In February 2018 we lost a special election we should have won. Melissa Wagner's district actually has enough people who voted Clinton to put Melissa Wagner over the top. The problem was this: We couldn't reach them.
Why? In this day an age you'd think everyone is online or watching TV, but you'd be wrong. People throw out direct mail. They screen calls. Not every candidate has enough money for a campaign ad on TV, or to air it for more than a day. And a lot of people still don't have internet at home, or (believe it or not) are not interested in being online. The poor, the elderly, people in rural areas – in other words, huge groups of our population – are not glued to the internet. And the only way to reach them is to knock directly on their door.
At the CD 5 convention Keith Ellison took the stage and this was all he talked about. Keith is a passionate believer that door-knocking makes or breaks elections and is how we engage people. He has the results to prove it: He has turned CD5 into the highest-turnout CD in Minnesota because he is a master at community engagement. He gets out into the community constantly, and in turn people want to volunteer for him and he unleashes floods of doorknockers in the district. It is the single factor he points to when talking about how he changed turnout in CD 5 from the lowest to the highest.
BUT, doorknocking is usually the last thing a Minnesotan wants to do. This is a problem. And it's one I can relate to; it was certainly the last thing I wanted to do in February, but since I wanted Melissa Wagner to win, I did it. As we'd meet on Saturdays with a pitiful crew of three or four people, I kept wondering: Why did I have to drive an hour to come doorknock? Where are all the Mankato students? WHERE IS EVERYBODY? AREN'T WE ALL APPALLED BY THE GOP? DON'T WE WANT TO CHANGE THIS? The thing is, if we want change and to stop the disastrous course we're on, it has to start with us. We can't do the same thing and expect different results. We've got to do some things that are a little out of our comfort zone, and we've got to knock those doors!
Let's face it, the GOP is better at basically everything it takes to win – voting for whatever yahoo is advancing their crappy agenda, raising fist-fulls of money, and doing the practical grunt-work of doorknocking. Looking at Facebook pictures of the crowds of people who showed up to doorknock for Melissa's opponent Jeremy Munson was depressing as hell. Not only did they win, they deserved to win. They worked harder for it.
I am no longer being polite to people about what it's going to take to win in November, because I've seen it play out. We lost in February, we can easily lose again. And November is our only shot. We need to be doorknocking like our lives depend on it, because many lives do. I don't want to wake up the day after the election and say "if only we'd doorknocked." In Melissa Hortman's words surfing is a two-part thing, you can catch a blue wave, but first you have to swim like hell to get into position for it.
To that aim, I'm asking everyone to take the Two for Blue pledge: door-knock two days of every month, from July through November. If taking back the MN House is your priority, find a State Rep candidate. If you're in an overwhelmingly safe blue area, find a neighboring light pink candidate and donate one day to your district, one to someone else's for your two-a-month. If impeaching Trump and taking back Congress in Washington is your priority, head to Eric Paulsen or Jason Lewis' district to help flip those two congressional seats (Swing Left has identified those as flipable, skipping Tom Emmer's seat). Full info on highly flippable State Rep and Congressional races in MN is here.
The Truth About Doorknocking!
As a formerly reluctant doorknocker I had two preconceptions about it: One, people are going to be mean (or possibly dangerous!) and two, it's going to be tiring and totally un-fun.
The reality is, people are much more polite face-to-face than they are on the phone. On the phone I have been hung up on many times while making calls for candidates. I have never had an unpleasant encounter at the door. Not once. I enjoyed door-knocking a lot more than I thought I would. It's fascinating, direct, refreshing, and pretty easy. It just takes an hour or two out of your day.
To ease your anxiety, here's a little of what you can expect:
You are paired up with someone for safety and there will be a training. You're not just thrown out there. You'll be given a script and a map with clear directions to your doors. They don't overwhelm you with a huge number. My partner for the day (I wish I could remember her name because she was hilarious and also bought us both Twizzlers at the end of the day. Yes, that's right, there may be free Twizzlers in it for you!) knocked on about 30 doors a day each, but go at your own pace. It's quite pleasant, you stroll around neighborhoods. If no one is home, you leave some literature. If someone is home the exchange is usually about a minute long, or longer if they seem interested and like they have time to chat. Easy.
You are given doors of DEMOCRATS or Dem-leaning people. They're not sending you into Trump-country with a hearty "good luck champ!" This is about getting out the vote and educating people about candidates. These are your friends.
You're offering something useful. I never felt bad about disturbing someone because I was doing them a service. In my case I was telling them about a special election that 90% had no idea was going on (this was the day before the special election, yes 90% of people I talked to had no clue, you see what I'm saying about direct mail here?). You don't have to force people to listen, you're not "selling" and you don't have to "make them say no three times" or any other goofy sales tactics. I always lead with what I can offer and give them a chance to say they're busy. "Do you have a second?" can be followed with "Ok, here's a pamphlet maybe you can check out when you have time" and a swift exit. There's nothing you're doing that is either wrong or going to cause anyone to get pissed, and you're in charge of what you want to say and what feels right to say. It's really just about having honest conversations.
Safety tips: In general, the only rule that comes to mind is if for some reason someone offers for you to come inside for a cup of tea or something, say no. Stay in sight of your partner. I actually broke that rule a few times because of a very animated elderly woman who wanted to talk more, but if you're concerned about safety just remember that golden rule, and the words "we're not allowed to come inside".
Golden rule: Don't put flyers in mailboxes. Using a mailbox when you're not a postal employee is like a federal offense or something. Stick flyers in doors. That's literally the only rule! :p
Please share this with everyone you know. I've heard from enough seasoned activists to have confirmed my sense that the biggest problem we have on the left is a wee touch of passivity. We tend to think "I'm sure someone is taking care of this." I'm here to tell you, if that someone isn't you, it's nobody and if we want this, we're going to have to work our butts off for it, plain and simple.
Let's all leave it all on the field and wake up November 7th knowing that, either way, win or lose, we did everything we could.