Today was my first day working for the Fellowship with Hillary for South Carolina. We hit the ground running and tackled the Greenville Farmers Market this morning, a place where you’ll likely be able to find us most saturdays. It was an exciting way to get my feet wet in real political grassroots action.
Late last night, when my mind was reeling with excitement, I started wondering what exactly it means to canvas and what I should be expecting. So I started surfing the web and seeing what I could find.
I found that canvassing can increase voter turnout. Canvassing is a systematic way to gage how citizens intend to vote by having conversations about politics in hopes of engaging the broader electorate. Essentially its face-to-face interaction with other local citizens. These face-to-face interactions are much more effective campaign recruiting tools that any television advertisement a politician could put together. The first study of this was in 1998 Don Green and Alan Gerber and their findings have been consistently backed up for almost two decades. The reason for this is the personal element of the interactions. This is what has drawn me to politics and fueled my passion for studying it over the years; the interactions with other people and the way in which politics unites people through impassioned discourse and collective movement.
Contrary to some definitions, canvassing, as I learned today, is not an act of persuasion. Our job was simply to ask as many people on the streets of Greenville whether they were planning to, or interested in supporting Hillary. We had main points to touch on like her plan for South Carolina, which includes helping the middle class get ahead and stay ahead and fighting for specific groups of our society, like women who work the same hours for less pay. These main points I found were a great fallback, but the conversations that were most successful were when I put the script out of mind, and asked people how they were doing.
A genuine conversation. That was what I learned is the most effective tool in campaigning on my first day as a canvasser. Not only do I feel like I reached and connected with the voters more in depth, I personally felt my own political views solidifying and I enjoyed my time even more. Isn’t that the beauty of politics, isn’t that the importance of democracy? Having an educated and engaged electorate who can talk about democracy and choose the best candidate to represent us.
I left my first day feeling more connected to my community and fellow Americans than I have ever before. Not because we agreed, but because my confidence that people do care and want to get involved in discourse about our election and our country increased dramatically. In a time when many have a dismal view on our political participation, I challenge everyone to have a conversation with someone, and feel refreshed by the eagerness of our fellow Americans. For me, all it starts with is “Do you support Hillary Clinton?”