For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Going Door-to-Door: Canvassing and Literature Drops
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.
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.
Be Your Own
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
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.
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.
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
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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