Why canvassing is important: Political empowerment through knocking on doors

Fiona Yonkman

With money often seeming like the best and most-valued way to make your voice heard in our political system, I have often felt like a bystander to the goings-on in my own country. Should I donate $15 to my favorite candidate (and is that $15 even worth it for the candidate in the grand scheme of things), or should I spend that money on breakfast and lunch for the week at Stop & Shop? However, one thing that we all have is time, the value of which I think we often devalue. Our time can make just as much of an impact as our donations (in politics and otherwise), something that I did not truly believe until I went canvassing for the first time this past weekend. 

Though I am scared of talking to strangers (especially alone), and walking around Williamstown for 3 hours in 25-degree weather did not seem appealing, I found canvassing to be the most empowering thing I’ve done in my attempts to engage in our political process. I knocked on 33 doors around Williamstown and talked to residents in about half of those homes. Many invited me inside so that I could get out of the cold and listened to what I had to say. Beyond my pitch for my candidate, I made a pitch for voting in general, and gave people information about where, when and how they could vote. One woman asked me, “This is a stupid question, but can I vote in the Democratic primary as an independent?” This made me realize that many people have questions about the voting process, which are not stupid questions at all, that, if answered, can remove the final barrier between themselves and voting. Even more surprising to me was that even though some people that I spoke with had made up their minds, they always told me that they respected what I was doing. One woman even exclaimed, “I might vote for [your candidate] just because you came here today!” 

I did not expect my first time canvassing to feel so empowering; initially I signed up to canvass out of a need to not feel regret around the part I have played in this 2020 election. As a fan of the podcaster — and fellow Eph — Jon Lovett 05, I have often listened to him espouse the idea that individuals should make the change that they wish to see happen by donating or volunteering. He is the one who inspired me to try and see the value in canvassing for myself, and if I myself inspire one person to canvass, or one person to vote for my candidate instead of another or even just simply go and vote when they were not planning to, I have done more than I could have believed possible. Of course, there is power in the collective, but perhaps it is the individual that causes a ripple effect in a community to build that collective. Canvassing is important because it engages us with the political process in a way that empowers the individual, both voter and canvasser, to see their value. Though each of us has one vote, we can spend our time talking to people, most of whom — to my great surprise and excitement — really and truly want to listen to what you have to say (as long as you’re not asking them for money).

Fiona Yonkman ’20 is a computer science and Chinese major from Windsor, Conn.