I recently took my baby to knock on doors in New Jersey. We were partnering with Swing Left and Knock Every Door to get out the vote (and take back the House of Representatives in 2018), but mostly we were there to just listen. Listen to what people were worried about, what they hoped for, why they voted the way they did, why they didn’t vote at all.
When you canvas with a baby, it’s easy to break the ice. Most people were willing to talk to us. A lot of them invited us in to their homes. Everyone cooed at the baby. This happened regardless of who they had voted for, what their political philosophy was, where they got their news from. Face to face, holding a baby and a clipboard, things started to get human instead of partisan.
One conservative voter (an older gentleman who had not voted for a Democrat since John F Kennedy) talked about politics with us for 20 minutes, then showed us his son’s art work. He told us bits of his life story – immigrating from Ireland, having four kids back to back as soon as he married (“in your twenties, you are fearless”), losing a son, losing a wife, remarrying. He let us into his life in a way that I would not have expected, and in a way that I didn’t believe was possible before it actually happened.
One of the reasons we travel is to hear different perspectives, question our assumptions, and get to know individual human beings instead of making sweeping generalizations about entire cultures. But we don’t have to go very far to do that. If you live in America, there are deep cultural differences everywhere you go. Sometimes these cultural differences are so difficult to navigate that we stop talking about politics with people who see things differently, unfriend the political enemy on Facebook, and maybe even stop going home for the holidays.
But I think it is worth talking to each other. To find the human being behind the voter, the partisan, or the demographic category. I’m glad that I spent the afternoon talking to Trump and Hillary voters with my baby. Together, we bridged the cultural divide that is tearing our own country apart, at least for a little while.
We didn’t have to get on a plane to do that. It didn’t cost a lot of money or burn a lot of carbon. It just took courage and a willingness to listen.
Logistics: I canvassed in my nearest swing district, and reached out to one of the organizers there. She found a volunteer with a carseat to pick me up from the train station, which made traveling with the baby really easy. I don’t think I could have canvassed successfully with a toddler or preschooler (too heavy, too intolerant of adult conversation), but a baby was perfect! I would totally recommend this as a cultural experience.
Try this at home: You could also use Knock Every Door’s deep listening script with your own friends and relatives. Listening to understand instead of listening to respond really helps everyone feel less defensive, and leads to a better conversation.