A guide to political canvassing for first-timers

A guide to political canvassing for first-timers
How to make a difference — As the left gears up for the fight of its life, Momentum organiser Anastasia Palikeras shares her tips on the art of doorknocking.

So the UK is having yet another general election on December 12th, and we have just under 40 days before the country heads to the polls. Time is tight, and more is at stake than ever – but thankfully, there are plenty of ways we can make a difference. One of the most effective methods is canvassing, but it can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is canvassing?

Canvassing, or doorknocking, is the most effective way of speaking to voters. I organise a campaign with Momentum and Owen Jones called the ‘Unseat’ Campaign, where we help to mobilise hundreds of people at our events to go out in groups and reach out to voters, using Labour Party data. You tend to be in a group when you’re doorknocking, and generally, that group will have a strong mix of experienced and new activists. 

Is it really worth it? 

The best tool that the left has – and it’s been proven over and over again – are our activists. People who volunteer to have important, persuasive and engaging conversations with voters. This is how we engage people, get them registered to vote, and also have inspiring conversations. 

My first day doorknocking was in Battersea on polling day of the 2017 snap General Election. I think what actually pushed me to go and knock on doors that day was the realisation that, if I didn’t do anything for the campaign, I would be so deflated afterwards. I was obviously initially apprehensive because I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know a single person there, but it ended up being the warmest, most exhilarating experience.

How do I get started?

There are so many ways to get involved, but the first step is to use Momentum’s website, where you can find your nearest marginal and see where you can make the biggest difference. University students can also use Uni Votes, a site where you can compare your university postcode and your ‘home’ postcode and see where your vote is needed the most. Make sure you’re very careful with tactical voting sites though – there are a lot of them out there, and many might be rigged or supplying false information. A little extra research will go a long way.

What do I need to take with me?

Firstly, bring COMFORTABLE shoes. I can’t stress this enough. I’m weirdly proud of how many blisters I get on the campaign trail, but the pain is not worth it. Make sure to take plasters and thick socks, because lots of walking is involved. That said, leg day never felt so good. You’ll also need water and snacks – especially if you plan to be out for the whole day.

Then there are waterproofs. We are in England, it is November, and we should all be expecting rain! Umbrellas are so cumbersome on the doorstep, but a cute little poncho or waterproof jackets are ideal. Layer up too, and bring a rucksack that you can throw your layers into. Also, a portable charger is always a good shout.

My last tip is to look after yourself. It’s easy to burn yourself out – but if you go hard on day three, how will you cope on day 33? Being consistent is key, and finding soothing ways to relax after a heavy day on the doors is so important.

I’m scared! What if I’m bad with new people? 

Don’t panic! You generally won’t have to knock on your own unless you feel confident and happy to. With the Unseat campaign, we start the day with training and tips on how to canvass. There will always be some kind of training for new canvassers on the day if you are unsure of what to say to a certain issue, I would talk to the person that’s leading your group – they will be able to help you.

Being someone that finds all social interaction terrifying, I thought I was going to hate knocking on doors. I live for it now. I won’t lie and say that everyone is lovely and happy to see us, but the few that aren’t always spark interesting conversations. Meeting all the neighbourhood pets is also very exciting. 

I already know canvassing isn’t for me. How else can I get involved and still be impactful? 

There are lots and lots of ways to be involved. We have lots of volunteer teams set up to help support on phone-banking and texting, your skills are always needed. We have teams setting up phone banking parties from their houses and register to vote drives from their living rooms. Reach out to Momentum, follow them on Facebook, and have a chat with a local organiser who can give you some more information. Everything helps!

Anastasia Palikeras works with Momentum and runs the Unseat campaign. Learn more about the project, and how you can get involved, on its official website.

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