The Scary and Exhilarating Feeling of Door Knocking

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Re-posted from the Western States Center blog.
Uniting Communities cohort members showing UC pride!

As my door-knocking partner and I knock on the first door, I notice the following:

A kid's bike, about the same size as my son's, lays in the front yard.

Adults' and kids' shoes are scattered outside the front door.

There's a scuff mark from a shoe on the door, as though someone tapped it with their foot because they were carrying a child or bags of groceries in their arms.

Every time I knock on a door, my heart races a little and I say to myself, "What's the first thing I'm supposed to say?"

Last Saturday, we coordinated 25 activists from Western States Center’s Uniting Communities and Basic Rights Oregon's Our Families cohort members to talk to people of color about Referendum 74, which is on the Washington state ballot this November to expand the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples.

Through the miracle of technology, each canvassing pair has been given 40 "people of color" homes to knock on this afternoon. The science behind matching voter data from the Secretary of State's office on race and ethnicity is a bit of a mystery - there were clearly Russian names that have been misidentified as Asian - but our list is relatively accurate.

Each time a door opens, I have to check my assumptions and stereotypes.

The big guy with a cigarette in his hand, whose entryway was full of boxes and broken computer parts? Completely supportive.

The young African American woman who I'm afraid I had just woken her up from a nap and seemed a little cranky? She wants a lawn sign.

The Latina woman with the funky purple fingernails and awesome rhinestone cat eye glasses? Not supportive, but at least we had a polite conversation.

For the last three months I've worked intensively on the "Why Marriage Matters Washington" (WMMW) campaign with communities of color.Last Saturday was the first time I talked to every day, regular folks of color about marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Our WMMW work focused on organizations and leaders so it's refreshing to talk to people who are not thinking about organizational ramifications of taking a position in support of the freedom to marry, but are, instead, just thinking of their gay coworker, neighbor or family member.

After two hours of of door-knocking, my partner and I reach 10 people - most of whom are supportive. We register one person to vote and give registration cards to the two people who just moved from California.

As we walk back to the van, we meet up with another pair of canvassers - and they are quite literally glowing. The first person they reached was not a supporter but instead of walking away, one of the canvassers shared his personal experience being gay and what marriage means to him.

At the end of the canvass, our group gathers at First Congregational Church to debrief. We greeted every pair entering the room with cheers. It was clear that everyone has had a transformative experience. People who were nervous about door-knocking are smiling and sharing stories of successful conversations.

Door-knocking on LGBTQ issues can be tough. All of the hateful things that we think may come up in conversation serve as a caution, making us understandably worried. It is even more agonizing for LGBTQ people because it can evoke past experiences when their safety was threatened.

Peter Dakota, a veteran canvasser and part of the Our Families cohort shared, "Yes, knocking on doors is scary and hard. But it's still the only way we can win." I agree. I'm ready to sign up for my next shift.

Kalpana Krishnamurthy is the Gender Justice Program and RACE Program Director at the Western States Center. In this position, she launched the Uniting Communities program and was on the team that created the Uniting Communities Toolkit, which is being used in many grassroots organizations to address LGBTQ issues.