Quite a lot of my good friends are either activists or people deeply involved in politics. A lot of them come out of a tradition of canvassing, perhaps the most important function of a political campaign. I don’t. I once went to an interview at one of the PIRGs, and on the elevator out, two people babbled on about their love of knocking doors. I didn’t get the job, and that was right, because I thought they were nuts.
Which is why Seth Masket’s article “In Praise of Canvassers” in Pacific Standard Magazine is worth me talking about here. Masket makes a key point: the door-knock is the best way to get people to turn out to vote. While, naturally, political campaigns don’t want to get voters for their opponent(s) to turn out, they do help increase participation. With people doing canvassing work, competitive races can see turnout that would exceed the expectations one might set for them when considering other factors. So even while they’re doing something that benefits a specific campaign, campaign canvassers also provide a civic benefit as well.
I don’t like canvassing, or cold-calling; they’re not things that energize me, especially when I’m not totally bought into a specific candidate. I’m far more comfortable sitting at home and writing, or doing communications work, or generally being lazy. And I rightfully should feel guilty about this, especially when I compare myself to the (many) canvassers I know. It’s something I simply can’t bring myself to do.
A good canvasser can reach people directly and inspire action. At best, I can currently reach a few dozen people (at time of writing, it was 25 visitors with 37 views on this site, the largest portion on the home page). Anyone who spends time trying to influence my views is most likely wasting their time, because the impact would be so small. But they can pick up a clipboard and make a serious difference in their neighborhood.
Despite my own misgivings, I know and love many great people who do canvassing and make a real difference. They inform the electorate, and more importantly, they get people to go out and vote. I hope I can make a minimal impact on making canvassers’ lives easier.
Until then though, I’ll listen to Masket’s exhortation to “take a moment to thank the ones who do the asking.”
So to my friends and all those who went and knocked doors this election season, thank you for making a difference in this election. Without you, the most important campaign work wouldn’t get done. Truly, thank you.