I heart canvassing
An article on the BBC News website explored the strange and rather sadistic concept of door-to-door canvassing, in the context of the British election. With our own municipal election heating up, the weather (mostly) glorious, and a good few registered candidates out there, I think it’s time to make a plea for the old-fashioned door-to-door canvass in our own city.
First, a confession: I love canvassing.
That’s not to say that I do it very much these days… over the last few provincial, federal and municipal campaigns I’ve faced the reality shared by all those 30- or 40-something politicos that came before me: kids make life more complicated. Despite my pre-pregnancy visions of toddling door to door with my brood in tow, the reality is that most kids just don’t want to hang out on doorsteps while mom talks to strangers about the future of Medicare.
And I suppose that’s true not just of children, but of most adults too. Some of the most-seasoned political activists and campaigners that I know shudder at the mention of it. I’m not alone of course in liking the canvass. There are many of us out there… though certainly not everyone who comes a-knocking at your door this municipal campaign will be keen on the prospect.
Here’s why: as a society we are being drawn inward. Years of being bombarded with television ads, billboards, marketing calls have forced us to erect invisible walls just to maintain our sanity. Add a dose of scepticism about politics and politicians, and it’s no surprise that most people bristle at the appearance of a stranger at the door, leaflets in hand, true-believer gleam in their eyes.
I get it. It’s not always fun to be on the receiving end. My neighbourhood is crawling with canvassers, out to sell me on the need to preserve the moraine, save the caribou, ditch the water bottles. And given the number of dinners I’ve interrupted with my own canvassing, I cannot in good conscience turn them away. Not a great position to be in with kid crying, dog dying for a walk, and pot on to boil.
But here is why I love canvassing, and why you should too: there are few better ways, very few, to engage with fellow residents of this city. There is no substitute for eye to eye, face to face contact with a real person, however annoyed or fed up they may be. And for every one person who is really hostile (I’ve met a few, but surprisingly few that were really rude) there are fifty who will tell you what they think. Briefly, maybe, but you will come away with something.
The traditional reason for campaign canvassing is to “identify the vote”. In other words, know who your supporters are, and make sure they make it to the polls.
But, for me, while I dutifully feed my marks back to the campaign mothership, my motivation is to engage. Because I want to know what people are thinking. I’d like to know what irks those residents, what makes them tick. And you should too…
There’s been a lot of talk by my fellow bloggers of the lack of engagement by many Torontonians, and particularly young people, in city politics. While we need to explore new means of engaging those voters through media they are interested in (and make it easier for more people to vote, period) we shouldn’t diminish the importance of actually getting into the place where they live, hang out, reside.
Get out there with whatever candidate you support…go with a friend or ask them to pair you up with a more experienced canvasser. Pick a part of your ward that you really don’t know, and start to talk to folks. What you hear, see and learn about the City will never fail to surprise you.
All the technology, the social media in the world does not replace this. And every single one of the candidates running in your ward should make it to your door between now and election day.