I’ve wanted to be more politically active for a long time, but there is always a long list of reasons not to get involved at all.
When I think about the fact that I’m living in the United States of America, and in the year 2014 – I imagine that given the ease of communications and the political freedom that we have today, shouldn’t we be living through a political activism renaissance?!
But in fact the opposite seems to be happening (source):
It’s a paradox: The United States is supposed to be a beacon of democracy, yet Americans have one of the lowest levels of electoral participation in the world. In fact, a 2012 study found that the US ranked “120th of the 169 countries for which data exists on voter turnout, falling between the Dominican Republic and Benin.”
Our turnout rate has been consistently declining since the 1970s.
There are of course many different reasons other people don’t care about politics, and there have been endless articles and books written on the subject.
What I wanted to explore was why don’t I get involved with anything political?
The thing is I really do care, and I understand the impact of my inaction. I rationalize not getting involved very simply: I’m just too busy and I’m too scared of offending other people.
Between time spent working, time with my family and time I’m setting aside to build a new company, I simply don’t have enough time in the day to do the “politics” stuff. The other reason I’ve hesitated getting involved and being vocal and active in politics is that I’m afraid of how it will come across to my friends and colleagues. Politics is polarizing, and I’m afraid of the opinion of the hypothetical boss at work, or the potential client who might not want to work with me because of my political views.
But it feels wrong not to be involved even in some minimal way. It feels wrong because I don’t want to live in a society where elections are free, political speech is protected, but no one cares enough or believes enough to actually participate. I want to find a way to weave politics into my life in a balanced way – and think of it as another aspect of my routine lifestyle – just like I think about exercising, eating well, reading, working and spending time with my family. It should become a healthy habit.
So this weekend I finally took the fist step and went to volunteer for a local political race. It turns out that very close me is one of the most exciting (contentious!) congressional districts in the country: CD6 – Romanoff vs Coffman.
I arrived at the Brighton office of the Andrew Romanoff campaign, got a short lesson on how neighborhood canvassing works, and off I went armed with clipboard, a map and some Andrew Romanoff propaganda.
Here’s what happened. First of all, I’ve never volunteered for a political campaign before, much less knocked on doors. And the prospect of knocking on stranger’s doors to ask them questions like “have you decided who you’re voting for in the coming election in November?” was totally terrifying.
It was the same sort of fear I’ve had before when I was first learning how to do sales cold calls. It’s completely irrational, but it’s also not that easy to overcome, and it’s what I suspect keeps most people away from these activities.
After knocking on a few doors, the fear and the hesitation quickly went away. The truth is that most doors never open because no one was home. And the few times when someone was home, it was very quickly established wether I was welcome or not – and if I wasn’t particularly welcome, I politely excused myself and moved on – and when I was welcome, I was thankful for the respite, and the resulting friendly conversation that really made the whole thing worth it.
And that’s really what political canvassing is all about. It’s not about converting opinions, it’s about finding people who already believe in your cause, and to encourage them to vote. That’s it.
I didn’t keep exact statistics, but here’s roughly how it worked out:
- 25 doors knocked on
- 18 doors “Not Home”
- 3 doors “Not Interested”
- 4 doors “Friendly Conversation”
It took me about 2 hours between driving and walking. So was it worth it?
I’m not sure. Certainly, with the election being as close as it is, you could argue that any bit of extra effort helps. On the other hand I wondered whether there is nothing else I could have done with that time that would have been more effective.
According to the research, canvassing is in fact effective, as is phone banking, which what I’d like to try next.
Have you even canvassed a neighborhood for a political party? What was your experience?