I know for a fact that some of you, despite repeated illustrated reminders, are bummed about having missed the registration deadline to vote in this year’s election. Or maybe haven’t gotten your citizenship, or for whatever reason can’t vote in the primary. But I’m here to tell you about the way you can make a difference anyway: by canvassing Brooklyn for your candidate.
Whenever I ask people to canvass, they always look at me like I’m asking them to WORK. But all it means is going door to door asking potential voters whether they will be supporting said candidate and making sure they know where their polling site is. And sure, it also means fielding questions about whether [insert candidate here] is really [insert religion here], but that’s half the fun. People are interesting, and their opinions about this year’s election even more-so. Best of all, canvassing means being able to join the great wired vs. unwired doorbell debate.
Learn about the political world outside of “the media”
There are too many self-appointed Nate Silvers, eyes glazed from looking at their amateur delegate calculators, voices hoarse from crushing your dreams. There are also other puffed up naysayers who haven’t spent a day outside talking to people outside of their immediate social circles. When you canvass, you are getting unfiltered opinions from the living, breathing representatives of different demographics.
#Brocktoons4Bernie canvassers Asher Ross and Margaux Nguyen told me they once came across an anti-stereotype in Bay Ridge:
“We met a voter who works in a hedge fund, who couldn’t wait to vote for Bernie,” said Ross. “We talked to him about why Bernie wants to break up the big banks, make them pay their fair share of taxes, bail out the middle class, and reign in corporate greed. He loved what we were saying. He darkly alluded to having seen Things, and told us that he was convinced that the greed and excess of his colleagues in the hedge fund, and on Wall Street in general, were going to drive the economy and the planet to ruin.”
It’s good exercise
Canvassing shifts are generally two to three hours of walking, which means you are getting seriously fit. Think of all the stoops you’ll climb. Take it to the max by skipping elevators in renovated apartment buildings. Do five push-ups every time you forget to ask a voter if they know their nearest poll site. If your canvass assignment is far from the drop-off location, you can jog there instead of taking the train. You will definitely reach your step count goal for the day either way. Potential voters will be impressed with your dedication to the cause! There are unexpected rewards to your physical labor, too: I was so sweaty at a door once that someone gave me a bottle of soda unprompted.
Be a lookie-loo into the lives of New Yorkers: rich, famous or just … interesting
If you live in New York City, you probably love getting into other people’s business and commenting on stuff they have that you want or don’t want. I know I love being nosey. Canvassing is your chance to see how rich people with bad taste interior decorate, what the kids these days are watching on TV, and what people decide is acceptable attire for answering the door.
And did you know that even celebrities are registered to vote? Which means you could be canvassing Patrick Stewart, Ilana Glazer, Chris Hayes, Anne Hathaway, Keri Russell, Jay-Z (if he ever comes back from LA) or Spike Lee. A couple of people on my canvassing team, Jeremy Skehan and Maya Taylor, once unknowingly canvassed Bernie Sanders’ childhood home in Flatbush! And former Working Families Party canvasser Jason Youngclaus was invited into author Paul Auster’s home, despite not knowing who he was at the time.
Regardless, things to discuss with your partner after you leave a stoop: how much you think they pay in rent, whether you would have put that couch there, what was cooking.
I’ve only seen a roach on someone’s wall once in my 10 years of canvassing.
It’s a great first date
Some people go it alone, but it is safer and most fun to go with a partner. And canvassing is basically taking a long walk with someone, a stroll if you will. You can sign up with a friend, or make a new one. It’s also a great excuse to spend some time with a crush who already shares your interests! You’ll get to see how your potential mate interacts with a wide spectrum of people and talks politics when provoked.
If you’re further along in a relationship, canvassing is a total couple’s outing. You could use the opportunity between knocking on doors to point out apartments you like and figure out what neighborhood and type of space you want to move into together. (If things go sour with your canvassing partner, just concentrate on conversations with voters. Sometimes there are cute single voters. I’ve never successfully hit on a voter…yet.)
Meet people/dogs in your neighborhood or in a new one
If you get “turf” in your neighborhood, you’ll meet people who you never knew lived on the next block. You’ll experience new neighborhoods and the people in them. You could find a new subculture or fusion cuisine. Best of all, you’ll learn about cultures and communities that exist outside of your social circle or economic status (what’s your bubble score?), who will likely be excited to share their stories with you. My fellow canvasser, Erol Cichowski, almost got a free dinner once when a woman in Harlem invited him in and insisted on feeding him.
“Sadly I had to decline because I had 75 doors left in the building,” he said. “But it was a highlight for sure.”
There is also the strong possibility of coming across dogs to pet at the doors or on the street. Even Trump voters will usually let you pet their dogs.
It’s way better than being an internet troll
Would you rather angrily sit for 20 minutes trying to compose a Facebook retort to someone who is most definitely not going to join your cause, or are you going to be outside talking to someone who might actually be swayed? Canvassing works. Trying to move the unmovable isn’t as productive as simply reminding a forgetful burnout that election day is tomorrow, or helping someone find their polling place. Even having a discussion about political issues with another person is a powerful act and makes a difference. I have flipped votes with mere enthusiasm for a candidate — trust me, it’s contagious.
It’s not stressful.
The campaign supplies you with a list of likely supporters to talk to, so if it’s for a Democrat, you won’t be talking to Republicans. Best of all, you barely have to do any planning: every door is neatly laid out on a Google map for you. Like a treasure hunt for democracy. Or guided trick or treating for adults. But listen, if you really can’t or don’t want to leave your couch, there’s always phone banking from home: the secretly pantsless way to engage voters!
Rachel Stein is feeling the Bern. Get at her on Twitter at @rachelevestein for Tweets from the Gowanus streets and/or to join #Brocktoons4Bernie, the only cat-inspired canvassing group in south Brooklyn. FYI, she’s also hosting a phone bank on April 18 at Triple Diamond Tattoo.
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