I was 21 years old and working for the Maine Peoples Alliance, a progressive, citizens action organization that was then working to raise public awareness about a proposed Community Right-To-Know law that would require small and large companies to publicly disclose to their neighbors what types of hazardous chemicals they were using.
That didn’t matter much to me. What mattered was that I needed a job, and the gig paid $240 per week.
I was hired as a field canvasser. Basically, my job was to go door-to-door in targeted communities and try to raise at least $90/night (quota) in order to support the financing of our good deeds.
Each day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, me and roughly nine other young and eager do-gooders convened at the MPA’s Portland office to go over our assignments for the evening. Then, we all piled into a Chevy Suburban and were driven to a selected community, where we would receive our individual “turf” assignments.
It was not a bad job for college kids in the summer. The weather was generally cooperative, and the communities were generally the more affluent type.
Before hitting the bricks, we generally were dropped at a local “house of pizza” to gain some nourishment and play epic games of hacky-sack while the canvass director scouted turfs.
Armed with only clipboards, our award-winning smiles and enthusiasm, we were each set loose in our respective turf to begin hitting every house on the block for signatures on our petition and a pitch to donate.
Sure, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but I could also tell you more funny stories about canvassing than what you would want to hear.
Know this, however: I hit or exceeded my $90 quota every night.
I also fell madly in love with a co-worker. It was an awesome summer, but she broke my heart on the same weekend that Hurricane Gloria hit Maine. I remember it well.
Hurricane Gloria’s damage could not compare to the damage done to my then bleeding, anti-corporate, progressive heart.
Go ahead, blame her for making me a Republican. She was an art student.
And these children that you spit on . . .
Flash forward almost 30 years to Monday night.
Laura and I just returned home after walking the dogs, and we spotted a canvasser at our neighbor’s house.
Laura ducked in the house quickly. She avoids confrontation.
The canvasser spotted me and sized me up as he began walking toward our driveway.
“Can I help you,” I asked, deadly curious about who he was and who he was working for.
I thought about that art student from three decades before. I thought about all the doors slammed in my face. I thought about all the funny stories I accumulated that long ago summer.
This kid . . . this snot-nosed punk . . . had no idea what was in store for him.
“I’m looking for Laura or Timothy.” he said, glancing at his smartphone.
We never had smartphones.
“Laura is my wife and Tim is my son,” I told him. “Can I help you with something,” I repeated, wondering why he didn’t want to speak with me.
Maybe it was because we were his last house for the evening, or maybe he was just being polite. “Sure, I can talk to you,” he replied, glancing again at his smartphone and instantly pulling up my real first name. (Hint: It’s not Randy, Randall or Randolph)
He asked who I was planning to vote for in Maine’s upcoming gubernatorial election. I gave my answer, and his response was flat. This kid must be a good poker player.
By now, Laura has emerged from the house, and I told the canvasser to ask her the same question. Unlike me, there was no hesitation in Laura’s voice. Her answer was clear and purposeful: Republican Paul LePage had earned her vote, she said.
Trying to mess with his head, I muttered something about Eliot Cutler.
That remark got Laura fired up. “Are you kidding me?” she asked incredulously. The canvasser seemed to be enjoying himself.
So, the three of us spent the next 15 minutes or so talking politics, including Laura setting him straight on the issue of fraud investigators, right there on my front lawn.
This kid was working for the Maine Democratic Party, but he seemed more interested in genuinely hearing our concerns and frustrations than he did about trying to sway our opinions.
He came across as smart, polite and respectful. He held his ground perfectly. He was a good ambassador for his party.
Eventually, his ride arrived and we bid adieu to our new friend.
As I closed the front door, I began to wonder why we usually can’t debate politics with such civility on social media outlets.
The worlds of communication and political strategy are rapidly changing, but Monday’s experience reminded me that there is still tremendous value in knocking on doors and having face-to-face conversations.