Let’s start with Confession. It’s an activity that’s supposedly wonderfully cleansing for the soul – especially a soul tortured by the possibility of a return of the Barnett government.
I was put into confessional mode by a wonderful piece of protesting wit down at the Bibra Lake destruction site last week. A woman dressed up as a nun (maybe she was a nun?) was holding up a huge CONFESSION sign and imploring us males to “confess to the wetlands dream you had last night.” Humour amidst tragedy.
In addition to excessive wetlands dreaming, I have a second confession to make: an enjoyment bordering on addiction to Greens doorknocking.
It started in 2001 when I was our Fremantle candidate in the federal election. Every media outlet I contacted responded with extreme silence, so I soon realised my days weren’t going to involve juggling competing requests for interviews or baby-cuddling photo ops. Obviously my main way of communicating with voters would be to speak to them on their doorsteps – nearly every day, usually by myself, sometimes with a vaguely willing friend or family member tagging along.
I loved it right from the get-go, even though on reflection I was fairly useless at the art of starting and maintaining a doorstep conversation. However, the thing that surprised and pleased me the most was the number of people who were impressed and positive that I was making the effort, as in:
“I’ve lived here for 15 years and you’re the first party candidate who’s bothered to talk to me and ask what issues I care about.” Or:
“I get turned off by all the political advertising on TV, but I appreciate the chance to have a conversation where you’re not trying to shove a message at me.”
If I was that impressive with patently unskilled blundering, what might be achieved if I got to be really good at this stuff? And what if there wasn’t just me and a reluctant rent-a-friend, but a huge team of Really Goods?
Of course, that’s exactly what’s happened over the last 15 years. As a party, we’ve thought our way through to a set of principles for Doing Doorknocking Well: safely, with integrity, with deep respect for the people we speak to, with an emphasis on listening, with a structure that makes doorknockers comfortable while encouraging them to use their own voice and be authentic.
I’m now much better at the doorknocking arts (about time, I hear you say!): getting a conversation started, actively listening, speaking The Greens message without even a hint of preaching, finding common ground, reading the mood of person on the other side of the door (Politely withdraw straight away? Try one more question?) and much more.
Why the improvement? Pretty obvious really. The scripts. The structure. The clear statements of our aims and values. Pairing up with lots of different people and learning skills from them. In turn I’m delighted, and infuriated, that some total newcomers display skills that evade me despite hundreds of hours of on-the-job training and experience. But practice/experience ̶ plus some reflection – does indeed make you better, if not perfect.
In my case, not nearly enough reflection. My excuse is that I enjoy the experience too much, so I’ve become a bit blasé about reflection. It only happens if I know I’ve done a big stuff-up.
Why the enjoyment? What’s not to like — nothing of course! … Well, maybe noisy and threatening dogs, often very loosely held back by equally threatening residents. Then maybe also stinking hot days, cold days, wet days, not-a-Greens-voter-to-be-seen days, how-can-every-voter-be-so-apathetic days. But these are rare events and even on these occasions there’s still two hours of pleasantly gentle exercise, enjoying looking at people’s gardens, architecture and design, enjoying the company of the team, enjoying the debrief – especially if the drinks are on the house.
The main enjoyment is meeting people, enjoying their diversity — and knowing for sure that these conversations make a difference.
February conversations have been livelier than usual down our South Metro way, due to people in Fremantle, Bicton, Cockburn and Willagee being in or near the Roe 8/Perth Freight Link firing line. Mostly they’re raging mad about it: for every “Barnett Believer in all things Roe” we are getting at least six expressing anger, sorrow and disgust. Especially disgust that Barnett is showing utter contempt for the voters and for democratic values by starting the project right before an election. Classic case of “I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me on the doorstep.”
Of course that anecdotal six to one ratio certainly exaggerates the Stop Roe 8 majority. For example, as in past doorknocking campaigns, about 10% of the time we experience the standard refusal line (“I don’t want to talk to The Greens”) – and a betting man would assume those people are mostly Roe 8 Believers.
Maybe, but not always. Unless the refusal is particularly violent, I usually have a second go with my “good listener” appeal, along the lines of: “That’s OK, the main reason we are doorknocking today is to ask people what issues are important to them in this election.” Typically that line gets three different responses in roughly equal proportions:
- “I just told you I don’t want to talk to The Greens” (fair enough, I can be a slow learner at times)
- “Top issues? Greens support Bloody Muslims, dole bludgers, and want to wreck Australia” (not fair enough at all, but sort of what my first impressions led me to expect)
- “Barnett is the issue: I can’t stand Barnett, especially the way he’s destroying those wetlands” (absolutely the fairest of them all – now, should I offer this flyer that explains why The Greens agree with you?)
Love being part of a great team? Love walking? Love exploring gardens and streetscapes? Love listening and conversing with people in all their wonderful diversity? You and doorknocking are a match made in Green heaven.
Header photo: Two doorknockers. Photo by Julian Meehan. Body photo: A Fremantle doorknocking crew, with candidate Martin Spencer front and centre.