Canvassing for Climate
In the final month of the 2016 election cycle, James and I hit pause on our meandering journey and lived (mostly) out of the Viewcrest shopping center in Reno, NV. We couldn't ignore the huge danger posed by the hateful rhetoric and destructive environmental policies championed by Donald Trump and other politicians running fossil fuel funded campaigns. So, we got work with NextGen Climate in Reno, fighting for Hillary Clinton and Catherine Cortez Masto.
Initially, I was hired as a deputy field organizer and James started volunteering while he waited for a final interview. Then there was office drama. Drama that left James, me, and one other field organizer as #TeamReno. By election day, we'd fast-tracked new fellows (some rockstars, a few headaches), and were joined by another field organizer and the NextGen National Training Director who made our highly visible presence on the NextGen Reno campuses possible. I ended up as the on-campus field organizer for University of Reno and it was a tremendous learning experience. I want to thank Vegas Team, Reno Team, all our volunteers, and the incredibly engaged UNR students with MoveOn, She Wins We Win & Reno Justice Coalition for their work to break student turnout records in Washoe County and turn Nevada BLUE in an overwhelmingly red election year.
I thought I'd been busy at CMU, experienced deadline crunches at 4moms, but the end of a political campaign in a swing state is way more crazy. It's sort of like your head is on one of those egg-beater rides at a county fair. Everything is incredibly urgent, so it takes a lot of effort to pause and determine what's also important, to remember that rushing through plans and discussions means you waste time filling in gaps later. It's a job where you have to remind yourself it's OK to take a 15 minute lunch break. It's a job where you have to ruthlessly prioritize what you need to maximize voter turnout, and what you need to keep going.
There was A LOT of trial and error in a month of field organizing. We got some solid training in mid-October but every day was a chance to test a method for mobilizing volunteers, attracting attention and motivating people to vote. Every event was like a prototype. An extremely frankensteined prototype. With incredibly tight timelines, only a few reliable volunteers, and plenty of confusion about areas of responsibility, very few things went smoothly. There was a lot of on the fly adaptation, coping with conflicting personalities and daily evaluation of how to maximize impact for effort.
I'm really grateful to Virginia for showing up for the last 3 weeks to introduce meaningful metrics, divide areas of focus and coordinate our areas into an effective program (and explain standard procedures, eliminate levels of bureaucracy, be an experienced sounding board, running buddy etc. etc. etc.)
Although we spent time planning and organizing, given our small team, the bulk of our time was spent canvassing, and I definitely gained a lot from spending my time interacting with a really broad swath of humanity.
Someone said that to be an effective canvasser, you have to have the enthusiasm of a golden retriever and the memory of a goldfish. Every person has to be new and special. As crummy as the last person you spoke with made you feel, you have to just let it roll away or you'll get stuck down and ineffective. It definitely didn't feel natural at first, but I pushed through it by reminding myself that the stakes were too high to not at least try and speak to everyone, and that I couldn't ask volunteers & fellows to do anything I wasn't willing and able to do myself. Arming myself with facts about the candidates platforms and the science of climate change made me a more confident canvasser, but practice showed me that most people didn't need an essay. The people you could sway just needed a push in the direction they were already leaning, and maybe some info about the voting process. I had to catch myself avoiding the white guys with the "do you want to help us stop Trump" tagline. It was a firm reminder that implicit bias is real, ingrained, and something I'm not above. I found it helpful to shift my definition of success from getting CTV forms to giving everyone my best smile & my best pitch, so that I could move on & stay motivated when I hit a long run of unsympathetic students. I imagine canvassing unidentified students on a college campus in a swing state is probably good practice for pitching a startup to venture capitalists. High stakes, lots of no's, no value to getting disheartened.
Our first impression of Reno wasn't super promising, a highway lined with mega strip malls lead us to a fairly grimy downtown dominated by casinos and (like most big cities in small-town states) in need of better infrastructure to support the homeless. But the city definitely grows on you. They have an awesome Co-Op, an accessible trail network, solid universities & community colleges, and probably the Best Indian Food EVER. It's super close to Lake Tahoe and several ski resorts, cost of living is reasonable, the weather in October is GREAT, and the light on the Sierras is breathtaking. In contrast to Pittsburgh, it's hard to find a neighborhood with a strong community vibe, but I think they exist. Despite the absence of obvious parking on the Allstays app, we found Reno to be a pretty van-friendly city. We were able to park overnight in the Viewcrest shopping center where we worked, or street park downtown or in an adjacent neighborhood and never had any issues. We got a one month membership to boulder and shower at Basecamp and made it happen just about every other day. Despite working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, we were able to cook healthy food and work out for most of our time there. Having zero commute time definitely helped :P In the final sprint to the election, we were super grateful to the Co-op, Chipotle, and the Reno Laughing Planet for keeping us from living on granola bars and coffee.
Below: A small selection of pictures from our time in Reno. We didn't take nearly as many pictures as we should have while there... We a owe a huge thanks to everyone who helped us while working for NextGen. You all know who you are :)
Below: On the one day we took off from work, we made our way up to Lake Tahoe for a quick day hike.