I’m an organizer at the ACLU of Northern California. You might be wondering what an organizer does at a predominately legal organization like ours. Well, plenty. I run phone banks, plan local advocacy campaigns with volunteer chapter leaders, run lobby trainings, implement statewide issue campaigns, do public speaking, and more.
But I’ll tell you what I don’t do: canvass.
I’m simultaneously pleased and embarrassed to admit that I’ve somehow managed to bypass this rung on the political organizing career ladder. However, when we at the ACLU learned about EQCA’s Win Marriage Back field program, we knew it was where we wanted to encourage ACLU members and activists to go to do the important face-to-face work that’s needed to build support for the freedom to marry.
We decided to cosponsor the Win Marriage Back canvasses in Northern California on Sunday, October 25 and encourage ACLU folks to participate. That meant that I was going to have to ring doorbells and have conversations. I’m not going to lie—I had a pit in my stomach the size of a pumpkin (happy Halloween!) all day Saturday and all morning Sunday. I was scared.
It’s hard to go door to door—especially outside the context of a campaign in an area where a majority of voters supported Proposition 8. The fact is that a lot of people are truly struggling with the idea of marriage for same-sex couples. One man with whom my canvassing partner, Elizabeth, spoke said he agreed it was wrong to treat people differently. He knew gay and lesbian people in long term, committed relationships. He just felt that his religion dictated that marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman. However, he, like most people we spoke with, was willing to engage in a thoughtful conversation.
Elizabeth walked away from his house without changing his mind…but that’s okay. We have to be realistic and know that not every opponent of same-sex marriage will become a supporter after a 5 minute conversation. But some will. Even more will become undecided. A new seed has been planted in that man’s mind, and I know he’s thinking about same-sex marriage in a new way now. If we continue having these conversations, both door to door as part of the Win Marriage Back campaign and in our everyday lives with our friends, relatives and colleagues, we will make a real, measurable difference. Eventually that difference will be significant enough that we will win marriage back for LGBT people in California at the ballot box.
As it turns out, while the anticipation was killing me, canvassing actually isn’t all that scary. EQCA Bay Area Field Manager Michael Kaiser-Nyman and super-volunteer Nate gave a fantastic, comprehensive training that put me and the other canvassers at ease. The people who really didn’t want to talk didn’t answer their doors. The people who answered their doors were human and appreciated that someone was taking the time to have these conversations with them without pushing a specific ballot initiative agenda.
So, even if you’re nervous, sign up to do one of these canvasses online at http://bit.ly/MBgNJ. It will be okay, I promise. This is a great opportunity, not only to change hearts and minds about the freedom to marry before we go back to the ballot, but also to practice before we’re all forced to have these conversations in the context of a campaign.