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This is part of a 2-part series. Be sure to tune into Episode 035, as well.
In part one I told you this sort of long story about my experience with deep canvassing because I want you to start thinking about the stories you can tell and the breadcrumbs you can leave for the people in your life. And we need to be thinking about this now because we can inform people and rattle facts off all day — but that won’t change their mind or their vote, we have to empower them to change it themselves and that can take days, weeks, months or even years.
Time is ticking to the 2022 midterms, and before we know it, people will be campaigning for the presidential election in 2024. What are the topics and issues that are most important to you? Which ones do you feel the most passionate about? What stories can you tell from your own life that people might connect with to start paying attention and caring about the issue? This, I think, is the conversation we all need to be having with ourselves right now so that we know how we can personally make the biggest impact.
Getting Started with Deep Canvassing
So let’s say that you’ve bought into what I’m saying and you’re like “Yep, Dani! Sign me up. I’m ready to deep canvas some folks!” Great. Where should you start? This is just my humble opinion of what has worked for me as far as putting a plan together, but I hope it’s helpful.
First off, pick ONE issue. You do not need to be an expert in women’s rights, or racial equality, or second amendment rights, or climate change, or immigration. It is perfectly fine to choose one issue you feel passionately about and only canvas your audience and community on that one topic.
SO many people are single-issue voters. SO Many. Especially when we see people voting for conservative candidates. How often did you hear or read comments like “I don’t really like Trump but I would never have an abortion!” or “I don’t like Trump but you aren’t taking away my guns!”? Right?! If you can help someone change their opinion on a single issue, you can very well change their vote.
To decide on which issue you should focus on I really like this exercise. Imagine that you need to stand up in front of your 5 closest friends right now, and talk for 5 minutes, unprepared about one social issue? Which topic do you currently feel the most confidence talking about?
*That* is the issue you should start with. Not only because you already have a great base knowledge and understanding of the issue, but because the fact that you have already researched and learned about it shows that it’s something you are passionate about, which will make it easier for you to also continue learning more about the issue and how to advocate for it.
Also, remember that you don’t have to choose a topic that is a hot-button issue — like abortion or racial equality — or even something that is a national issue. You can pick something less polarizing — like raising the minimum wage (which is supported by a majority of Americans) or things like data privacy and net neutrality. You can also consider a local issue, such as school funding or establishing a new park, and focus on your local issues and elections.
Once you’ve picked your key issue, you’re ready for the next step. Which is knowing that it is okay to be wrong and that it is okay to not know the answer to every question. I think so many of us hesitate to speak up or speak out because we fear being wrong. But once you lean into the fact that eventually you WILL be wrong and those will be opportunities for you to grow…being wrong becomes something you can look forward to rather than something you need to fear.
Now it’s time to start creating the journey you want to take people on as you try to shift their mindset. Chances are that you didn’t always support your chosen issue, so try to think back to when it was first introduced to you and what stories, images, and experiences helped you change your way of thinking. Then go out there and share those things with your audience and community. And don’t overlook your own story. As a society, we tend to frame “changing our mind” as hypocritical, especially when it comes to political issues. Give people permission to change their minds by telling them how or why you changed yours. Telling people that you used to be a climate change denier and now vote for the environment can be powerful. Knowing that you once stood where they stand can help them feel welcome to shift their thinking without being labeled a hypocrite.
So let’s reiterate those so they are fresh in your mind. To get started you want to select one key issue to focus your efforts on, the second step is knowing it is okay to be wrong and shifting your mindset to see being wrong as a growth opportunity, and finally, you want to identify the journey you can take people on to help shift their perspective.
And we’ll end with two quick points when it comes to having hard conversations with people online. My first piece of advice here is to always know that you are speaking to the audience. That means, that although you might strike up a conversation about LBGTQ+ rights on your uncle’s homophobic post, you don’t need to focus on just changing your uncle’s thinking. In fact, it’s fine if that’s not your goal at all. When you engage in that post I want you to think of two other people, instead. First, think of any gay or otherwise marginalized person who may see his post and be reading your comment. Your comment lets them know that this homophonic post isn’t going unchecked. Second, think of anyone else lurking on his posts and reading your exchange, who might not be as stubborn in their thinking as your uncle, and who might be ten or twenty steps closer to full-on voting in support of LGBTQ+ rights. While it might take 100 more exchanges to shift your uncle’s thinking, that person lurking in the comments section might only need to hear one more personal story to change the way they vote.
The second thing is to remember that not every post needs a comments section. Feel free to post things and turn off commenting. But also, not every comment deserves a response. It is perfectly fine to respond to someone with a simple “No”, “I do not agree with you” or “This is inaccurate”. It’s also fine to leave their comment unresponded to. You get to choose where you direct your energy, so don’t feel like you need to engage in a 50 comment back and forth if you don’t have the energy for it.
So just remember, protect your energy, and sometimes you aren’t speaking to the offender — you are speaking to the audience, and that’s where the power of this modern deep canvassing really lies.
Because we can plant these seeds and leave these digital crumbs for the masses. And although the change may feel slow — as my friend Elle said to me recently — these cracks are where the light eventually shines in.
And although these steps might feel really simple, that’s sort of the beauty of this. It’s about taking people on this journey and letting them do the work or decide where it leads. Do they change their mind and opinion or not? You’ve done your part of the work by providing them with the information and resources, and the ball is in their court, so to speak.
The Beauty of Deep Canvassing
Let’s end with one more personal story, because I’ve already told you that stories are how we empower people to change their minds. When I first started speaking out more politically about 5 or 6 years ago it felt very lonely. I often felt like I was being ganged up on and even ostracized by people I loved and respected. Sometimes it isn’t easy. But over the past year or two, I have seen how those seeds I planted years ago — how those digital breadcrumbs I left for people along the way —- could be harvested. Sometimes I’d go to bed at night with an active argument happening on one of my posts, and I’d wake up in the morning to this little army of people in my comments section who were having these hard conversations with people on my behalf. Who were sharing their experiences and stories.
You might feel alone when you first get started with this type of deep canvassing work. But I just want to reassure you that when your day comes to harvest the seeds you are planting it is so rewarding and fulfilling and you feel anything but alone.
As you may know, I did a lot of work campaigning for Joe Biden in 2020. In the months leading up to the election, I created a private Facebook Group and more than 1,000 of you joined me there to complete a training program and learn how to canvas. Now that the election is over, I’m using that group to help teach people these deep canvassing methods and to share information and resources that you can use when you are having these conversations. The group is called Unite and Build, and I’ll put a link to it in today’s show notes if you are interested in joining.
Conservative Viewpoints vs. Indoctrination of Disinformation
And one final point I want to make before we wrap things up, is this. Understand the difference between people who hold conservative viewpoints, and people who have fallen into conspiracy theories or cults. Shifting someone’s opinion on police brutality or gay marriage is different than trying to undo five years of indoctrination into QAnon or Trumpism. Unfortunately, most of those people need professional help — they literally need professional deprogramming or exit counseling by experts. Try to understand the difference, protect your energy, and don’t exhaust yourself on deep canvassing those people.
During the election, I’d occasionally get into debates with people like this, and my response was often something to the tune of “I hope you are able to get the help you need” and although I think that sometimes came across as condescending or even pandering — I was being sincere. I could go back and forth arguing with them all day and it wouldn’t change their mind. The only hope for them is that someone loves them enough to invest the time and — quite frankly — the money, into professional help. If you know someone like this and would like resources for getting them help I will put some information in today’s show notes. So, protect your energy and know the difference between conservative viewpoints and the indoctrination of right-wing extremism.
Thank you so much for joining me for this two-part episode. I know it was a bit longer than my shows normally are, but I so appreciate you being here. My friend Elle Dowd, who I spoke about throughout today’s episode, recently published a book about her experience on the ground in Furgeson and her transformation from midwestern moderate to abolitionist. The book is called Baptized in Teargas and it’s available for pre-order now. All proceeds from the book will go directly to Black activists, political prisoners, liberation organizations, community bail funds, and families who have lost loved ones to state violence.
I have a full review of her book on my website — I absolutely loved it — and I’ll put links to that and where you can pre-order it in today’s show notes. Elle had such a huge impact on my life, I think I’ll always feel indebted to her, so plugging her book at the end of a podcast episode that would never exist without her and her work…feels mandatory.
And just imagine it — you could go out there and be someone’s Elle Dowd! You could have people who feel this loyal and in awe of you simply by giving them the information and resources, they need to become better people. I hope this episode inspires you to get out there and do just that.
And that’s it for this week. As always, you can find today’s show notes over at PlanPodcast.com. I’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks, and in the meantime, we can continue this conversation over on Instagram. Talk soon.
This is part of a 2-part series. Be sure to tune into Episode 035, as well.
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