Canvassing: Democracy in Action

Dec 17, 2018

By Imani Dorsey, Government Affairs Intern at LCV

In the 2018 midterm election, I was fortunate enough to volunteer in a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.  For the week prior to Election Day, I worked with Lucy McBath’s successful campaign for Congress where I experienced democracy firsthand and had genuine, intimate interactions with a portion of the GA-06 electorate. I met a diverse group of McBath supporters and volunteers, and as every canvasser experiences, some staunch opponents as well. Though talking to opponents was discouraging at times, thankfully, several unifying moments continued to keep me optimistic.

I walked away from my experience with the utmost respect for staff and volunteers who devoted countless hours to a candidate they believe in, and I gained a deep appreciation for campaigns that are rooted in respect, compassion, spirit, and integrity. Representative-elect McBath is a strong, driven black woman who has navigated tragedy and strife in her life—she lost her son to gun violence and fought breast cancer twice— yet she still exudes nothing but love and grace. And despite running in a state saddled with a potent history of racial strife and voter suppression, McBath and her campaign rose above the partisan divide to reach the hearts and minds of all her constituents, no matter their party affiliation.

McBath volunteers coming together before canvassing in the GA-06

The McBath campaign was an exhilarating first campaign to work on. Knocking on my first door and calling my first voter were exciting, yet nerve racking, moments. I just wanted voters to feel my enthusiasm for Lucy and encourage them to get out and vote. For the most part, my strategy worked. Yes, there were some unpleasant encounters, but the cheerful ones made the effort worth it. “I am so excited to vote for her.” “This district needs Lucy!” Or my personal favorite, “I am a Republican, but I appreciate you coming to my door to tell me about Lucy. I think my wife and I are going to vote for her.”  The kind responses and the respectful answers give me faith; faith in the people of this country and faith in our democracy.

Working on McBath’s campaign helped me realize that canvassing is a special contribution to our democracy—these incredibly intimate moments with strangers required vulnerability while creating trust and hope. Because an individual’s political preferences are often personal, talking with voters sparked intimate conversations—often giving me a peak into an individual’s values and their views of the world. And in an increasingly digitized society where interaction with strangers is often behind a computer screen or cell phone, the face-to-face effort, though sometimes uncomfortable, created space for interactions many of us try to avoid at all costs.  Regardless of the voter’s ultimate decision, I believe the pleasant interactions built trust—trust that someone else mirrored my concerns or championed my values and trust that a voter who disagreed with my stance still respected me as a fellow human being. These interactions enabled open, transparent, and respectful dialogue, which our country needs to ensure a peaceful and functional democracy.

The GOTV effort for the McBath campaign attracted volunteers of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and political ideologies from across the district and country. Over a long weekend, a cycle of nearly 200 volunteers knocked on over 6,000 doors, sent thousands of text messages, and made thousands of phone calls to voters. I was fortunate enough to canvass with some of them, including a Mexican woman named Miriam. Miriam spoke fluent Spanish, so we traveled to households with predominantly Latinx voters. In between houses, Miriam shared with me her concerns about our current administration and President Trump’s disheartening rhetoric. Speaking from her experience living under several Mexican administrations, good and bad, she made a point that resonated with me. Miriam argued, despite the outcome of an election, no matter who wins or what party they are from, the president works for the people. And regardless of how a candidate gets elected and who supported her or him, they now represent the entire electorate, and should act accordingly.

Miriam and I after finishing a canvassing shift with Spanish literature

I believe this ideology begins on the campaign trail and noticed that McBath’s mindset reflected respect and commitment to the people of her district. The diverse volunteers coming to support her and the inclusive rhetoric of the field staff encouraged canvassers, callers, and texters to painted a clear picture: McBath’s campaign for Congress was intended for everyone in the district, not just those labeled Democrat. I want to support and work with candidates that embody this mindset, because I believe this ideology is imperative to right the course of our country.

I believe everyone should canvass for a candidate they support at least once every election cycle. Get out and converse with the people of your community. Talk with your neighbors. Be respectful and listen. But, do not be afraid to make your point known. I am thankful to live in a country that gives me the right to express my concern about environmental issues, among others, in a public setting. I look forward to the next opportunity I get to canvass and have fruitful conversations with voters about a democracy that affects us all.

A fellow canvasser and I stopped to take a photo with Representative-elect McBath  

To Representative-elect McBath and her entire campaign staff, thank you for your tireless, dedicated work throughout the campaign. Thank you for championing equal opportunity, diversity, and compassion. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to help you #FliptheSixth, and I look forward to everything you will accomplish in the years to come.