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The Gross National Debt

Saturday, October 14, 2006

(Cross-posted at Raising Kaine and my blog)

No - really!  I did!

Now get your mind out of the gutter.  I know what you were thinking when you clicked on this diary.  You probably even went and turned down the lights a little and got a glass of wine in preparation for reading this diary, didn't you...

But I lost my canvassing virginity today.  Follow me over the fold.

I have to admit, I almost lost my canvassing virginity two weeks ago.  I had gotten an email from the Judy Feder (DONATE) campaign (D-VA 10) that they needed canvassers for Judy and for Webb (DONATE).  Although Judy's not in my district (I'm in VA 08), the campaign office was very close to my house and I showed up.

Unfortunately, there were NO other canvassers that showed up that day.  Having never done it before, and feeling a bit intimidated and somehwat fearful, I declined.  I really wanted to go out with someone who had canvassed before, someone who could show me the ropes.  Kind of a grass-roots GOTV buddy.

So I woke up today and got dressed and decided to head to Webb's main campaign office in Arlington.  My goal was not to canvass - I wanted to pick up yard signs and spread them all over my home town (Reston) where they were disappearing at a rapid pace.

Now - I've volunteered for campaigns before.  I've done informational tables, handed out information at polling places, done phone canvassing, worked on database projects to focus specific messages for specific audiences, all of that stuff.  But never the shoe-leather door-to-door canvassing.

As I got out at the Webb office in Arlington, I waited at the door of the building (we had to be let in) with another lady who was also volunteering for the Webb campaign.  I went upstairs with her, following one of the campaign staffers.  I got into a conversation with both of them about the near miss I had at canvassing two weeks prior when the volunteer turned to me and said:

"I'm going out to canvass right now.  I've only done it once before, but you can come with me if you want."

I looked at my clothes - definitely not canvassing clothes.  My jeans and top were certainly appropriate enough, but I was wearing black leather boots with about a 2 1/2" heel on them.  But - you know what?  They're pretty comfortable boots.  So I decided: here's a person who's going to go out and canvass by herself offering to take me along and show me the ropes.  If you want to get involved, you can't let the fact of uncomfortable shoes get in the way.  So I was off.

On the street, Julie (my canvassing buddy) let me know the first address we would hit on our canvass.  She knew the area (Arlington) really well, and I told her I would simply program the address into my navigation system and see her there.  She walked across the street to her car, I got in mine, and we were off.

Julie gets in her car and I in mine.

And we were off.  The area we were going to canvass was in North Arlington.  Now for those unfamiliar with the area, Arlington itself is QUITE blue, and North Arlington is very affluent.  I was kind of all warm and glowy inside as I drove to the first address, glad to finally get this activity under my belt so I could more confidently do it on my own in the days and weeks to come.

On the road to the first address in my canvass.

My trusty nav system in my marvy Hybrid wasn't going to let me get lost.

Before we started, Julie and I sat on the curb and discussed what, specifically, we were going to do.  She showed me the voter information sheets she had which gave the street address, the name of the home's owner(s), and their date of birth.  We were simply to do the following:

1. Verify that they were the person listed on the sheet
2. Ask "If the election were held today, who would you vote for for Senate?  For the House?
3. What issues are most important to you?
4. Would you be interested in volunteering?

Those are the ones were supposed to get through.  The list we were working from was of registered voters, which is good becuase the registration deadline passed on October 10.  We also had additional information about the reisdent's polling place and how to submit an absentee ballot.  All of the selection options had a bar code after them, and we were simply to highlight the bar code with yellow highlighter.

We were ready.

We visited a LOT of houses and, remarkably, many people were home.  The first three or four houses we visited from our list all identified themselves as Democrats and Webb supporters.  Their issues ranged from Education to Pro-Choice to the Iraq War to Health Care.  After these first few, we had a lot of houses where no one was home.  We simply left some Webb (DONATE)  and Moran (this was his district) information tucked into the door seal and pressed on.

The most interesting house, however, we hit about half way through.  It was a nice gentleman, mid-40's, who had a beautiful house.  When he answered the door, we identified ourselves and he stepped onto his front porch.  In talking to him, we learned that he was a reigstered Republican who identified himself as totally undecided on the Senate race.  He had definitely been following it - he knew the candidates and high points of either campaign.  One of the first things he said was this:

"You're campaigning for Webb?  has he gotten over that article he wrote about women in the military?"

Now I want you to know - he was NOT confrontational.  The question seemed genuine - he was curious that two women were out actively campaigning for Webb after what he'd seen on the Allen ads.  I told him:

"That was in 1979, and he has apologized for the article."

My canvassing buddy, Julie, chimed in here:

"Let me tell you - I served in the military for 20 years, was one of the first women accepted to the ROTC program and Jim Webb's my man."

I added:

"You know, it's impossible to think that a person has no regrets about something they've said or done in their past.  This was his distant past.  Not only has he owned up and apologized for it, he opened more Navy billets to women as Navy Secretary then anyone before him."

NOTE: Shout out to the dKos community for writing about this so that I knew about it in one of Lowkell's excellent diaries.

He asked also about the economy, and wanted to know what I thought about that.

"Well, people who live in this area might say that the economy is doing well.  But if you go to the grocery store and ask one of the porters how they feel about the economy, you're going to get a different view.  Although Northern Virginia is one of the few areas that has experienced a nominal percentage growth in real wages over the past six years (.3%), the majority of Americans are seeing their real wages shrink.  Health care gets more expensive, the increased fuel prices of summer hurt them, and their wages aren't keeping pace with inflation.  The disparity between those at the top end of the income scale and everyone else is becoming a canyon.  And I don't think the top end of the income scale will constitute a majority at the polls, and the average middle class voter is feeling pinched."

He asked us where Webb stood on the immigration issue.  We didn't know specifically - so we told him we didn't know and we said that the campaign would send him more information about that subject.  I found that interesting - it really relieved me that I didn't have to know every nuance of every issue - I could just say "we'll have Webb's campaign send you information about that.  Thank you for the question."

Finally, we talked about the Iraq War.  Our prospective Republican-leaning-Democrat voter is most disturbed about the Iraq War.  Julie spoke for us this time.

"Jim Webb came out very early against the prospect of a war in Iraq and he's for a phased redeployment of troops out of Iraq to areas such as Qatar, Kuwait, UAE.  He wants to get our troops out of the line of fire and let the Iraqis attend to their government."

The voter thanked us, reminded us to definitely send that information, and indicated that he really wasn't happy with the Republican party these past three years and would think very hard about how he would cast his vote.

I believed him.  And I thought we really helped him with simple, human face-to-face contact and a sincere attempt to advocate for the person in which we believed.

The day pressed on and we got some people and didn't get others, chatted a bit about voting and reminded people to vote, left literature, and wore out our shoes.  After almost three hours of stomping around, Julie and I parted ways.

If you haven't canvassed before, let me tell you: it was an alltogether pleasant experience.  I didn't relish the idea of going door-to-door - I was worried about getting doors slammed in my face and getting hostile reactions.  I didn't get any of that (though I'm sure it's happened).  It was SO positive, in fact, that I'll be canvassing every weekend between now and the election, including tomorrow.  I'm confident enough now to go out either by myself or to be someone else's first-time buddy.

One closing note: Finding information about the canvasses in your areas isn't always easy.  Hell - finding the address for Webb's Arlington campaign office took some effort.  But do that - find your local campaign office and show up.  See what they need.  And go out of your way to canvass.  If you have an experience like I did, you'll see that it really puts you IN the process in a way I had not previously experienced.  It's talking with voters - with people who vote, and participate, and seeing how and where they live and listening to what they have to say.  It was /awesome.


Many thanks to Julie, who was motivated to start canvassing over the summer when she heard the "macaca" comment and could only think of her son's best friend, and American born of Indian descent.

[editor's note, by RenaRF] DMOmaha points out in the comments that s/he also has a canvassing diary up - give it a visit!

posted by RenaRF at 6:04 PM 2 comments links to this post


Blogger Scott Nolan said...

Way to go Rena! This post illustrates exactly why bloggers, and blog readers, and newspaper readers are the best canvassers. They are familiar with the facts and recent campaign highlights.

Though I have had one scary greeting (only one!) and a few unpleasant greetings (very closed minded individuals), the vast majority of the greetings I have had while canvassing are very rewarding and fun. Even from people who disagree with the canvasser can most often be very nice about it and quite pleasant.

Please continue to canvas every spare minute this election cycle; I know I am. Thanks also for the info that Judy does not have a lot of volunteers on certain days, I have to make extra effort to get over to her campaign HQ again.

8:11 AM  
Blogger RenaRF said...

Thanks Scott!!

3:20 PM  

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