A Minute of Your Time: Notes from the Canvassing Trail
The door standing in front of me is worn with age. It may have once been a pleasant shade of blue, but its extended life has stripped it of color. This weary door is my most daunting enemy. All I have is a clipboard, a smartphone, and a good cause. It feels a bit like running into a war zone holding a bow and arrow.
Hello, I’m a student volunteer going door to door talking to registered voters, and I’d like a minute of your time to talk to you about a law that was just passed. We are not supposed to ask them for their time, because that gives them the opportunity to say no. We are not supposed to call it the FAIR Act, or tell them immediately the organization that sent us, so as to secure an unbiased approach.
I take a breath that’s far too unsteady, trying to repeat all of the rules over and over in my head, stumbling even when I whisper them to myself out loud.
The moment after I’ve knocked on the first door, I actually feel sick to my stomach.
I wait a minute, two, but no one answers.
It isn’t until two doors later that I receive a response. It’s a Latino man with a towel slung over his shoulder like he’s cooking—probably for the children whose delighted cries I hear. I mistakenly ask him for a moment—but he shrugs and steps out onto the porch.
I describe the FAIR Act, the law that had been passed to institute the teaching of LGBT and disabled people’s histories, the same way prior laws have been created to teach about a variety of other minorities. According to the opposition, it would turn children gay.
We ask for their feelings on the act in the form of a rating on a scale of 0-10. The man says he is a five, directly in the middle—that he does not have enough information. His arms are folded, throwing glances over his shoulder to remind me he has a life to which he must attend. I show him a propaganda video from opponents of the FAIR Act, and his answer is the same. Five. Not enough information. Finally came Vote for Equality’s own working ad, and his answer remains a five.
“Something like this will help reduce bullying in schools,” I attempt. It is difficult to balance between keeping a statement free of antagonism but strong enough to be persuasive.
“Parents should be doing that,” he says, and while I note his reaction I don’t carry it further. Fear rears his grotesque head, and his stubborn middle position leaves me helpless. I thank him and leave.
Despite knocking on over twenty doors, I only receive three answers. I want to help, but there is nothing quite like waiting breathlessly in front of a door for someone to potentially inform you that you deserve to burn in Hell.
The last woman I speak to treats me with great suspicion. “What do you want? Do you want money or something?” Luckily, I can say there is no money involved, that I just want a bit of her time. “Well, who are you with?” she snaps.
When I tell her, she immediately softens. A smile lights up her face. She offers tens across the board, rolls her eyes at the opposition campaign, and tells me I am doing good work. I feel triumphant, despite playing no part in her ardent support. But it reminds me that this matters.
In Vote for Equality’s wrap-up, we discuss our results and share stories of voters who have been moved. Of course, I feel my own excursion has been largely fruitless — no one I speak to has been influenced whatsoever by the commercials, and I feel like I move no one.
But while the others’ experiences have not gone much better, there is a tangible number of success stories. What consistently changes their minds are stories of personal experience. Coming out to people at every door and allowing someone to see the world through different eyes seems to be the key.
“I asked if they’d ever met a gay person,” says a leader for Vote for Equality. “I shook their hand and said, ‘It’s nice to meet you. Now you have.’” She tells her own coming out process, and the weight of the struggle.
She lays bare the pain of the acceptance that is denied her. And people respond. They react with surprise, with sympathy, and with understanding. Many never consider the internal battle that the realization often entails, with the turmoil only heightening due to the bullying many people witness day in and day out. This leader exposes herself, offers people frank stories of her fear, her pain, her triumphs.
“I never thought about it like that,” they often say. “Wow,,” still others say. “I see where you’re coming from now.”
It is not a speech. It is one human being talking to another about her own experience. Inside of her, they find their own struggles reflected, the weight of their own emotions. They have never endured what she has, but they have been afraid before. They have seen people hurt before. Perhaps they have been hurt before themselves.
The struggle becomes real. The struggle becomes about real people, searching for the same love and compassion as the people on the other side of the door.
Knocking on doors is not enough. But at its core, it has proved something very basic: people matter to other people. And little by little, people are changing.