On Wednesday, Oct. 16 from 5 pm to 8 pm I decided to venture into the world of local politics and canvass for Cambridge city councilor Quinton Zondervan to be re-elected for his second term. I met with Masha Vernik, Boston University graduate and Quinton’s full-time campaign manager, in a downtown Central Square office to get help set up my route, which Masha would join me on, since it was my first time covering a “turf.” A turf refers to the area of houses I would cover.
Masha told me ask voters if there were any issues that they cared about in the city, empathize with their concerns, and let them know any of Quinton’s specific policies relating to them. “Just talk to them and let them know their concerns are heard,” And that is what we did: we would input every response in a database after each visit. “Canvassing is important because personal 1-1 interactions allow voters to talk about issues they care about and candidates to listen,” says Masha. I felt that importance, in being a bridge from specific issues residents felt right to the office of Quinton himself.
I was nervous at first to knock on doors and try to speak for a candidate I had never met, nor knew the full extent of his policies and plans. Masha told me to be honest with voters, let them know I didn’t know the answer when I didn’t know what to say, but to let them know their concerns are important and I will look into it. After watching Masha, and then doing a few on my own, I found it was easy to discuss local issue with citizens. Most people were happy to express concerns and hear what I had to say. A few even thanked me for canvassing, even if Quinton was not their first choice. “People here are more involved,” Masha told me, when comparing Cambridge to her canvassing efforts down in Florida. And although I have never canvassed anywhere, I could see where she was coming from. I didn’t expect as many people to answer the doors and be so open to talk to me as they did. There were also voters who had no idea what was going on in local government but were happy to listen to me give my one-minute monologue on Quinton.
Other people in the neighborhood I spoke to expressed concern with the environment, protection for middle-class tenants, and accessible bike lanes throughout Cambridge. These were all easy issues I could speak to them about, since Quinton has actions in place to address them. Quinton has been involved strongly in preserving the environment the past twenty plus years and wants Cambridge to be the first net-zero city in the world, with new developments and buildings that run on renewable energy and use zero fossil fuels. I also found myself discussing Quinton’s plan for tenant-protection, to keep middle- and lower-class citizens in their homes amidst the raising rents and developments being built. It was also easy to empathize with the avid bikers because Quinton is a biker himself, and wants all new roads built to include bike lanes. For issues I could not answer, Masha covered me, but the more I spoke to people the more I felt confident in responding to them.
For those who did not answer their doors, we left literature about Quinton with them, wherever we could stick it. Some others I could tell were not so interested, and seemed to be in a hurry, which Masha told me to be considerate of, as people are eating dinner and getting their kids ready for bed. One encounter in particular, was not so friendly, as one man shouted at me for how rude I was for ringing the doorbell a second time, which we are instructed to do. “If I don’t answer the door the first time, don’t ring the doorbell again, it’s extremely rude! People are sleeping,” he hollered, to which I replied, “sorry have a good day,” even though every fiber in me wanted to say otherwise. “Don’t feel bad,” Masha told me, as sometimes people can be rude, and I didn’t. From the opposite end of the canvasser I could see why certain people could believe I was trying to solicit something, or perhaps I looked like a Mormon missionary? Overall, I would say majority of residents were happy to speak to me.
I am not a resident of Cambridge, but as a student in Cambridge, I feel it’s important for students to experience local politics, as it is so accessible to us. “It’s important for students to be involved in local government because students have a stake in local issues, even if they’re not constituents, and student voice will not be heard unless they are loud and clear,” Masha points out. As someone who supports Quinton’s policies and plans as city councilor, I felt it was my civic duty to volunteer my time to helping him get elected. The entire turf, which is on average about 50 houses, takes two and a half to three hours tops, and regular canvassers only need to commit to five hours a week, making our own hours and schedules. I don’t think this is asking much, considering Quinton’s campaign pays canvassers for their time. Students don’t have to be regular canvassers either; they can volunteer to only do it one time if their schedule is too busy or they’re unsure if they can commit to regular hours.
Not only is it an empowering feeling to spread information on local politicians, but it’s fun to meet the residents of Cambridge and see where most stand politically. I feel more a part of this community than I ever have just being a student on campus.
I strongly recommend Lesley students, or any student, to find a local candidate running whose policies they support and find a mere few hours in their week to try canvassing to really get to know the community and people who live in it. You’re also exercising your right as a citizen, to spread knowledge and information to voters, and possibly even sway people to choose your candidate! It’s a rewarding feeling to be the voice of someone or something you strongly believe in. I am no longer uninvolved, sitting around, saying what “I wish,” our city would do, but I am a voice for candidates who actually want to implement the change I want to see.
Volunteering for local candidates is extremely easy, as most have emails online you can contact to volunteer. Politics start at a local level and if we can get progressive candidates in seats within cities and states, then we can contribute to change on a federal level as to who is elected in congress, or even the presidency.