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Voices

The Secret Canvasser: 'Some of them are your die-hards. Like Renée Zellweger, you had them at hello.'

But most residents feel we’re a just a nuisance, writes our Secret #GE2020 Canvasser.

IT’S A SLOG. 

Forget the cheery pictures on social media. The delighted candidate surrounded by an enthusiastic team of adoring canvassers, everyone bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

It is Baltic out there. Proper freezing.

And you’re slogging your way from house to house knocking doors in #GE2020 sustaining yourself with the hope you’re making a difference and the faint reassurance that if it’s all for nothing at least you’re getting your #100DaysofWalking.

The rest of your life is on hold.

Slipped out of work early to make the canvass and lifted a box of pens from the office stationery cupboard because you’re running low. Dinner is wrapped in plastic or microwaved or from the chipper.

‘It’s all go’

Clipboards, pens, leaflets, high-vis. A few words from the candidate and then you’re away, marching fast to get to the first door and marching fast to stay warm.

The first door, the polite but insistent knock, and then the wait. 

You spend a lot of time waiting, staring at the door, wondering if there is someone inside and occasionally knowing there is but they’re not answering.

In a night, if you’re lucky, you’ll hit 60 doors, but fewer down home where the houses are spread out, fewer still in the posh parts of town with the long driveways. Sixty would be a good night.

A third, at least, won’t answer. Scribble ‘Sorry I missed you’ on the leaflet so they know you actually called and hope that makes a difference. Stick in the leaflet and on to the next door.

Another third won’t be interested in chatting. They’ll take the leaflet, they’ll listen to your spiel, thank you and that’s it. Better things to do. The dinner needs putting on, the kids need to go to bed, they’re watching Netflix. Maybe they know who they like already and it’s not you.

The people you meet

So, you’re left with 20 doors, maybe. Some of them are your die-hards. Like Renée Zellweger, you had them at hello. Now you’ve only one thing to do. You thank them, you lean in, you shake them by the hand, holding it a heartbeat longer then you need to, stare them right in the eye and you make it their sacred and holy mission to come out to vote.

A promise on their doorstep is easy but it doesn’t put a number one in the box on polling day. Whatever works. Inspire them, scare them, tell them you need them, make them promise to drag their family to the polling station.

The holy grail, the undecided

And then you have what’s left, a dozen doors, more likely half that. And here’s where you take your time, here’s that rarest of endangered species, the undecided voter, encountered in their natural habitat.

You have all the time in the world for such an important person. 

You can feel the heat escaping the house and you can smell the just-eaten dinner. You’re listening and you’re watching, to what they’re saying and how they look when they’re saying it. You’re thinking, what’s the right response, what should I say, what will nudge them in our direction.

And when it’s your turn to speak you’re watching their eyes, looking for a reaction, is she listening to me, is he paying attention, am I boring them…that made an impact, that line hit home. Remember that one, use it again, use it next time.

And then you’re done, a handshake and good luck and a promise to think about it or an assurance, maybe, that you’ll get something.

Step back, scribble notes with numb fingers on a cheap clipboard in the gloomy street light. Hustle to catch up your team, the wee dog looking to rejoin the pack.

And then your next door. Big smile, speak slower, be confident, be friendly, listen, always be listening, always be watching.

And that’s it, you slog it out. Step by step, door by door, voter by voter. Your feet hurt and you’re bone-tired. You meet lovely people and you meet voters in such awful circumstances that you’re awake at night thinking of them.

But you wouldn’t be doing anything else.

Why do it?

Because if there’s one thing that unites the disparate, mutually suspicious and bitterly partisan community of canvassers it’s a shared belief that our country can be a better place.

We disagree mightily about what it should look like and even more about how to get there. We worry ‘the others’ would lead us in the wrong direction or even reverse hard-won victories.  

But we knock on doors, sacrifice work, family and friends and maybe throw in a few bob to pay for the leaflets because we believe – genuinely and honestly believe – our party, our candidate, can make a difference and we can help them do it. 

It’s patriotism, in the truest and best sense of the word, regardless of the party colours you wear. 

So wrap up, keep warm, wear comfortable shoes and get to the next door.

We’ll be hearing more from our Secret Canvasser this week.

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