With election season upon us, the call is out for campaign volunteers, and many of us are hitting the pavement to help the candidates and causes we believe in. Besides phone-banking, the most common form of civic engagement is canvassing, which basically consists of hanging out on the street with a clipboard or going door to door talking to voters. I’ve canvassed to drum up support for politicians, gather signatures for Planned Parenthood, and spread the word about marriage equality. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it’s an important job, and at the end of the day I feel accomplished–plus I always head home with some great stories to tell. Whether you’re an experienced canvasser or are thinking about getting in on the action, here’s a little summary of the people you’ll meet in a typical afternoon on the job…
1. The Person Who Would Rather Get Hit By A Car Than Talk To You. Look, I don’t blame this person. I’ve been guilt tripped by enough “Save The Children” employees that I’ve learned to cringe at the sight of a clipboard too, but this person? They really, really, really don’t want to talk to you, and will take drastic measures to prevent this from happening. Once they spot you they’ll feign a phone call or stare hard at the sky to avoid eye contact, but if you say hi, that’s when things get crazy. I’ve seen people literally run into traffic to get away from me and my Clipboard of Doom.
2. The Screamer. This is more common when your canvassing work involves a hot-button issue like gay marriage or reproductive rights, but anytime you put yourself–and your political views–out there, you become a target for angry people to vent. I’ve been called a bitch, a slut, and a communist, to which I always reply, “Have a nice day.”
3. The Harried Parent Who Still Makes Time For You. When a mom or dad walks by, pushing a stroller, holding a toddler, and balancing a cellphone and a sticky snack, I tend to just smile at them instead of adding an extra distraction to their already full plate. Imagine my surprise, after being blown off by hundreds of other people, when these busy parents offer a warm smile back and then willingly come talk to me. I’ve had some of the best conversations with families who are eager to involve their children in the political process and have great questions and insights to share.
4. The Person Who Is Very Sure They’re Smarter Than You. This person is the civilian equivalent of the “gotcha journalist” Sarah Palin was always talking about. They’ll listen to your spiel with a little smirk on their face until the time is right and boom–they drop an obscure fact or a questionable statistic on you and see how you react. Worst case scenario: you don’t know enough to rebut their claim and they walk away victorious. Best case scenario: you’re well educated on your cause and immediately rebut their claim, but they don’t listen to you and walk away victorious. I’ve been in both situations, and they both suck.
5. The Jovial Conspiracy Theorist. Once you’ve gotten a bit of canvassing experience under your belt, you learn to watch out for this guy. He’s usually in his mid-50s, he’s usually wearing zip-off cargo pants, he always has a beard, and when comes around the corner and sees your clipboard his eyes light up like he’s just seen Santa Claus coming down the chimney. Convinced he’s found either a kindred spirit or a lost soul he can enlighten, he’ll launch into a spirited manifesto about Ron Paul or gun control or the true fate of Amelia Earhart. He’s not angry or mean–on the contrary, he’s usually one of the nicer people you’ll talk to–but man can he talk, and if you don’t cut him off immediately you’ll be listening to him all day long.
6. The Not-So-Jovial Conspiracy Theorist. It’s easy to mistake this guy for the jovial conspiracy theorist, since he is also usually a middle-aged bearded man wearing overly practical pants, but this guy? He’s not so jovial. According to his conspiracy theory, you are the enemy, and he can’t wait to give you a profanity-laced piece of his mind.
7. The Teenager Who Is Horrifyingly Uninformed. Young people are usually the most open to talking to canvassers, so it’s important to grab the attention of passersby who look to be in the 18-21 age range. These interactions are often really enlightening for both parties: I love talking about causes that are close to my heart and I love hearing younger people’s perspectives on current issues. That being said, you’ll always have at least one conversation with a young person that leaves you confused and panicky for the future of civilization. I’ve met teenagers who didn’t know the name of the president, thought it cost money to vote, and genuinely believed that they could prevent unplanned pregnancies by eating garlic. After hearing things like this, I’m tempted to buy my own pair of zip-off cargo pants and join the ranks of the not-so-jovial conspiracy theorists. Serenity now!