On Friday, October 30th, I was sitting at my desk in Brooklyn making phone call after phone call to help GOTV (Get Out The Vote) for the general election on Tuesday. That particular day, I was calling voters in Michigan who had requested a mail-in ballot. My job was to find out if they were voting, how they were voting, and for whom they were voting. And by that point, it was critical to make sure that if they had not already sent in their ballot, not to mail it in but to physically drop it off at a dropbox or polling locations. It was also critical to make sure they didn’t only vote for President. First term Senator Gary Peters was in a tight race against a Trump loyalist — don’t worry, our boy Gary won — so I needed to make sure folks had a gameplan.
Then, I heard from a friend of mine at the DNC that Pennsylvania needed people on the ground for a final GOTV push. I told him Philly is a home for me, so just tell me who to talk to and where to go, I’ll be on the road tomorrow morning.
Selfishly, I was thrilled to stumble on this chance to chip in. First, I like being useful. I like being able to contribute to things I care about. It has been incredibly frustrating to be limited to phone and text banking for most of the campaign for a litany of reasons, primarily the damn pandemic. I lept at the opportunity to do the work door to door, talking to people face to face (mask included). That is what I’m good at, and it’s something I know is impactful in a really immediate way.
Second, though, I love Philly. I went to school at Villanova outside of the city, but I spent most of my free time in Philly. It’s really impossible to overstate how important that city is to me and how loved I always feel when I’m there. So many formative experiences there, so many amazing people who I’ve learned from and who have shaped me, and such a sense of belonging inside those city limits.
When I arrived at Biden’s GOTV HQ in South Philly having scooped a friend of a friend who acted on that same feeling of wanting to be useful, I felt at home. I chatted with the staffers about where they were from and how they got involved. We got along quickly, and I was able to share my comfortability with the city and my experience with this work. I was also able to demonstrate my interest in knocking on every door that needed knocking… even and especially in the neighborhoods that most folks who look like me would be too nervous to canvass.
Both from an electoral strategy position and a social justice position, it matters a great deal to me that we — especially white folks like me — pay attention and care to the communities that we know damn well get ignored or cast aside. It’s not a one time thing, though. It’s an approach to every layer of the work — from knocking on doors to drawing districts to crafting public policy, we have to be proactive in undoing the systems of inequity from which people like me largely do not suffer.
My new friend, Elvin, and I knocked on about 300 doors on Halloween. We spoke to a lot folks, had a lot of good conversations, chatted between us about various strategies and electoral patterns. It was a good day. I drove us back to NY that night, and by the time we hit the Turnpike, I had already decided to go back on Monday.
When I got back to Philly on Monday, I checked in with my new friends at Biden HQ and got right to work. I knocked on another 300 or so doors. Most of my lists were in West or South, and the Biden staffers put me to good use in neighborhoods they had many volunteers decline to go to. I pity people like that, to be honest. It makes me sad for a number of reasons, and it’s part of why I do what I do and how I do it. Those neighborhoods matter. Those people matter. And if white volunteers really believed that, they wouldn’t wink wink nudge nudge to ask for placement in a white neighborhood.
I crashed at my best friend, Marc’s, house that night. It was so, so pleasant to be chatting and shooting the shit in person rather than on FaceTime. Yep, I got a test before going to Philly, and Marc and his sister get tested regularly, as well. The next morning, polls opened up, but that didn’t mean the canvassing was done. I knocked on 500 or so doors throughout the day on Election Day. I spent the better part of the afternoon at a housing project in Southwest Philly meandering from one building to the next, zigzagging my way through the campus. At one point, I stumbled on an impromptu block party in one area and chatted with folks about the election and the free rides Lyft was offering to and from the polls. I wish I could’ve stayed for a plate — whew, I was hungry — but polls closed in a few hours, and I got a text that they need folks over in North Philly near Temple.
Polls closed at 8pm, and I spent that last hour up and down North Philly to make sure folks didn’t miss their chance. When canvassing, you grow used to people’s frustration with being contacted so many times. I get it, and they’re rarely rude. But for that last hour when they probably had the most reason to be frustrated, they greeted me with smiles, cheers, and encouragement proudly telling me how they and everyone they know voted already. I love Philly.
All totaled, I knocked on over 1,000 doors in 3 days. Not bad at all. I was so grateful to be able to do it and to get to talk to folks. We talked about the obvious stuff like how terrible Trump is, but we also talked about what Philly needs and deserves, what we as Democrats need to do better, and all the work that needs to be done in between elections. I was also glad to know I contributed. My 1,000 doors did not tip the state for Biden, but that’s ok. That’s the point. I did what I could do as best I could, I’m proud of that and proud of everyone else who chipped in.
Teamwork makes the dream work.
As always, be you be great.