Wednesday, August 29, 2007Grass-roots organizing is usually painted in sepia tones, full of talk about "real democracy" and "citizenship at its best." That's all true, but..well there's always the buts about any romantic vision, aren't there? I won't lie to you - old-fashioned door-knocking is hard. The weather is frequently crappy, and you're often tired already from work.
Here's how it works. The party or campaign will give you a list of people who are likely Democrats. Your job is to remind them that there's an election. This isn't much of a problem in Presidential years, but in every other race (primaries, mid-term, and off-years) turn-out is the single most important factor separating victory from defeat. Of course these lists are frequently crappy (do the Republicans have this problem?). People move a lot, particularly in the precinct I live in now. This is a college town, which makes for a lot of year-to-year change, but on top of that I live in an area full of apartment buildings. Your list from the last election is useless in the next one, so a smart operative will start building a list from scratch. This means you knock on every door. Every one. The upside of apartment complexes is that they're faster. I hate working suburban housing developments - they take forever because the people are so much less concentrated. You spend more time walking than talking.
And think about this for a second. If you have a precinct with even just 1,000 homes, that's 1,000 door-knocks. And you can't just hit a neighborhood once. People usually aren't there, so you have to go back over and over again. You could do it full time up until the election and still not talk to everybody.
But let's assume that you have a good list, or live in a more stable area. Most f the time people are not going to be home, so you drop off a piece of literature and move to the next one. Is this a "voter contact"? I wouldn't think so, although some folks disagree. I don't believe you've made contact until you look a person in the. If they are home, you're probably bothering them. There are paranoid voters who don't want to answer the door, and families cooking meals or taking care of their kids, etc., etc. Even if they answer, they're likely going to be annoyed that you've interrupted them to talk about politics, of all things. And then there are the weirdos. Yikes.
So it's long hours and you meet a lot of freaks and annoy a lot of people. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well actually it is. I always hate the idea of campaigning, but as soon as I start I love it. You focus on those people who are happy to talk to you, and you do get a lot out of it. On election night when you look at your precinct results and you've doubled your voter targets, you know that not only do you have some great stories, but you're made a real, concrete, difference in the election. And that's why we do it. Not just because it's bizarrely fun, but because it works.