Posts Tagged ‘elections’

The art of the canvass

November 5, 2018

For many years I was a newspaper reporter and didn’t allow myself even the teensiest involvement in electoral politics. No campaign buttons, no bumper stickers, no lawn signs. I didn’t go as far as former Washington Post editor Len Downie, who famously didn’t allow himself even to vote, but I made every effort to show no bias that could be held against my newspaper and its news coverage. This was and still is standard practice in daily newspapers in the U.S., and it’s part of what is so disgusting about Trump and the right wing’s attacks on “biased mainstream media.” Every reporter I worked with over the years made scrupulous efforts to set aside their personal biases – for we all have them – and report in a fair and factual manner, even about politicans they personally found awful.

I wish I could sit down one-to-one with Fox News viewers and explain this to them. We try really, really hard to be fair. This is not a joke or a smokescreen. Journalists are individual people – people like your family, friends, neighbors – working our butts off and taking our responsibility as information providers in a democracy very seriously.

Anyway.

In 2008, I left my last newspaper job in one of the waves of news industry downsizing. I put an Obama bumper sticker on my car. Hooray! Amidst the sadness of leaving my profession, I was a citizen with a public voice again!

In 2012, I did one short round of phone banking for Obama. It was not enjoyable. It was the end of the campaign, and either people weren’t home or they didn’t want to hear from the 432nd person calling them.

In 2016, I went to Las Vegas and did a weekend of door-to-door canvassing for Clinton. It was fascinating, educational, and fun.

This fall, I’ve done a bunch of canvassing for Democratic candidates in swing districts in California’s Central Valley – four days for Josh Harder in Congressional District 10 (near Modesto) and this past weekend for T.J. Cox in CD 21 (south of Fresno).

IMG_1826

Getting ready to canvass at Josh Harder’s campaign headquarters in Modesto

Door-to-door canvassing took a little bit of attitude adjustment for me. With a graduate degree and 30+ years of experience in newspapers and nonprofits, I didn’t want to just be a “worker bee.” It felt wasteful to not be using my writing skills or organizational knowledge. But I wasn’t prepared to put in the months of time required for a higher-level role in a campaign, and what these campaigns needed was worker bees. So… off I buzzed.

If you’ve never canvassed, it can seem scary – talking to strangers! What if they disagree with you? What if they yell at you? But the scariness quickly wears off. Maybe two or three out of every ten households are actually at home. You become so happy to get a live person at the door that it almost doesn’t matter if they support the other candidate. And by and large, people are civil if not friendly. The campaign doesn’t want you wasting time on fruitless arguments with diehards for the other side: Your job is to talk to the undecided, identify supporters, and make sure those supporters fill out their mail ballots or go to the polls.

IMG_1950

Sign at T.J. Cox’s campaign office in Hanford (CD21)

Canvassing is exhausting. Like going to a zoo or a museum, you may not be covering a lot of miles, but you are on your feet all day. There is also an up-and-down rhythm of stress. You approach a door and your adrenaline rises: Will there be anyone home? Will they want to talk with me? What will I say? No one answers, and your adrenaline level plummets. Then you walk thirty feet to the next house, and the process starts all over again.

In a day of canvassing, there are usually one or two encounters that stand out and make it worthwhile. On one trip to Modesto, I managed to help a Latino voter sign up for an absentee ballot entirely in (my very poor) Spanish. On another trip, I met a single father of four who had volunteered on the Clinton campaign and who offered to volunteer on Josh Harder’s campaign. I met an elderly Filipina who gave me her absentee ballot to turn in – saving her a trip to the post office, and ensuring it wouldn’t get lost or forgotten – and who told me she was praying for Harder every day.

IMG_1925

My friends Monica and Lindsey canvassing in Modesto (CD10)

IMG_1773

Canvassing with my neighbor Leslie in Turlock (CD10)

In our trip this past weekend to CD21, my friend Beth had a string of luck meeting 18-year-olds who had never voted and weren’t yet registered. She let them know that in California, you can register all the way through election day if you go to the county elections office! They were thrilled to be able to vote – exchanged fist bumps with her – and she racked up another three or four votes for T.J. Cox.

One of the highlights for me of canvassing this year was doing it with various configurations of friends – one trip with the women in my writing group, another with my next-door neighbor, others with Jewish women friends, not all of whom knew each other before the canvass trip. Carpooling to the swing districts provided rare down-time to catch up, share life stories, and learn about each other. Navigating unfamiliar neighborhoods and working through our “turf” together was a bonding experience. On our CD21 trip, the five of us stayed at a wonderful Air B&B on an organic peach farm in Dinuba, and got a tour of the farm from owner Mike Naylor.

Consider election-season canvassing for your next “girls’ weekend” – less expensive than a getaway to a spa or to wine country, and better for the world!

Now we’re one day out from actual voting. I have no better idea than anyone else of what the outcome will be. I’m as wracked by fear and angst as any other liberal right now. But I feel less powerless than I otherwise would because of the “worker bee” canvassing I’ve done.

And I feel heartened by how many other people – both friends of mine and strangers — have been canvassing, phone banking, texting, and writing postcards as part of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. They’re not just whining on Facebook – they’re putting in time and doing stuff.

Fingers crossed!

In 2020, I hope to take the next step — not just canvassing for individual days/weekends, but making a commitment of weeks or months to campaign in a swing area.

Advertisements

I’m Ilana, and I have an online addiction

September 15, 2010

Let’s pretend, just for today, that this blog is a meeting of a twelve-step program: 

“I’m Ilana, and I have an online addiction.”  

It’s not buying used watches on Ebay. It’s not Farmville (been there, done that). It’s not watching Stupid Cat Trick videos on YouTube. 

I fear I’ve become addicted to making online political contributions. 

Here we are entering the thick of the election season. And things have not been looking good for us blue-state,  pro-choice, pro-environment, liberal Democrat types. Every day brings another headline about how Republican candidates are raising unprecedented amounts of corporate money. Or how almost one out of five Americans persist in bizarrely believing that President Obama is a Muslim. Or how polls show independent voters supporting Republican over Democratic Congressional candidates by a 13-point margin, the biggest such tilt since 1981.

And so what do I do when emails show up in my box asking for money for Democrats? 

I click and give. 

It’s so easy, sitting here at my computer all day while trying to revise my novel. I don’t have to write a check, don’t have to address an envelope. Just click. 

I guess some people have this problem with buying consumer stuff online. They get emails from Amazon, or Zappos, or Lands’ End offering all sorts of deals and they click and buy. Me, I delete all those offers. 

Instead I click and spend: 

  • $100 today to reelect Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. (Feingold in trouble? What are we coming to?)
  • $200 on Monday to help J Street reelect three pro-Israel, pro-peace Democrats.
  • $200 last week to MoveOn.org to support a bunch of progressive Congressional candidates.  

This is on top of money I gave to the Barbara Boxer campaign last spring to take my daughter to a fundraiser featuring Obama

Yikes! Enough already! Sam and Becca may not get any Chanukah presents this year at the rate I’m going. 

Thinking about it, maybe this is a bit of pent-up demand. I wasn’t allowed to make political contributions all those years that I was a newspaper reporter. So now I’m going overboard at a chance to put my money where my mouth is. 

And rationally, I know I’m probably panicking more than I should. The upside of all the frightening news about the Republican resurgence is that it may energize Democrats and the left. Hopefully there are a ton of people like me right now who are making $50, $100, or even $10,000 contributions, and who will get themselves and their friends to the polling booths in November.

And maybe all these extreme Tea Party types who are taking over the GOP will alienate moderate voters. The Democrats will keep their majority in the Senate, lose less than they fear in the House, and we can move forward with things like fighting climate change, fostering renewable energy, regulating the finance industry in a way that serves consumers, and encouraging a culture of religious and social tolerance in the U.S.  

Then I can check myself into a rehab for recovering online-political-contribution addicts.

Hopefully. 

Meanwhile, I click.