I haven’t gone canvassing before this year, and I’m surprised to find it a pleasant way to spend a sunny day. You stand in a circle in the morning training, practice telling issue-based stories, find a partner to walk with, and soon set out with a list of names.
You’ll see some of everything: a family where the daughter speaks rapid Mandarin to explain our presence to her dad; a woman who peeks out but says she’s not talking to anyone because of coronavirus but she’s happy we’re there; a long-haired guy who lets us into his apartment complex and points at the IWW flag on his wall when we ask if he knows who he’s voting for. Beautiful houses; houses with yards full of old broken things; houses with signs that say Trump, or Vote, or Bernie, or Warren, or Love is Love, or Blessed.
You work from an app. The organizer gives you a long, hyphenated number, and it brings up a map: houses, addresses, names, genders, ages, whether they’ve already voted. When you go knock on a door, you click through on each person: did you reach them? On a scale of 1–5, are they a supporter? Do they want to volunteer?
The app syncs to the cloud every few minutes, and you get a page of stats: I knocked 47 doors today and reached 80 people.
Only two or three of those people wanted to talk– but when they did, their thoughts were interesting to hear. “What issues are most important for you?” we ask.
The conversation really isn’t a sale– more of a mixture of poll and reminder. Though people open the door wary, most relax if you smile and talk naturally. “We’re out here trying to get out the vote! Have you already voted?”
“We don’t want to take up too much of your time, but — is there a candidate you’re leaning toward?”
Some houses have locked gates blocking access to the door. One house lists five guys younger than me; on a Sunday morning, I’m not surprised nobody answers. At lots of houses moms come to the door to answer for the kids whose names are registered to that address but go to college in another state.
Most of the time, nobody comes to the door. That’s okay.
When somebody does come to the door, it’s usually not the person the app says to ask for. We talk to them anyway.
“Do you have your ballot? You know that you have to check the box to say which primary you’re voting in?”
If they’ve already voted: “Did you know you can check online at votewa.gov to make sure your ballot was counted? Mine was refused and I’m not sure why, so you might want to check– there’s a button to have them send you another one!” That’s true, by the way. I re-voted yesterday.
Not everyone has received a ballot, so we tell them they can go to vote.org to print one. People don’t usually know; it makes a difference that we’re here.
The app has a script, and the morning training gave us another one. It’s a good way to not feel nervous, but after a house or two we just ad lib. People are mostly nice. Some are genuinely friendly or interested. Some clearly want us to leave, so we do — no hard feelings, “have a good day!”
I don’t much mind who you’re voting for. Or rather, I care a lot, but I know I’m not likely to change any set minds– and it’s much more important to me that you do vote, that you engage, that you put thought into the use you make of the power you have.
“What do you think it’s going to take to win on [the issue you care about]?” We ask. We share our own stories. We say why, on our weekends, we chose to walk neighborhoods and knock on strangers’ doors.
Myself, I’m out here hoping for hope. Ten thousand steps in the cold March sun is a way to be bigger than my ballot. I’m looking into the faces of neighbors and asking questions I hope everybody gets asked: what matters to you? How do you think we get there?