A Grassroots Guide to Neighborhood Political Volunteerism

Got a candidate you strongly support? Consider volunteering in your own neighborhood handing out campaign material. I find it’s a strangely fun and effective way to be closer to the people and places in your neighborhood, as well as give more than just your vote to a candidate you believe in.

I’m writing this grassroots guide to neighborhood outreach efforts literally just after walking in the door from volunteering for Cecil Bothwell, a friend and county commissioner candidate.

I just spent the afternoon walking around green and lovely Best Asheville on a perfect and breezy spring day. I smelled the odor of stargazer lilies on the wind. I heard the rustle of a high wind through hundred-year old neighborhood trees, when the air around me was still but the treetops danced. I noted how startling and pleasing the rich gold-green of an arborvitae is next to a hot pink azalea in riotous bloom.

I peeked in the front door of a house filled with people just getting ready to start an acoustic Sunday night jam.

It wasn’t just neighborhood activism I did today. It was meeting my neighbors and learning more about my neighborhood. In past efforts I’ve met George, a retired WWII veteran with yappy dogs and a little garden plot of ornamental gourds — on my mantel I still have the one he gave me. This time around, I met tattooed Daniel and his tiny toy chihuahua, Edie, who is so small he has to sit with her outside so no neighborhood hawk flies off with her.

Edie, he said, weighs about 2 1/2 pounds, about 1/3 the weight of my smallest cat (who is indeed very small, even for a cat).

I also met Margie, another retiree, and her half-wild Maine Coon cat whom she says would just as soon bite you as be nice to you, but she cares for him anyway.

Just based on a few fine afternoons of putting out info and meeting neighbors, here are my guidelines on neighborhood activism and how to deepen your roots in the place where you are planted — all in the name of volunteering for the candidate of your choice:

  • Volunteer on your street and in your neighborhood.
  • Bring water, sunglasses and some Scotch tape to tape material to doors where the screen door handle won’t hold door-hangers.
  • Walk facing traffic and cross streets carefully. Don’t walk in the middle of the road just because you’re in a residential area.
  • It’s OK to go alone. If you meet someone and talk to them, it’s less like you’re ganging up on them. I think I look less scary and more open to neighborly conversation when it’s just me.
  • Beware of bad scripts, even from PACs you like enough to volunteer for. If I see someone in the yard or on the front porch of a home on my list, I never ask who they are voting for or try to push my candidate.
  • I just ask if they want any information on whatever race my candidate is in and if they do, hand my material over. I figure I’m more likely to persuade someone by being a neighborly person who pets your dog and is glad to meet you than trying to sell you on my beliefs. If I’m being conflated with my candidate, I’d prefer to be remembered as friendly and polite, not pushy. You’re buying into a candidate, not me, though I welcome the chance to give you some cues about the choice I’ve made in the race.

  • Be respectful of property and don’t walk through grassy yards when there’s a walk or pathway through the grass.
  • In hot weather, time your effort to avoid the worst of the day’s heat. Early evening is perfect in springtime. So is anytime that’s a good time for a good long daylight walk around the neighborhood.
  • Pre-plan your route so you know the best, shortest route to do what you need to get done. Walking around the neighborhood in the hot sun putting out door-hangers is surprisingly tiring, and can take a few hours.
  • Wait until just a few days before election day to hand out material. Most people don’t vote early but on the day-of, so having your information fresh in voters’ minds is probably, IMO, better than putting out door-hangers two weeks before election day, when people are less likely to have the election in mind.

I never expected to enjoy neighborhood volunteerism as much as I do. It seems the houses around my house actually have people in them, who have stories and hopes and hobbies and pets and interests just like I do. I was surprised to find that political volunteering in the neighborhood was a great way to meet the people at the other end of the street that you don’t know, even though you drive my their homes twice a day and live your life a two-minute walk away. I feel more connected to my neighborhood now. I better understand what I was part of all along.

I’ve met my neighbors this way, seen some lovely homes and gardens, gotten some great landscaping ideas and petted some cute cats and dogs. I’ve had fun, gotten fresh air and exercise, and felt not only civic-minded and like I contributed something valuable to my vision of what’s right for my community and country, but also, unexpectedly, became closer to the people and places of my own neighborhood. (A vote’s such a little thing. Neighborhood outreach is a good way to increase not only your contribution, but your power as a change agent.)

I view both halves of the experience as equally valuable.

If you ever go on a political walkabout in your own neighborhood, let me know if your experience is as pleasant and rewarding as mine.

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