I Finally Went Canvassing

2018-06-25 – I finally went canvassing.

I’m not really a “people person,” so I was nervous about this. Talking to people with my mouth (as opposed to spouting off on my blog) always feels awkward.

But we’re living in awkward times, to say the least. It seems that we live in a do-it-yourself country. I’ve relied on others to do politics for many years. If I want to change the direction we’re headed, I’ve got to do it myself. Even if it feels awkward.

So I decided to go canvassing.

This is not your normal canvassing where you go out and check a box D or R so you know who you want to get to the polls. This is called “deep canvassing.” It’s more about listening than telling. I can do listening. And that’s what I did yesterday. Listen.

Now, yesterday I did more listening than what a journeyman deep-canvasser would do because I was an apprentice. I just tagged along with my trainers to see how it is done. And since it was such a nice day, lots of people weren’t home. So much of my listening was to the birds tweeting in the trees.

But we did meet some people. We met Republicans who are sick of Trump and Republicans who are ecstatic. We met Democrats who immediately went to 10 on the scale of whether they are likely to vote Democratic in the next election and we met Democrats who are more circumspect and afraid of what the neighbors would think.

I am still learning the process. I have a demonstration to go to next Saturday, but I expect to go back again in two weeks. I’ll probably get to take the lead at some of the houses when I go again.

I don’t have the whole “script” in my head yet, but the basic rules are these. We don’t argue facts or opinions. Our aim is to hear what they say. We give a little personal story about why we care about the election. Something about a loved one, nothing academic or theoretical. It might be about a family member who was sick and saved by Obamacare. It might be about an immigrant friend who was discriminated against. It might be about a family member who is off in Afghanistan. The more personal, the better. It’s never about anything you saw on TV.

The point is to get the voter to talk about themselves in a personal way. After we tell our story, we ask for theirs. And we listen and don’t argue or try to ‘splain anything.

If we’re talking to a Republican and our conversation makes us believe that the voter is unsettled, we ask if they’d be willing to come to a house party to meet with the Democratic candidate for Congress (Sean Casten). We don’t give them info right then. If they are strong Democrats, we explore the possibility that they might be willing to do volunteer work.

And that’s it. (I think. I’m still an apprentice.)

When I talk to people about deep canvassing, I sometimes hear that trying to persuade the opposition is futile and a waste of time.

I understand the point. Campaigns have finite resources. Money is better spent getting out the voters who are already on your side. From a short-term efficiency standpoint, I would agree.

But this has been the common wisdom for decades. Many Republican voters have therefore never talked to a Democratic canvasser. Or, if they’ve talked to Democrats, it’s been argumentative and unpleasant. We don’t do that.

I’m not naïve about this. The stats on deep canvassing are dismal on the surface. Deep canvassers almost never flip life-long Republicans to become Democrats. The best we can hope for is a promise to vote Democratic in one election only. And we fail to accomplish that feat 9 out of 10 times!

But if you flip these statistics, you find that we can move the needle 10 percent! But a 10-percent switch is huge in a district where you only need 1 percent. And maybe it’s only for one election, but maybe people might find they are happy after they’ve done it.

And the 9 out of 10 who we don’t flip?

Maybe we’ve taken a little wind out of their sails. We weren’t ogres. We didn’t argue with them. We might have been the only Democrats they’ve encountered that didn’t give them a hard time. Okay, so we didn’t flip them. But maybe we’ve started a dialog.

What do you think? Scroll down to comment.

Does this post remind you of a song? Let me know in the comments.

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One response to “I Finally Went Canvassing

  1. The first political song I remember hearing was “Barry’s Boys” by the Chad Mitchell Trio. I heard them play at the old Chicago Sinai Congregation on South Shore Drive in 1964. The song appears on their album “Reflecting.”

    We’re the bright young men, who want to go back to Nineteen-Ten, we’re Barry’s boys.
    We’re the kids with a cause, yes a government like grandmama’s, we’re Barry’s boys.
    We’re the new kind of youth at your alma mater,
    Back to silver standards and solid Goldwater
    Back to when the poor were poor and rich were rich
    And you felt so damn secure just knowing which were which.
    We’re the kids who agree to be social without security, we’re Barry’s boys…

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