Contributed by Cindi Sternfeld.

Canvassing in a Pandemic?  You Betcha!

What is the big dilemma of a GOTV Warrior like me at the cross section of a pandemic and a presidential election?  TO KNOCK OR NOT TO KNOCK?    

For the past year, ILNH has been intrigued and excited by the idea of deep canvassing with Changing The Conversation Together (CTC)!  Many of us trained and participated in the CTC deep canvassing program up until March of this year.   

When the pandemic hit, things changed. Some did phone banking with CTC and had phone calls using these same relationship building strategies.  In-person or on the phone, the conversations are all about talking with voters about who we love and the values we care about, and then bringing home the idea that our president does not match up with those values. Phone calls were alright but as anyone who has canvassed knows, they are a distant second to in-person conversations.  

As CTC weighed the pros and cons of not canvassing, the organization called on public health and medical experts to determine whether there was a safe way to get back out and talk to people face-to- face. What emerged from that process were CTC protocols for Safety First Canvassing. The guidelines are stringent and helped me to decide to go ahead and get back to door knocking!  I’ve been out twice and have felt safe because of the attention to detail of the folks at CTC.

In addition to the deep canvassing training components that were in place prior to the pandemic, CTC has added a 90-minute training that digs down into the protocols.  All volunteers are required to participate in a Safety First training before volunteering to go on a canvass. In addition to the training, we are required to have a clear covid test that is administered no more than seven days prior to the event.  Once we complete the test, we must quarantine, take temperature twice daily and commit to mask wearing and social distancing when life requires that we leave home. 

After the canvas, all volunteers are required to test again, about three days after the canvas.   If volunteers plan to drive together, or if they are driving together to their canvassing turf, they must not sit in the same row of the car.  All cars are limited to two people and asked to drive with masks on and windows open. On top of all of that, on the day of canvass all of the registration areas and materials have been sanitized and are re-sanitized after use. During before and after canvass meetings for training and debriefing, all chairs are arranged six feet apart, with safety monitors equipped with yardsticks, keeping us all separate and honest.    

The canvassing script  itself is mostly unchanged from pre-covid times, with a few modifications to reflect the Safety First standards. Each canvasser is equipped with vote-by-mail and voter registration applications on clipboards with pens in packets.  Each packet‘s contents have been sanitized and placed in plastic bags, and we have been trained on how to handle these packets before and after the voter has used them. We are also supplied with free masks to give to the voters. All conversations occur outside the home with all participants wearing masks. 

CTC has focused its work in Philadelphia, and I’ve had several great conversations with voters. My most rewarding conversation was with a woman who was in her 80’s. She answered the door and asked if I was a census worker.  When I said, “no, my name is Cindi. I’m here and talking to voters about Donald Trump.”  She asked me if I was “for or against?”  I bluntly answered, “Against.”  She laughed and said, “Well Cindi,  I guess you must be if you’re here to talk to me during a pandemic! Call me GG!”   

We laughed and shared our stories.  I told GG about my mom who was a nurse and had always been committed to helping others, even at times when it was inconvenient or difficult, that she even helped a dying neighbor who had been unkind to my family because we are Jewish. GG got weepy as she talked about her parents who were sharecroppers and came to Philadelphia to raise her and her sisters in the North. She talked about their kindness and their loving hearts and that everyone who came into their home felt welcomed and were always well fed.  She talked about her mom’s cookies and her dad’s homemade wine.  She told me that if it were not for Covid, she would invite me in for a cup of tea… and then offered to bring me a cup to enjoy on the front porch while we chatted.  She talked about what it was like to live during the civil rights movement and how sad it was for her to see what is happening to the country now.  I agreed with her when she said, “Trump’s gotta go!”   

It was such a nice visit that I had to remind myself that I had many more doors to knock. As we ended our visit, GG committed to making sure that every one of her 23 grandkids would vote!   

One of the final questions on the canvassing script asks about how the voter felt about our safety protocols. She said she felt very safe and she felt respected because I was so concerned about her health. She said she wished her kids and grandkids would be that careful.  GG’s story has been with me in the weeks since I had the privilege of meeting her.    These are conversations like no other and I am grateful for the chance to be a part of them. 

I guess the best part of the CTC Safety First Canvassing is that everyone at CTC is just as committed to safety as they are to voting Donald Trump out of office!

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