Do you have a minute for me to totally guilt-trip you?

30 Oct

I guess you could say I am totally “in the tank” for Barack Obama. In fact, I could've told you at least 8 years ago that I would be voting for Obama (or whoever the Democratic candidate ended up being) next week. I would almost venture to say that in the entire time any member of my family has lived in the United States, none of them has ever voted for a non-Democrat, so it's just part of my upbringing. Now, I also live in one of the bluest congressional districts in one of the bluest states in the country and I work for a pretty left-leaning newspaper, so not many of my friends, neighbors, or co-workers are particularly disinclined to vote for Obama either. So, while we're mostly not worth canvassing or get-out-the-vote organizing here in New York, we're still good to hit up for money.
What, too busy to save adorable baby seals?What, too busy to save adorable baby seals?I've canvassed before. In 2004, when I was a sophomore in college (in Connecticut, which was not in any danger of going for Bush), I carpooled with some friends to the Philadelphia area a week before the election to schlep around for the Kerry campaign. It was a fun road trip with some friends, but the canvassing part was not at all fun. We canvassed in a suburban town called Upper Dublin Township. It was not true-blue territory like Brooklyn, but still, we were only supposed to knock on the doors of confirmed supporters and remind them to vote. Despite that, hardly anyone was happy to see us. Pennsylvanians then (and now, I imagine) had been bombarded with such a barrage of TV ads and in-person organizers that they were at their wit's end. The most positive response we got from anyone was “fine, yes, fine, I'm going to vote, will you leave now?”

So, I'm just saying, I can empathize with what a thankless job it is. And for an idealistic young person who signs up with the DNC, the Obama campaign, the Sierra Club, the ACLU, or any manner of non-profit and/or political interest that puts people up to this, why wouldn't just they do what they're assigned to do?

I've never engaged with someone who's harangued me on the street about Obama, the environment, or protecting the constitution. Not that I'm not delighted to support all of those causes — as I mentioned, this is New York. Everyone is for that stuff. Perhaps this is why the canvanssers are sent out to stand on the street and harass people here, as opposed to Real America the deep south. I just am concerned about the reaction these people must be getting from the general public, even in a place that is supposed to be mostly sympathetic to their cause of choice. I'm also concerned that the DNC/Obama/Sierra Club/ACLU/et al. is misusing their capital (whether it's financial capital because they're paying the staffers, or human capital because this is how they're choosing to use their volunteers). Clearly some of them are a little disgruntled. I've gotten a few snide parting shots when I ignore them. (“Do you have a minute for the environment? Well, I guess not!”).

It's possible I'm just wrong on this, and this kind of canvassing really is worth the investment in time and/or money. But to me, what it seems like is the organization sending them out is not really aware of how fundraising and organizing really happens today — that is to say, on the internet. I used to work for a left-wing non-profit. Not one big enough to justify canvassing on the streets, but it seems like the sort of thing they would have done if they could have. They were part of the old-guard, 1970s era of left-wing activism, and when I left they were inching ever closing to the brink of bankruptcy because they failed to grasp how the fundraising and organizing game had changed. I just hope whoever is putting these canvassers on the street knows what they're doing.