I find local politics very fascinating. While it’s pretty clear for most people what they want in a major political figure, like president or governor, I’ve always wondered what spurred people to vote for their local congressmen and congresswomen. So naturally, last weekend when I met a friend’s housemate who had spent the summer working for a local congressional candidate, Ken Harbaugh, I had plenty of questions. What was it like working in a campaign office and canvassing? Did she go door to door arguing with people? Did she think her efforts were effective in getting people to consider changing their minds? She answered very enthusiastically and asked me if I’d ever considered canvassing with her group some time.
I had a moment of panic— canvass? But I’ve only been allowed to vote for a year. Also, I liked Ken Harbaugh and agreed with the majority of his opinions, but I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to answer spur-of-the-moment questions. Was I really qualified to speak to adults about their political decisions? The answer to that is probably not, but my curiosity got the best of me. I said yes and gave her my number, and she sent me the details of when and where to meet.
On the day of the meeting, I was pretty nervous. A local man from around town was also part of our group of three college students, and it felt a little awkward interacting with a stranger. However, once the turf was divided and we started getting to the meat of the job (the actual door-knocking), I started to fall into a rhythm. Knock, wait, listen, respond. We were out around dinner time, so unsurprisingly many people who answered the door had a ready excuse of supper on the stove to ask us to move along— but the people who took the time to speak with us and ask us questions about Ken were usually very kind and interested in what we had to say. The list we had marked each person’s political party, but I was surprised to see that even if someone was marked as usually voting for the opposite party as Ken, they were usually still open to hearing what our candidate had to say on the issues that mattered to them. It gave me hope to see that many people voted for person over party— maybe our country isn’t as broken as I thought?
Still, I’m not trying to get too idealistic. Not everyone was kind and welcoming. In one memorable experience, a man came to the door completely shirtless and with a gaggle of small kids and said “I’m mad about the current Republican in office, but I don’t want a Democrat in there either!” I mean, he still said it pretty pleasantly, as we do live in the Midwest. But it was still a kind of awkward encounter. No one was completely mean or rude straight to our faces, but passive aggressive vibes abounded.
All in all, I’d say canvassing was a pretty fun experience. I’m not sure if I feel knowledgeable enough to do it again (I was the note taker in our group since it was my first time, so I never took the lead answering questions), but I’d highly recommend it for any young people out there who feel passionately about any local candidate. Get online and offer to volunteer! In my experience, nothing terrible will happen. No one will scream at you, or threaten to shoot you with their shotgun — the worst that will happen is that they very obviously pretend not to be home and ignore you. So, getting involved is really not as scary and intimidating as it might seem.