“Hi. My name is Anaea and I’m a volunteer with the Madison Southwest…”
“Don’t want any!”
I mildly enjoy canvassing. The weather’s been nice, and it’s a good excuse to go walking through neighborhoods, house by house, and see what different segments of the neighborhoods look like. You can tell when you’re on a street full of rental properties versus young couples versus older people nearing or in retirement. The rental properties feel shabby even when they aren’t, and the older people have immaculate yards full of gorgeous bulbs. My Realtor brain goes nuts for studying neighborhoods at this level. I learn more in an hour than I do on dozens of property tours.
“We’re a community organization going around our local district in preparation for the upcoming gubernatorial election.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
Last summer, when I was spending about 20 hours a week just on phone banking, my brain was threatening to dribble out my ears. One evening, I’d been home about ten minutes and was hanging out downstairs to keep from stalking Sylvie while she finished up cooking dinner, a college kid showed up at the door, canvassing for some progressive charity something something. He clearly had a long spiel that was going to end in asking for time and money, and since it was getting late, I didn’t want him to waste time at our door when the neighbors might well actually help him. “We’re exhausted and over-committed to causes already. Good luck, but we can’t help you,” I said. He stalked off, snarling, “Be that way!”
“I’ve just got three quick questions for you. First, are you registered to vote?”
If you’ve not seen me irate in person before, you’ll have trouble picturing how quickly that kid pissed me off. “Wait one minute,” brain-dribbly, exhausted me said. “That is not okay. Now you’ve irritated me and you ought to be making friends.” He protested that I’d been rude by not at least letting him spend the five minutes talking at me. It’s possible that would have been more decorous, but it it wouldn’t have been kinder. I was more zombie than human at that point, and when I’m home my roommates consider me the official house representative to strangers at the door. Also, Sylvie was cooking dinner, and I wasn’t letting her out of the kitchen until it was done.
“Good. Do you have a current, valid photo I.D. you can take with you to your polling place?”
I probably spent six minutes arguing with the kid about three minutes arguing with the kid about which one of us had been rude before I pointed out that it didn’t matter whether I’d been rude. He’d knocked on my door, asked for my time, and planned to ask me for a favor. I had no obligations to him, but he had obligations to his organization, to his cause, and to me for bringing them to me. He was entitled to squat, and if he couldn’t accept that from somebody suffering activism-induced brain-deadery, he had little hope of accomplishing anything. He stomped away. He probably called me a bitch, but was at least smart enough to do it quietly that time.
“Do you mind telling me which way, Republican or Democrat, you’re likely to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election?”
“That’s none of your business.”
It doesn’t bother me when people slam their door in my face, or tell me to fuck off, or want to know exactly who I am and exactly which group I’m with and precisely whose side I’m on before they’ll talk to me. I’ve just interrupted them during dinner, or while they’re mowing the lawn, or were otherwise going about their business. I’d tell me to fuck off if I caught myself at the wrong time. I really don’t understand the people who are bothered by it. You’ve got three hours and 60 doors to hit. Everybody who slams the door is somebody you finished with quickly, and who we don’t have to go back to. That’s way better than somebody who isn’t home. Besides, they’re absolutely right: It isn’t any of my business.
“Do you mind telling which way…you’re likely to vote…”
“Oh, we’re a teacher household. We’re getting rid of Walker. And I always make my kids vote, and they’ll be getting rid of him too. Are my kids on your list?”
The group I working with is affiliated with the Obama campaign and getting a lot of their resources from there, but all of the work they’re doing now is for the recall and they understand that once they switch over to campaigning for Obama, I’m gone. They seem confused about why somebody willing to spend as much time working on the recall as I am won’t touch Obama, but they roll with it. What I like is that since they’re a bit ad hoc, they don’t give out the horrifically bad scripts phone banks are always full of. They just want the answers to their questions. They expect you to ask about which way people are voting first, but I never do. That’s starting by asking for a favor when you could start by offering a service. Because “Are you registered to vote,” can be followed by, “Oh, here’s the information on how to get registered. Once open registration is back, we’ll send somebody to do that for you, if you like.” “Do you have an I.D.?” can be followed with information about the requirements of the new Voter I.D. law, in case the injunction doesn’t hold up.
“Democrat, of course. You’re not out for Walker, are you?”
Canvassing is a really great way to observe how different segments of society interact with the rest of society, too. Several times now I’ve realized that I’m asking for a young son as opposed to a husband because the woman at the door is mom-aged, black, and very concerned about why I’m there with a clipboard asking after her son. And you can see the moment she believes you that you’re just asking about voter registration, because she relaxes and becomes one of the friendliest people you’ll talk to that day. I have a sneaking suspicion those houses get skipped a lot. Or, at least, skipped by benign people.
“I’m not sure. I usually lean Republican, but if the Democrat’s a good one, I might have to vote for them.”
“Have you considered Arthur Kohl-Riggs for the primary?”
The best part of canvassing, though, is when I have an excuse to go off script 🙂