Kathleen Graham Kelly, a retired NYSUT staffer and one-time member of the Niskayuna (Schenectady County) Teachers Association, is in Orlando as a volunteer for the Working America Coalition, an AFL-CIO political action committee. Working alongside Eric Metzer, a retired UFT chapter leader, and Doug Matousek, a retired NYSUT labor relations specialist, Kelly is canvassing on behalf of Hillary Clinton and other AFL-CIO-endorsed candidates. Here are some reflections from the campaign trail:
Door-to-door campaigning is physically exhausting. There is no glamour in this canvassing activity. But I think it is so important. I planned to write every evening and now is the end of day 6 and only my second report. Each day is different but there are some commonalities.
Every day begins at Team Orlando headquarters, which is the union hall of the National Association of Letter Carriers local. The drive to HQ is about 25 minutes from the hotel. The first activity is a daily briefing and introductions of new volunteers. New volunteers arrive to this battleground part of Florida, which is emerging as THE battleground in the 2016 presidential race, according to many sources. Over the weekend, we were a team of 10 people; today we grew to a team of 25.
The daily briefing lasts about 30 minutes and includes any funny or scary stories from the “doors,” and assignments for the day. We usually hit the streets by noon. I am a member of the team of three and we are assigned a precinct divided into turfs, with names of voters with specific street addresses. The job of the team is to find the neighborhood (about 30 minutes from headquarters), identify the street, find the number of the house (I use Google maps,) knock on the door, talk to the person who answers the door, ask for the specific voter, hold a conversation and then return to the car to record the responses. These are targeted lists so we are not knocking on every door but will sometimes hit five houses on a street, sometimes only one.
Recording the responses is an art in itself. The choices on the app on the iPod Touch range from “not home,” “refused,” “property inaccessible,” “moved,” and “deceased.” If we find a person at home, we find out who they are planning to support in Florida’s U.S. Senate race (Patrick Murphy or Marco Rubio) and for president (Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.) The choices for support of a candidate are “strongly support,” “leaning” or “undecided.” But there is lots of room for interpretation after a conversation. More than 30 percent of the responses require some level of interpretation and discussion with team members before entering the data. When we finish a “turf,” which is about 50 doors, we synch the data so it is sent to those who are sorting the data and we download the next turf.
Here is the bad news: So far, in 5 days knocking on doors and completing 4 turfs, my team has experienced this razor-thin electorate. Out of every three homes we visit and find someone to talk to, one will be strongly for Clinton, one strongly for Trump and one undecided; some say they’re voting for neither candidate. We have experience a wide range of reactions, including doors slammed, dogs jumping and growling and a few friendly people who thank us for what we are doing. We also have discovered that lots of houses are difficult to find with numbers concealed in any number of ways.
The wildest reply I personally heard was from a young woman who said she can’t support Clinton because God says in the Bible that a woman should not be president. When I asked her if she supports,Trump she answered: “No, he is crazy.” When I asked who she will vote for she predicted that neither Clinton nor Trump will make it to the election. So I backed away and left that door.
After doing this for hours, we tend to get a little silly. Today we noticed that there was a strong correlation with houses with pick-up trucks in the driveway and Trump supporters. This worked for about an hour until we found a pick-up in a Clinton household so we adjusted the theory to say dirty pick-up owners are Trump supporters. Silly? Yes. Scientific? No.
The heat and humidity has let up a bit and I think I am also adjusting to it. It was 86 F when we returned to the hotel tonight at 6:15 and I wasn’t completely drenched.
Meanwhile, the political TV ads here in Orlando have new meaning after spending days talking to voters. I do still wonder if this is a way to impact this election but it feels good to be doing something.
A a bit of advice: Make sure people can see the number of your house!