Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook for Queer Activists and Grassroots Organizers
For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.

Going Door-to-Door: Canvassing and Literature Drops

Registering voters
General Points
Who Can Canvass/Lit Drop? Lit Drop or Canvass?
Where to Go?
Be Your Own Propaganda Queen
Kinko's Is Your Friend Maps & Hi-Liters
The home base
Recipe for Canvassing/Lit Drop Campaign
A Few Precautions
Canvassing Specifics
So What Are You Waiting For?
Don't Get Caught Empty-Handed
How much literature do you need?
Knock Knock
The Lit Drop...Specifics
Yard Signs, Bumper Stickers & Buttons

When you're faced with an electoral situation that has a direct impact on lesbian and gay lives-an anti-lesbian/gay initiative, a local school board election, or any other election of a local candidate with a defined pro- or anti- lesbian and gay agenda-your organizing takes on a very specific focus. You will want to win, or at least influence, the vote. Our experiences in both Maine and Idaho showed to us that using traditional campaign strategies such as canvassing and literature dropswith an out and locally controlled twist can be a highly effective way of influencing a vote without compromising your direct-action organizing.

Who Can Canvass/Lit Drop?

The first step in setting up a canvass or lit drop is finding out who in town wants to do it. Call a meeting. Hurrah! Outreach to everyone you can think of (use techniques discussed in "Getting the Word Out"), and make it fun. Don't frighten people with visions of some serious "training". Instead, tell them they don't need any experience to come, and order pizza - meat and veggie. Gather relevant information, and make copies to give out. Once you get people there, ask a lot of questions. Things will go much more smoothly if you figure some things out together. You can give tips but listen to people's suggestions. If you're going door to door, do lots of role-playing to get people used to real situations. Make a schedule that everyone feels comfortable with and factor in time for socializing. It's hard work and no matter how committed we are, we all could stand to be rewarded now and then.

Lit Drop or Canvass?

In Lewiston, Idaho, where door to door canvassing seemed too threatening given the conservative environment, a literature drop was the best tactic to bring a lot of people into the campaign who previously had not been active. Find out how many residences are in your town, and decide realistically how many you think you can cover. If your resources are limited and your area is big, you may want to consider doing a lit drop in order to cover more territory. If your area is small or your number of committed people is large, you may want to opt for the more time-consuming but more personal method of door-to-door canvassing.

If time and resources force you to limit your targeted areas and choose between neighborhoods, think carefully about your decisions. If there are areas you're pretty sure will automatically vote your way, maybe a quick lit drop will be a good reminder. If there are areas where you think people would respond better to a live person on their doorstep, canvass.

Where to Go?
Be careful about stereotyping. As discussed later in this handbook, mainstream campaigns often spend significant amounts of money and time to identify voters to target, and selectively dismiss entire communities. Typically these are lower income, minority and/or rural communities because statistics tell them to expect an "uneducable" audience and low voter turnout. The reality is that, as traditionally marginalized communities, people in these areas may be particularly likely to be receptive to what you have to say. Also, remember that lesbians and gay men live everywhere and would welcome a real live lesbian knocking on their Republican neighbor's front door.

Be Your Own Propaganda Queen
Whether you're doing a lit drop or going door to door, you need literature to leave behind. It's your big chance to get your arguments into people's hands, where they can consider your points in the privacy of their own homes. But before you go tapping on your keyboard, find out what the rules are in your area about Political Action Committees (PACs) and campaign literature (see Appendix on PACs).

If your state has a mainstream campaign, they will have literature which they will most likely urge you to hand out so that you stay in line with their "message". Often this literature does not mention lesbians and gay men, nor does it necessarily relate to other local issues. But if you do your own research and know your community and target audience pretty well, you can figure out what will both interest and persuade them. And, you will be able to tie that to anti-lesbian and -gay bigotry.

Locally generated literature was a great success was in Genessee, Idaho, a township of about 700. When we first began working there, we had a few well-attended organizing meetings, but no one had any ideas for a flyer. We were eager to see a written piece produced, but not being from Genesee, we decided to get the ball rolling by making a few phone calls to local individuals who were rumored to be supportive. We asked them each to write a statement about their opposition to Prop. 1. A local out lesbian newspaper columnist with a loyal following in Genesee then took the bull by the horns and helped gather testimonies and put them together in a pamphlet with a civic-minded spin: "Genesee and Proposition 1 - Who Cares? Your teachers, your neighbors, your librarian, your clergy..." She wrote:

I've appreciated the way Genesee people have left me to live my hermit life out in the woods . . . so it would make me feel really good if you, the people of my hometown, could recognize all the bad things about Proposition One (Idaho's anti-gay initiative) and vote against it.

\In Lewiston, Idaho, an overwhelmingly union town, we persuaded the local board of the AFL-CIO to write a letter denouncing Proposition 1. We then folded this letter into the middle of our lit drop brochure. Make the most of whoever already has a good reputation in your town, as long as they are willing to let you be out and visible.

INSERT-AFL-CIO letter & Genessee pamphlet

Kinko's Is Your Friend
Now that you've got the words, what do you want it to look like? Find somebody with a fetish for, or even just a part-time interest, in computer graphics and it's amazing what you can put together. If possible, find somebody local with access to xeroxing at their job or school to cut your production costs. Kinko's stores or a local equivalent which do xeroxing and have access to computers and graphics software are an invaluable resource. Good graphics make people read your wonderful arguments. Either way, get people's attention. We recommend bright papers like Kinko's sonic yellow, orange and pink.

Maps & Hi-Liters

One of the biggest advantages to doing a door-to-door campaign is that everyone gets to watch the yellow Hi-Lited section on your large wall map expanding, slowly but surely, to engulf the whole town. There are few campaign tasks with a more total, or more visual, sense of accomplishment.

So going door-to-door begins with getting maps, known as blueprints, of the city or district. These maps indicate all streets and houses. They can usually be obtained at minimal cost through the town or county planning office, and should be hung, with the respect they deserve, in a very commanding location on one of your walls.

Once you have obtained your blueprint divide it up into neighborhoods. In Moscow, we divided the city into 5 zones (A,B,C,D,E), marked these out in black marker on the large map, then split each zone into sections small enough for two people to cover in a night (A1,A2,A3, etc), and made 8.5 x 11" photocopies of each small section. Each person will then have a copy of the ground that they are expected to cover. Every time they finish a house or a block, they color it in with a highliter pen on their small copy.

Of course, the best part of going door-to-door is returning home to color in your section on the large wall map, while everyone stands around holding mugs of coffee and beer, staring wide-eyed at the expanding yellow section and exclaiming, "Cool, we're almost done with Section B!" Take advantage of the door-to-door campaign's great potential for morale boosting by making sure that your small-map sections are not too large and not too small--they should be just right, so that folks can complete them in two hours and then feel really good about themselves for the rest of the evening.

The home base

It was easiest for us to run most of this out of our house. This entailed handing out maps each night, keeping track of what got done, and keeping stocked up on copies of literature, clipboards, and highlighter pens.

Your fellow campaign workers will be really impressed if you are organized about this. After a hard day at work, after leaving their lovers, friends, or children for the evening, and after making a sometimes difficult decision to interrupt their lives by going door-to-door, most people don't want to show up at the door-to-door home base and having someone say, "Oh! You're here! Well, uhh....what do you need?" Instead, you should hand them a folder and/or a clipboard with everything they need: "Tips for Canvassing" with friendly advice and talking points, standard voter-persuasion brochures to give to people at the door, one small map of the area they're expected to cover, one Hi-Liter pen, one regular pen, a sheet to write down names and addresses of supporters who want yard signs or are interested in volunteering, some bumper stickers and buttons. If they don't have a partner, find them one. (Never, ever, ever turn someone away because you don't have a partner for them or are out of maps! We've heard countless horror stories about campaigns turning away eager volunteers, sometimes losing invaluable activists for good. Always have backup plans: a few extra folks hanging around that could go out on a moment's notice if someone needs a partner, or an extra one-person job such as making phone calls if there's definitely no partner available. If all else fails, give them your job (door-to-door coordination) and busy yourself re-hanging the wall map or making soup for returning canvassers.

In addition to the standard packet, it's good to have a shelf stacked with a variety of extra voter-persuasion literature that people can choose from according to their preferences: literature produced by your local library on book banning, religious arguments against the initiative, etc. We've noticed that most door-to-door activists tend to get attached to a few pieces of literature that help supplement their favorite arguments, and can get quite miffed if, by some small-group decision or general forgetfulness, fresh copies of these are not available. If you change your literature halfway through the campaign, keep some copies of the old one for the creatures of habit in your group. Have someone be in charge of keeping your shelf stocked with fresh copies of everything.

Make time at the end of canvassing for people to hang out and talk about their experiences. Have some food and drink handy. It can be a long and difficult process and it helps to unwind together. border=0>
Recipe for Canvassing/Lit Drop Campaign
  1. One very large town blueprint, on wall.
  2. At least two smaller (8.5 x 11") maps of each neighborhood (copied from big blueprint)
  3. Tons of Hi-Liter Markers.
  4. "Tips for Canvassing" handout
  5. Signup sheets for yard signs & volunteers
  6. Tons of Pens
  7. One standard voter-persuasion brochure and lots of other, more specific, literature
  8. Bumper stickers, buttons, etc.
  9. Voter registration cards, if allowed in your region
  10. Folders and clipboards
  11. Tea, coffee, beer, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and hot vegetable soup.

A Few Precautions

With any action, safety is a legitimate concern which should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. We strongly recommend that people distribute literature/canvass in pairs. Remember that there is safety in numbers, and besides, it can relieve boredom and enhance your power of argument. Be aware of where your partner is at all times, carry whistles and be sure to report any harassment to the coordinator of the drop. This may prevent others from experiencing the same difficulties. Also, make sure that everyone going out has the phone number of the coordinator at your home base. A coordinator who knows where people are should oversee the drops from a place where all participants will start and finish. The coordinator should also have access to a car and phone, and people going out would have this number in case of emergency.

If you're going somewhere you feel is particularly hostile, you could send people out in fours, one pair for each side of the street. Or if possible, each set could go out with their own car, so they wouldn't be stuck somewhere they felt unsafe. If you're working with people you've just met, you could have them fill out a support sheet before they go. This is a sheet with their names, addresses, phone numbers and contact names if there is an emergency. It means that if someone forgets to check in, you can call to make sure they are safe. We never went out much past sunset, not only for our own protection, but because a stranger at your door at night is more alarming than a stranger crossing your lawn at dusk.

Some towns have regulations about going door to door. Call the police department to check. You may need a permit to canvass legally in some towns, but if you're not asking for any money then the regulations may not apply.

It is crucial to report any harassment. If someone yells at you or threatens violence, you should make sure whoever coordinates the canvass knows exactly where it occurred to protect others going out in the area. Also report harassment to anyone keeping track of anti-gay and -lesbian incidents in your town or state. If you have a local Anti-Violence Project or Hate Crimes Task Force make sure that they are notified. Statistics have shown that the numbers of anti-gay and -lesbian incidents soar in the context of an initiative campaign. No matter how small an incident may seem at the time, its important for people tracking to know that it happened.

Going Door to Door ... Canvassing Specifics

Canvassing is a systematic visit to every residence in a designated region, in which you introduce your issue to the person at the door, provide information, answer questions, and argue your point.


Canvassing is when you wrench yourself away from event-planning, phone-calling, yard-sign-stake-sawing and coffee-or-tea-drinking, and you knock on some strangers' doors in the dark in the cold hoping that at least one person on the block will be home and that no one will call you a fag or chase you off their porch, and when finally someone comes to the door you ask them, "Have you heard of Proposition 1?" and they say "Oh yeah I've read about it but what is it again?" and you tell them and mention that incidentally you are a lesbian, the sort whose rights would be removed by a yes vote, and some light goes off above their heads, "Oh, you're a lesbian, well, hmmm" and they nod their head slowly and say maybe they'll vote no.

Canvassing is an extremely time- and labor-intensive operation, but in our experience is worth the effort. People respond well to people. You may not change people's minds, but you will make them think. Many people claim they have never met anyone gay and easily swallow lies and stereotypes about us. When we're standing on their doorsteps having civil conversations with them, attitudes often change. Many times people have told us that they had planned to vote against us but that they can't help but respect us for standing up for ourselves so openly and honestly. While we may not convince people to change the way they vote, we will certainly leave them with the responsibility of thinking of who they are affecting when they go into the voting booth and pull that lever. Canvassing is obviously effective. You can see it in people's faces and you can see it in the vote results. The vote has increased in our favor in each placed we have ever canvassed. But don't fool yourself about the level of personal difficulty. It can be extremely frustrating, draining and even infuriating, having to knock on hundreds of doors and convince people of something that seems so very obvious to you.
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