At the Indivisible East Bay July All Member Meeting, two of our colleagues from Indivisible Northern Nevada gave a presentation about their efforts identifying issues that matter to voters in the Reno area as part of the campaign to get out the vote to unseat Senator Dean Heller, identified as one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators. They were so inspiring that in early August, 2018, a group of IEB members traveled to Reno to attend the 2018 Lake Tahoe Summit and to canvass and register voters in northern Nevada with our Indivisible colleagues.
Our Indivisible Northern Nevada hosts, all women, greeted us at the picnic tables at Reno’s Idlewild Park with coffee, orange juice, and three kinds of pastries all laid out on a floral tablecloth. After an enthusiastic welcome, some wrangling of the MiniVan app, and a little roleplaying, we were ready to talk to some voters. The goal was to identify issues the voters cared about and decide what, if any, further contact to plan with them. We split into pairs; my partner Ruth happened to live nearby so we decided to start in her neighborhood, which made it very easy to find the addresses that popped up on my phone.
The first person we talked to was a stocky man with a sunburn who came out around the side of his house smoking a cigar. As planned, we asked him what issues he was thinking about in the upcoming election. He said he was pretty happy with how things were going for him, and would stay happy as long as his taxes were low. We probably could have said “thank you for your time” right then and there and taken him off the list. But he was polite and reasonably friendly, if a little smug, so we pressed a little further, asking what he thought of the state of Reno’s infrastructure and about recent changes to the federal tax code. He said he got a $10K tax cut and that if Reno outgrew its infrastructure he’d just move somewhere else. Then his wife came out to tell him his mom was on the phone and we were able to make a graceful exit.
Our next experience was happier. We talked to a young woman just out of nursing school who came to the door in a bathrobe with a towel on her head, yet was happy to chat with the strangers at the door about her top issues: student debt and cost of living. With her busy life, she didn’t know anything about the candidates for Senate or other upcoming elections, but she promised to educate herself by November, and to vote. After consulting in the car, we decided that we didn’t need to send anyone back to talk to her more about the issues and we marked her “GOTV” so that someone would call or visit to remind her to vote.
After a few unanswered knocks, we came to a house that seemed to have no door. The front of the house was a row of garages and at closer inspection there was a door at the back of one of them. We ventured inside to knock, and retreated back to the driveway. Just when we were giving up and turning to leave, a white-haired woman who looked to be in her seventies opened the door. She said she hadn’t really thought about the issues or which ones were most important to her. When we suggested some common answers like health care, jobs and the economy, or the environment, she said that “all those things must be important to anyone who’s alive” but didn’t really offer anything further. She talked about a need for balance and cooperation in government and seemed mildly enthusiastic about the fact that so many women are getting involved and running for office right now. Back in the car, we decided that she probably could use another conversation to make her feel that her vote mattered and to be sure she knew which candidates agreed with her on the issues and would bring balance to Washington: we marked her “MAYBE.”
Even our Trumpiest door knock was calm and cordial, probably in part because we identified ourselves as non-partisan and asked for information rather than giving it. A middle-aged woman on crutches told us that she thought things were “finally on the right track” now that Trump was in office. We felt sad for her, suspecting that she is one of those supporters who is actually hurt by the president’s policies, but got a certain amount of satisfaction out of emphatically taking her off our list for future visits.
At our next stop, we met a man whose top issue was immigration. He said straight off that we definitely need “some” immigration to get people to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. He also said that people who enter the country without permission are “breaking the law” and should face consequences, and should need to prove that they haven’t come to do harm. But he was kind of wavering on whether it was okay to lock them all up in detention for fleeing violence or seeking a better life for their families. We marked him down as a strong MAYBE, almost envying the interesting conversation in store for the volunteer who comes back to engage him further about the facts around immigration and how to vote in alignment with his beliefs.
Our last conversation of the day was with a young father whose front yard was full of children’s toys, and who was the only non-white person we came across in that neighborhood. It was a short visit both because he was obviously busy and because it was pretty clear right away that he was a strong progressive informed on the issues and in favor of Medicare for all. We marked him “GOTV” and both sort of regretted that we didn’t at least ask if he wanted to volunteer; but it hadn’t occurred to us until after the moment had passed.
The group reconvened back at the park to discuss our experiences and talk about what we want to do better next time. The canvassers were energized, feeling good about people’s responses to getting questions about their opinions and priorities rather than being asked to support a candidate or fed a party line. Some also expressed a sense that out of all these voters who had registered as non-partisan, more were leaning leftward than rightward on the issues.
As for our goals to do better next time, we all thought we needed some more strategies to draw out relatively uninformed people in naming their top issues. And we noted our inclination to spend perhaps too many of our valuable canvasing minutes having long conversations with enthusiastic progressives, but decided there was value in that too both for our own morale and theirs.
Certainly my own morale was lifted by the trip, especially meeting the Indivisible Nevadans who fed us, opened their guestrooms to us, and taught us how to make connections with their neighbors and community.
If you’d like to join next time please fill out this form.