How Can I Help?

Steve Riddell

It happens perennially in every grassroots campaign: a psyched-up follower will engage with the candidate’s page, driven there by a passionate agreement with the candidate’s message, and register to be a volunteer on the volunteer sign-up link.  When they fill out the form, they’ll say something in the message like, “I’ve never done anything political before, but I’m happy to help out in any way I can!”  So far so good, right?  Most of the time, it’s the start of a great story, “How I First Got Involved in Politics,” but sometimes, when the candidate reaches out and says, “Here’s what I need: we’re blockwalking every Saturday between now and the election, and we’d love to have your help!” Sometimes what we get in return: a whole lot of silence.

Hey, I get it!  When I reported in to the Tarrant County Democratic Party’s offices to “help out in whatever way I can” a few years back, I interviewed with Celia Morgan, a person I’d never met before, but who has since become a good friend.  I told her that I could do data analysis, or data entry, or anything that involved interacting with machines, but going door to door to speak to strangers wasn’t really a skillset of mine, so I’d like to avoid doing that if I could.  This was obviously a VERY long time ago.  Celia fixed me with a level stare – those of you that know Celia are familiar with this look – and said,

“You’re going to have to do better than that, Steve.  If you want things to change, you’re going to have to do some things that are outside of your comfort zone.” 

So: I did.  In the years since, I’ve knocked on thousands of doors in all sorts of neighborhoods, and now it’s my favorite thing to do.  Something I didn’t think was in my toolbox is now one of my go-to tools. 

It’s daunting, to knock on the door of a total stranger and talk about your passion for issues and candidates, but it’s a whole lot easier than it sounds!  If people answer the door, generally they’re already predisposed to talk to people – the surly characters that everyone imagines as a worst-case scenario when doing their first blockwalk are generally uninterested in opening their door in the first place.  The people that DO come to the door, nine times out of ten, they’re excited to see a like-minded individual.  Here’s the dynamic in my neighborhood, where I’ve done the most walking: until last year, every Democrat in the area was 95% certain they were “the only Democrat on my block.”  One of my favorite responses to this line was to hold up my clipboard and say, “I’ve got a list of dozens of Democrats in your neighborhood right here, and you’re the fourth door I’ve knocked on this block.  You’re definitely not the only Democrat on this block.  You guys could form a club!” 

One time, out walking a precinct in South Bedford with that neighborhood’s precinct chair, we knocked on a door and a woman came to the door.  I gave my spiel, that we were volunteers with the Tarrant County Democratic Party, and that we lived nearby, and we were in the neighborhood talking to people we thought might be interested in helping out with the next election.  There was a brief pause, then she turned to the interior of the house and shouted to her husband, “HONEY COME TO THE DOOR!  THE DEMOCRATS ARE HERE!”

Some of the strangers whose doors I’ve knocked on became not just my supporters – they’re now my friends.

You’ll have a script.  You’ll have someone with you that’s done it before and knows the ropes.  And it works.  Here’s why:

According to the seminal work on word-of-mouth marketing “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger, there are six factors that drive the ideas that people talk about and share:

  • Social Currency – the better something makes people look, the more likely they will be to share
  • Triggers – things that are top of mind (i.e., accessible) are more likely to be tip of tongue
  • Emotion – when we care, we share. High arousal emotions increase sharing 
  • Public – the easier something is to see, the more likely people are to imitate it
  • Practical Value – people share useful information to help others
  • Stories – Trojan Horse stories carry messages and ideas along for the ride1

Blockwalking covers these bases.  It makes the people you’ve visited feel good to tell their friends, “The Democratic Party came to my front door to see ME today!  They need my help.”  It’s top of mind to them because it’s memorable to have an interaction with like-minded people, especially when it’s unexpected because “my neighborhood’s very conservative.”  Obviously, the people knocking on the door are passionate: they wouldn’t be out walking the neighborhood unless they were highly committed, and that passion is really contagious.  It’s obviously very public.  Done right, it includes practical value about how participating in the political process supports their values and their vision for the future of their community.  And, because it’s rare, it creates a story people will share.

There are plenty of opportunities, an organization that I love, Tarrant Together, has as its mission to identify, register and activate Democratic voters in Tarrant County, and they’ve already been hard at work on that mission for some time now – they run blockwalks just about every weekend, and they’d love for you to come along

[tarrant-together.com]

You can also find your house district’s precinct chair coordinator here, reach out to them and ask what walks are scheduled: they’ll be so grateful for your help. click here

Generally speaking, people and organizations with a lot of money to toss around and a lot of power they’re desperate to hold on to – those folks usually don’t gravitate to the blue end of the political spectrum.  As a result, the Republican Party in Texas starts off at an advantage: they’re likely to have a lot more money than we do.  Here’s the thing, though: money can’t buy votes, and it certainly can’t buy passion.  It can’t even fake passion. 

And that’s what we need, in case you were wondering how you can help we need your passion.  Bring it along – and wear comfortable shoes!

1Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016.

1 Comment

  1. What a great column Steve! Certainly your description of the block walking experience is spot on; I was surprised how positive it is in reality. And you missed how uplifting it is to talk to all those like-minded people on their porches. That’s a definite benefit to the person knocking on doors.

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