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Canvassing Rural Georgia

Canvassing Rural Georgia - Adison Cook

‘Some people might even think knocking on a single Republican door is a waste of time.

To those that believe this I would urge you to reconsider.’

In my opinion, this past election cycle has been the most important of my lifetime and one of the most important in U.S. history. The past four years (especially the last two) have tested the strength of our nation and our people in unprecedented ways. With control of the Senate on the ballot, the Georgia runoff elections came to the forefront of the nation’s attention for the month of December. I was given the opportunity to work for the Randolph County Democratic Committee as a canvasser in South West Georgia for the week prior to the runoff election. Overall, I am extremely grateful to have been able to contribute to the victories of both Democratic campaigns and look forward to canvassing in more communities in the future.

Randolph County is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jacksonville, sitting an hour away from the closest major city of Albany. It has a population of 6,833 people and covers an area of 431 square miles. The area is sparsely populated and very rural. Many resources available to larger population centers are not available in these areas. The clearest example of this comes from the closing of the Regional Medical Center (RMC) in Cuthbert that occurred in October of 2020. In some instances, this closing could mean the difference between life and death for people seeking medical treatment. Out of all the issues facing our country and the communities around Cuthbert, the RMC closing was consistently the issue people were most concerned about. The fact that the hospital was closed in the middle of the ongoing pandemic made a bad situation that much worse. The contrast between Democratic and Republican views on healthcare were of huge concern to every person I met. That dynamic translated into large amounts of support for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the area and, most likely, across the state as well. Bringing up the hospital at any home made it easier to have a broader conversation around policy with the voter. Identifying these most prevalent concerns in the community helped our group of canvassers make better connections with the community and more efficient use of our time throughout the week. Not only that, but many people were also happy to hear that their concerns were being passed up to those who might represent them.

During a visit to Cuthbert, Ossoff held an event at the recently closed hospital where he pledged to work to re-open it. The people I spoke to looked at the background of the candidates intensely to try and make their decision on who to vote for. In my opinion, this is a prevailing reason Ossoff and Warnock were able to win their races. It is apparent that their cares and concerns are about their constituents and not about enriching themselves or accumulating power for its own sake. In contrast, since the beginning of the pandemic it has been reported that Loeffler and Perdue have engaged in insider trading while constantly downplaying the risk COVID-19 posed to the public. They used their offices to enrich themselves while their constituents were dying. Their campaigns had no clear policy messages other than stoking people’s fears of socialism and saying they would support Donald Trump. On one side, you have campaigns focused on putting their constituents needs first. On the other, you have a campaign that wants to scare its base into voting against a nonexistent boogey man. This messaging had huge impacts on the conversations I had with voters and on the final vote count as well.

‘Some people might even think knocking on a single Republican door is a waste of time.

To those that believe this I would urge you to reconsider.’

When going door to door most people I encountered were eager to talk to me about the elections. Everyone I spoke to was at least moderately informed of who the candidates were, what the largest issues were in the election, and on who they were leaning towards voting for. Nonetheless, the fact that someone working for the campaigns was in their area, and contacting them as an individual, spoke volumes to a community that is rarely contacted by political organizations otherwise. In the areas around Cuthbert, I was greeted with everything from sneers, shouting, and laughter to very heartfelt conversations with people who I respect deeply for their willingness to look past the party lines and connect with me as a person. It is obvious that we are incredibly divided over political matters more so now than at any other point in recent memory. Some people might even think knocking on a single Republican door is a waste of time. To those that believe this I would urge you to reconsider. First, I believe it is our civic duty to reach out to those on the opposite side of the aisle in order to find common ground. We owe it to our fellow Americans to hear their concerns and address them just as they should reciprocate these actions when we are talking about our beliefs. Second, many of them are far more reachable than you might think. Multiple doors I knocked on while around Cuthbert were initially dismissive when I approached them. When I would get through my introduction, many would say they weren’t interested or were Republican but, I would always respond with a line like “Right now our country seems to be more divided than any other point in recent memory. While we might not agree on much policy wise, I think we can both agree that we don’t want a divided country. By having conversations with each other and truly coming to an understanding of what we believe we can really start to heal this divide and re humanize each other.” When using any variation of this line with a Republican voter I was able to get them to talk with me for at least 5 minutes. By approaching them in this way you establish common beliefs and a common goal with a person who you might disagree with on everything. From here you have more legitimacy, and you have their attention. You have established that you are neither hateful nor elitist and that you truly do have the people’s interest in your mind. These types of contacts, if kept up consistently, have can expand voter bases and help win elections. Overall, politics has become far too tribalistic and dehumanizing as of late.

Many rural voters may not encounter people with different views than theirs in their everyday life. That vacuum is then left to be filled by a caricaturized version of the people on this side thus giving them a warped view of those that hold beliefs different than theirs. This is why it always came as a huge surprise when I still wanted to have a conversation with them after learning they were a Republican.

This is just a first step in breaking down the barriers between our sides- simply being willing to engage in a real conversation. While it does not fit with the typical “Get Out the Vote” strategies that prioritize turnout, this is exactly the goal with “Deep Canvassing”. Deep canvassing is more intensive and focuses on tying policies to your everyday lived experiences. Most importantly, it can leave them with a changed perception of what a Democrat is. Republicans made up a minority of people I talked to with the majority being likely Democratic voters- even with the small number of Republicans I talked to it is imperative that we do not give up on trying to reach out to those we can. The combined strategies of the canvassing effort in Randolph County produced the #1 returning voter turnout in the state for the run-off election at 97% of voters coming back to vote on January 5th.

With the state democratic party launching deep canvassing initiatives recently, I am excited to see this strategy put to work in Alabama and hope that anyone interested is able to attend a training offered on the subject to learn more. In truth, deep canvassing is something many of us often do already and is a very accessible form of political participation. It can be done through an official, organized event or even done in your everyday life. Think about how many times you talk about politics with your friends and family a week. I know that I get engaged in some type of lengthy political discussion just about every day. To deep canvass, all you need to do is take the long form conversations you have with your friends and start to have them with anyone who will listen and engage in honest discussions with you. The more conversations we have with each other and those in our communities, the quicker we can start to truly bridge the gap between our sides.

A little 'canvassing' humor ;)


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