Jerod and I are at the unassuming parking lot of a root canal dentistry service. There are half a dozen canvassers on a glorious Atlanta morning- every one of us has done some canvassing before. Nick, who works for the Jon Ossoff campaign and is our canvass lead, gives us our scripts. Like any good canvass director he tells us to not feel bound by it and do what feels natural at the door. He stresses the dates for early voting and registration of new voters, but because the crew is experienced he doesn’t worry too much about our training.
Ideally the Flip Georgia Project (the new name for the Flip 2020 Project, now that our work in Maine is done) would do very little canvassing, not because we don’t think it’s effective — quite the contrary. We continue to believe that the reason so many polls were wrong in the general election, and that the Republicans were able to hold most of their vulnerable Senate seats, is the Democrats mostly did not canvass while the Republicans claim to have done a million doors per week.
But the reason we want to do little canvassing is we believe we can do things in Georgia that are more effective, as illustrated by the work we did later in the day.
I already had the MiniVan app on my phone from canvassing in Maine. I dropped in the new codes and was off to nearby houses within half an hour of meeting Nick. The houses were large, the neighborhoods affluent, and most of the people I spoke with were well aware of the elections; several had already voted. Still, I had a couple of good conversations, dropped off the informative literature at houses where there was no response to my knocking, and was quick enough that I got Nick to give me a second territory and completed that as well.
While my morning of canvassing was fairly bland, Jerod got some disturbing information at one door. A family who had just arrived home mentioned they thought he was Republican because they’d already talked to multiple Republican canvassers. This was rattling because the MiniVan system does not send you to every door — that would be a waste of your time — it sends you only to doors of people who either are registered Democrats or who might vote for your candidates (Independents, Green party folks, people who have made contributions to the campaign). What is disturbing is that the general election that triggered these critical Georgia runoffs was less than a month ago. It means the Republicans have large canvass crews and are already doubling back and hitting the same houses twice, while the Democrats are just getting started.
Which brings me to the latter part of the day, where I feel the Flip Georgia effort out-performed both conventional canvassing and the big Democratic groups operating in the state.
After canvassing, I went to meet up with Jacqueline and her tribe of artists. Most days Jacqueline works as a non-profit Director of Digital Strategist, but this was not most days. Jacqueline is working with local artists and activists on the VoteTree project in Atlanta, which fuses public art with non-partisan political content to raise awareness about these critical runoff elections.
I have to admit I was skeptical when Jacqueline first proposed a “fabric bridge”: strips of red, white, and blue fabric hung from a long ribbon suspended a few feet above the ground along the side of the Beltline park, which circles Atlanta. I imagined it might be ignored, or that the police would force its removal. But Jacqueline was determined and I knew enough to stay out of her way. And she was completely right. Passersby loved the installation, our most minimal invitation got people, especially families, engaged and putting up ribbons. These flag like ribbons were popular with passers by who were happy to help build this patriotic art project encouraging and enabling people to vote.
And as is sort of the Flip Georgia approach, while some people were doing the activity other people were working the crowd to get them to register or apply for an absentee ballot. Jacqueline’s team had created these handy business cards with QR codes on them that made it dead easy to get your ballot mailed to you. You can scan it on your phone, which takes you to the Secretary of State’s website, and there you can immediately register and/or request a mail-in ballot.
On the other side of the busy Beltline park, Allison took pictures of people with her sign that had election information on it. She would simply ask people who were walking down the Beltline if they would be willing to hold her sign so she could take their picture and post it on social media. Almost everyone said yes (who can resist a selfie that shows off your civic duty?). Right after she took their picture she would ask, “May I take a picture with your phone so you can put it up on social media?” Almost everyone said yes!
By comparison one of the prominent Georgia political groups was tabling at the Beltline just a couple hundred meters from us. Their instructions were to not be intrusive. If someone had a question or wanted information they were of course there to help. But they were not to “bark” at passersby to attempt to get them to engage. We were “barking softly” if you will — you could get your picture taken, you could tie on a ribbon with your kids if you wanted to… and take one of our business cards.
I asked the folks at this table how many people had spoken with the major group’s paid tablers in the course of their three-hour shift. The number was three. I checked with Jacqueline how many people had used the QR coded cards we had given out — there were over fifty during that same afternoon. We had talked with and engaged dozens of people and given out many cards.
It seems to be the right time for barking.