Tag Archives: primary election

Happy Primary Election Day, PA! (A Canvassing Tale)

24 Apr

Photo Credit: Beezwaxxx on Flickr

Hey, I’m posting on a Tuesday.  What could that possibly mean?

It means it’s Lollipop Tuesday y’all.  Strap in, cuz this one’s uncomfortable.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, jump on the bandwagon by clicking here.  Or just be lazy and keep reading.  You’re bright; you’ll catch on.

I must admit I’ve been rather lax about my Lollipop adventures as of late.  Last I checked in, I entered the macaroni and cheese contest (and surprisingly, took first prize).  But that was quite some time ago and without the challenge to do something new and uncomfortable, I’ve been getting settled in my old, hermity ways.   That’s probably why the idea to go Canvassing scared the bejeezus out of me.

You want to know what Canvassing is.  Basically, you go knock on people’s doors and ask them a few questions keyed toward the campaign you’re representing.  You can also call, but I went balls to the wall on this one.   I went representing the Obama campaign and the Obama folks wanted an answer to four questions: are you going to vote in the primary, who will you vote for, do you have a valid ID, and are you interested in volunteering.

To understand the sheer terror coursing through my veins at the thought of such a task, you have to understand that I don’t even answer my own front door.  When I order food, I ask Dave to answer the door and pay.  When the the adorable 3-year-old boy upstairs comes to knock on my door to ask Dave to come out to play, I don’t answer it.  True story: I saw my landlord pay the complex a visit last week and since Dave wasn’t home, I ran to my bedroom and turned the music all the way down on my laptop.

Needless to say, it was going to take some serious willpower to work up the Jackie Mojo to knock on the front doors of 60 strangers’ houses and try to hold a conversation with them.  I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing.

I showed up at the location at 11:00am and was greeted by some Obama enthusiasts (let’s call them Obamathusiasts). I signed in and was given a packet with a map of the neighborhood that pinpointed houses of registered Democratic voters.  It also contained a script and a list of everyone’s name, age, gender, and address at those houses. Creepy.

Before I knew it, I was seated and talking to a Obamathusiast veteran who was role-playing a front door scenario with me.  I was pretending she was Cara Brentley, Female, 48 years old.  I got the main points of the script and improvised my way through a pleasant conversation in which I answered the questions required of me and everything was glittering with unicorn sparkles throughout.

It’s times like these that Acting degree really pays off.

But I knew it wouldn’t be all unicorn sparkles out in the field.  People are mean.  And they don’t want to be bothered.  And they certainly don’t want to talk about politics.  Did I mention this was on a day the Penguins had a crucial playoff game? I was going to get stabbed by some anti-patriot hockey mom hermit and never going to be seen again.

When you’re afraid of the outside world, every encounter with humanity has potential to end in your death.

The Obamathusiasts broke us up into teams (one for the even side of the street, one for the odd), generously loaded us up with granola bars and water bottles, and drove us to our starting locations.  They were very generous with the food.  So generous, in fact, that I started to wonder if I could get stranded and die out there.  My volunteer shift was only four hours.  Why did I need so much food?  I chalked it up to the likelihood that someone would kidnap me and torture me with hunger in their basement and headed out into the Great Blue Yonder.

Only about one third of the houses actually have someone answer the door.  One was a 92-year-old lady who told me she wouldn’t vote because she’s too old to get out of the house.  I reminded her to get an absentee ballot for November, but she was mostly just concerned with me being sure to close her gate when I left.  I didn’t blame her: leaving it open would eat up at least an hour of her day.  

Surprisingly, for every person who wanted to kick me off their porch to get back the Penguins game or wanted me out of their face because they’re tired of what a joke the political race has been so far this year, there were people who were truly grateful people were volunteering their time to make sure people go vote.

I was about to leave house number 1494 and leave a peel-off sticker to show I’d visited when a woman shouted from her balcony that she was indeed home. I told her I was there with the Get Out the Vote Campaign and that I just wanted to make sure she had all the information she needed to vote in Tuesday’s primary.  She said she planned to vote, we discussed what to do about her concerns with updating her address, and I reminded her that in November she’ll need a valid ID to vote so she’d better bring it along Tuesday to work out the kinks.  She thanked me wholeheartedly and told me I was doing a good thing by giving information to people. I thanked her,  reminded of her polling place and the hours it was open and went on my merry way.

Glittering with unicorn sparkles.

We headed back to the staging area, and I tallied up  my total number of houses versus conversations held and added my sheet to the stack to be reported to the head office at 4pm.  While I sat around wondering if I was done for the day, the Obamathusiasts closed in, trying to get to know me and pushing for me to come out and volunteer again. I stressed that this was a one-time thing and that I just wanted to know what it was like.  But after politely declining several times, I decided it was best to just come clean.  I fessed up to having a blog where I try new and uncomfortable things and that I ventured out that day because the idea of it sounded like death.  I emphasized that this was something like my 60th new thing and if I joined every team I happened upon, I wouldn’t have been able to come Canvassing because it would have conflicted with Scottish Country Dancing up on Mount Washington.

They were surprisingly supportive and lovely.  They asked all about my blog, and told me how to get involved by signing up online in case I ever felt like revisiting this adventure.   And then they all stuck around to pull another shift.

The thing is, they don’t have a whole lot of volunteers.  It’s hard to get people to go outside their comfort zone.  It’s especially hard to get them to give up four hours of their time on a Sunday when they could be home watching the Penguins game.   And though I may not repeat Canvassing, I’ll probably repeat getting involved in a campaign.  There’s something really cool about seeing where polling results come from and there’s something uplifting and encouraging about digging in to the political process and doing work on the ground that gets reported in the media.

When I got on Facebook later, the Obama Campaign’s Facebook page uploaded pictures of volunteers all over the country who knocked on doors to remind people to vote in the Primaries Tuesday.  I also got an email from the Obamathusiasts, thanking all of us for our time and individually noting everyone by name.  My shout out?  To have a Happy Lollipop Tuesday.  They even included a link to my site so everyone could tune in to see what I thought of the day.

Free advertising, a group of nice, enthusiastic folk to try something new with, and I didn’t get murdered?

That sounds like a win. 

Hey! If you’d like to volunteer, you can go to barackobama.com.  Mouse over “Volunteer” to see a list of options.  Just sign up online for an event that you choose, and everything works like clockwork from there.  Turns out these grassroots deals run a pretty tight ship.  And to be fair, if you’d like to speak on behalf of another campaign, head to mittromney.com and mouse over “Get Involved” or ronpaul2012.com and  click on “Volunteer”.  Hey: vote for whomever you like.  Just vote. 
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