Remember when the 2018 mid-terms were just a barely visible blip on a faraway horizon? When all we could do was write checks to the ACLU, encounter infinite busy signals on our representatives’ lines, and take to the streets (and airports)? Or, more likely, take to our beds with only Haagen Dazs and late-night comics for solace?
Well, now those mid-terms are just around the corner! We no longer need to pray that the Republican Congress will somehow grow a spine, or that Robert Mueller (and now Michael Cohen) will put the brakes on this crew. We can do it ourselves by voting.
That’s why I’ve been traveling since December once a month to my closest swing district to knock on doors. I live in a deep blue bubble, so I have to drive 75 miles each way to a congressional district where a current Republican House member hung onto his seat in a district Hillary Clinton won.
Two hours each way is worth it, though. Since 2008, I’ve done a lot of phone banking, which is a good thing to do, but I prefer door-to-door canvassing. For one thing, it’s like phone banking with exercise—gotta get those steps in somehow! It’s also fun to drive back and forth with friends. And it’s a whole lot better for my mental health than sitting around lamenting.
What I love most about canvassing, though, is talking face-to-face with people about what matters to them. Hint: it’s not the Russia investigation. Mostly it’s healthcare, traffic, and jobs. One conversation starter is to ask how people would rate things locally and nationally on a five-point scale of Terrible to Terrific.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, it depends on the day!” one 40-something woman exclaimed.
This was back in December, when Republicans were rushing through a tax bill that favored the rich and once again put the screws to the Affordable Care Act. The woman was a registered Republican, but she was really upset about assaults on healthcare and Medicare. By the end of our conversation, she had changed her registration to Democrat, taken a blank form so her elderly mother could do the same, and accepted an invitation to an event at the local Democratic Party headquarters.
I’ve had some other interesting (though less heartening) conversations as well: Three separate respondents rated things as “terrible.” However, this was cause not for voting but for celebration because it meant the End Times were near.
I’m not used to this in my usual life. Truth be told, I’m also not used to people opening their doors to strangers! But they do, and they’ve been unfailingly nice no matter what their political persuasion. Just the other weekend on a sweltering day, a nice Republican guy offered us ice water while we signed up his wife and daughter to vote for the Democrat. For the most part, people have been fair and thoughtful in trying to sort out the issues. We hear a lot about how Americans can no longer talk to one another if they have differing perspectives. Canvassing has helped me to listen and reach out to those who don’t share my world view.
Plus, it’s effective. Research has shown that if minds are to be changed at all (a tall order, as research also shows), one of the best ways to do so is person-to-person engagement. Canvassing improves voting outcomes by 4 percent. In the town I’ve been visiting, there was a 75 percent increase in Democratic voter turnout between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term primaries, and even a 14 percent increase in this June’s primary showing over the 2016 presidential election turnout. In a country where more and more elections are being determined by razor-thin margins—and even the flip of a coin in one special election in Virginia!—that’s a huge difference.
Now that we’re entering the home stretch of canvassing, we’re focusing intensively on identifying the Democratic House candidate’s supporters and making sure they vote. In previous months, people were less informed and less interested, but now they’re jazzed. Even the ones who don’t care about politics and who don’t normally vote are perking up. At one house I visited, the wife who was on our list was not home.
“What about you?” I asked her husband, who answered the door with their young daughter in tow.
“Nah, I don’t vote, I’m not even registered,” he said. But he happened to mention that he was horrified by Trump and the Republicans in Congress.
“The best way right now to put the brakes on them is through flipping the House,” I replied. “Why not register and vote for at least that race?”
“OK,” he said, taking the voter registration form.
It felt like a pledge and not just a brush-off. My friends canvassing nearby reported similar conversations—a millennial non-voter who registered because something he learned about our candidate sparked his interest. A disenchanted Republican who was impressed we were volunteering our time walking around in the heat. Now that we’ve identified such people, we can follow up to let them know how important their votes are.
My handful of success stories may not mean much on their own. But multiply that by the tens of thousands of volunteers doing just what I’m doing in every corner of the country, and it begins to add up. Every door knocked on, every conversation, every newly registered voter, and every new volunteer seeds the magic of a grassroots movement. Supporters talk to their family, friends, and neighbors. An undecided voter may remember something about a visit from a friendly stranger who reached out and listened. And so it grows.
This is how we build the blue wave. This is how we take back the country.
There are so many ways to get involved. Of course, the most important and most basic thing anyone can do is vote. Make sure you’re registered, make sure you cast your ballot, and talk it up among friends and family! A cool new online resource is Vote Save America. You can check your registration status, register, and find out about ways to get involved wherever you live:
Here are two nationwide groups where you can get involved in your area to ensure electoral success:
Also, despite my snarky first paragraph, making donations to good causes and good candidates is hugely helpful. So are Haagen Dazs and late-night comics.