for their labor. It would be affirming the value of the labor itself and recognizing the full dignity of the worker. Maybe I’m just naive, but it’s my belief that this is ultimately the world that socialists want to make possible.

It breaks my heart that so many people think realizing this world now in our socialist electioneering praxis is impossible, that it’s something we have to wait for until after we have already “won” socialism. But socialism to me is entirely about modeling new ways of being, of doing, so that we all might get free. Paying canvassers $15 an hour for their contribution seems like the least we can do in that struggle.

But whatever, 620 days until the election…xoxo.

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Documentarian of the absurd.

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