Lessons from Canvassing

Posted on behalf of Kelly Chen, Media Coordinator for the North Shore Team

This summer is a summer of firsts – firsts in tabling at farmer’s markets, biking tens of miles, sleeping in churches, and now, canvassing, in the name of Climate Summer. A month ago, I walked absentmindedly past a person clad in a bright yellow shirt. One hand reached towards me with a flyer, the other with a pen – but those I ignored in a rush to my destination. I empathized with her, and other people canvassing on the streets of Boston – I knew it could be awkward and uncomfortable on their end, and discouraging to hold onto the same flyer if no one bothered to take it. After standing on sidewalks and train stations, wearing an orange and equally bright shirt, with flyers and postcards in hand, I can say that those predictions are true. I did feel like an awkward teenager at points. It was uncomfortable to feel like an intrusion on someone’s day. And it was discouraging to be completely ignored by a few folks.

Ariel holding the flag and canvassing at the fireworks.

Ariel holding the flag and canvassing at the fireworks.

But it also was empowering to be able to move past those feelings, and from negative interactions, to a completely new person and to start again. It felt good to find again that approaching strangers wasn’t too bad and no different than talking to someone new at college. And it was a good surprise to share our message and to find a sympathetic ear on the other end. When my team canvassed at the Derby Wharf Fourth of July celebration, having a flag painted with our values made the job a lot easier. People were visually interested, and confused too at first, about our flag. Their slowing down to read the words we had written gave us the perfect opportunity to start a conversation. Here on the North Shore, my teammates and I have sometimes questioned our role in this movement, questioning what exactly it is that we are doing and whether that is useful. I still am not too sure. I’m still not too sure that canvassing is the most effective thing we could be doing. But in our goal to do everything that we can, canvassing does seem to have its place. I’ve already realized the power of connection and stories and chance encounters, and canvassing brings those all together.

Kelly looking professional- she's a pro at switching from sweaty biker to sleek media coordinator.

Kelly looking professional- she’s a pro at switching from sweaty biker to sleek media coordinator.

This also draws me back to my last blog post about changes in perception. This is a summer of gaining new perspectives about the same topic. Shifting from being the person a canvasser tried to engage to the canvasser, from a bystander to an active member, has made me anticipate how I’ll act the next time I see someone standing on a sidewalk with a flyer. Well, it’s definitely not my favorite thing to do yet, but I don’t dislike it, and I think it is a good life experience.

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