Lessons from Door-to-Door, Get-Out-the-Vote Canvassing
For two years, I’ve been suffering from a strange, specific feeling: I’m in a hole in the ground and steamy manure is being shoveled on top of me as I lie there holding my breath.
I’d been counting on the midterm elections to offer sweet relief from this slow-death-by-dung sensation. But donating $10 to distant campaigns and sharing social media posts about voter rights weren’t helping me shake that feeling of being powerless over my own fate — of having to shut my eyes tight and just … acclimate to the aroma of excrement.
So when a friend asked if I would canvass door-to-door for a Democratic candidate in a tight congressional race two days before the election, I jumped at the chance to do something that might actually have an impact. I’ve never canvassed before, and in fact I loathe anyone coming to my door uninvited. But if I’ve learned anything since Election Day 2016, it’s that democracy is a full-contact sport. So I suited up in sunscreen and sneakers and got out the gosh-dang vote.
We had 30 minutes of training (it’s illegal to leave literature in mailboxes and a waste of time to engage in arguments) before being sent out in pairs to our assigned neighborhoods. It was rattlingly awkward for the first couple of houses, but then you find your groove. I enjoyed telling people that our candidate supports women’s reproductive rights, more funding for schools, and protecting social security — but that I personally just want to hamstring the sociopath who struts through our West Wing dreaming up ways to romance the Klan (I’m paraphrasing).
My husband and I “dropped lit” or spoke to voters at 109 houses over five hours in 85-degree heat. And we learned so much along the way:
- Despite the deluge of proud-voter posts on your social media feeds, many people don’t give a flying fascist about elections. Most folks I spoke to didn’t realize Election Day was 48 hours away … and that their polling place was the school they could literally see from their front door.
- You would not believe how much political campaigns know about you before they approach your door. We used an app that told us the name, age, party preference, voting frequency, and polling place of the residents of every house on every block in any neighborhood. Canvassers might not tell you they know all that because they don’t want to freak you out, but they know it.
- “No Solicitors” signs are a joke. Our trainer told us to ignore them because we weren’t selling anything and we had every right to communicate with voters. Astoundingly, no one with a “No Solicitors” sign grumbled at me for bypassing it.
- Video doorbells are campaign kryptonite. Fact: Anyone who sees you and your “Vote!” T-shirt and clipboard before they open the door will not open the door. I never spoke to a single person at a house where I had to push a Ring™ video-camera doorbell and stand there uncomfortably while they assessed me from within. *shiver*
Another volunteer was nearly whacked with a broom on her route, but we found most folks friendly and most conversations fascinating, from the young woman with a heart transplant who was concerned about preexisting conditions to the young man — a first-time voter — who wanted to talk through his feelings on abortion. My favorite encounter was a nonvoter: a Mexican gentleman excited about taking his citizenship test next week so he could start voting to “put checks and balances back in the government.”
I bruised my knuckle from knocking so much, I sweat through my sweat-proof deodorant, and I nearly peed my pants thanks to lunging guard dogs who clearly mistook me for a Republican. But I went home feeling more powerful — and more peaceful — than I had in 24 feculent months.
And when our candidate won her seat in the House of Representatives, I finally clambered out of my mental manure pit and inhaled the sweet, scat-free scent … of hope.