Opening Doors to Communication

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Last week was hard for me. Watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify to a panel of white, male senators about her sexual assault was gut-wrenching. Watching Judge Bret Kavanaugh testify about how he much loved beer and working out with Tobin was infuriating. It felt like women everywhere were looking for an outlet for these feelings. Rather than work through them in the gym or with a glass of wine, I took mine to the streets armed with only my PR background and enthusiasm for talking to strangers. 

When I found out Planned Parenthood’s Young Advocates would be organizing canvassing to re-elect Governor Tom Wolf in the counties surrounding Philly, I signed up to join the Wolf Pack. This was well before the hearings, but I knew I wanted to be engaged in change on a local and state level. Pennsylvania is a battleground state, so reaching voters is especially important. This gubernatorial election is particularly important for women. Not only would challenger Scott Wagner roll back Wolf’s Medicaid expansion, but he would implement one of the most strict abortion bans in the county, limiting it at six weeks, which is before most women even know they’re pregnant. I want a governor who will trust women to make the right choice for themselves and their bodies, whatever that may be. It was time to step out of my comfort zone, bringing my whole self to act for a cause I believe in.

So on Saturday, I set out for Elkins Park. I arrived at the headquarters and had a quick lunch with the organizers and my fellow Young Advocates. The team at headquarters quickly gave us tee-shirts and tote bags full of literature to hand out or leave on doors and then got us trained on the system before sending us out in teams of four to turf (the neighborhood . We were basically taking the temperature of voters. We wanted to see who they would support for the governor and state senator and to find out what issues they considered to be most important to them. We reached out to Democrats and Republicans alike.

When all was said and done, we knocked on 676 doors. We spent four hours outside. I took 14,391 steps. And I’ll be honest with you…I loved it! It felt like a tangible way to make a difference. A lot of people I was targeting weren’t home, but I did get the chance to speak with some engaging people. Out of all the canvassers, I managed to get the most signed “commit-to-votes.”  Knocking on doors showed me America is still mostly good, even if we disagree. When you’re face to face, you’re forced to recognize the person you’re speaking to as a person, not a faceless social media handle. Not one person was mean or cruel, which was surprising given the amount of ignorant and unkind Facebook comments I see every day. Only one person had a particularly negative encounter: a woman who answered the door told a fellow canvasser she “hates Planned Parenthood and everything they stood for.” But she said it with a smile and didn’t try to start a fight.  

During my canvass, I met a mom who invited me inside to show me a sign she had made to tell Republican canvassers not to knock on her door. I spoke with an older woman who thanked me profusely for canvassing and “doing the hard work.” A neighbor who wasn’t on my list made sure to tell me she was encouraging her 19-year-old granddaughter to vote in the midterm elections. For the first time all week, I felt good. I felt hopeful. I felt exhausted in the way you only get from a long, hard day. My PR training allowed me to start a conversation; regardless of how the person behind the door was voting (the software we used let us know how each person was registered). PR is all about facilitating engagement across trades, media outlets, language barriers, demographic segments, belief systems, and more.

The experience was powerful for me. The world watched Dr. Ford stand up and rip open her wounds to protect women. Walking around the suburbs is the least I can do to honor her sacrifice and courage. I’m what Senator Lindsey Graham would call a “nice lady.” I’m white, middle-class, college-educated and I have a friendly face. In some ways, this is power. When people peeked through their blinds at me, they weren’t seeing an “other,” they saw a daughter, a sister, a friend. It allowed the conversation to flow, or at least get people to open up doors for me. In the wake of the 2016 election, I want to use my privilege for good and to empower other women to do the same. In the weeks leading up to the midterms, I’ll be phonebanking, attending fundraisers and encouraging my friends to do the same. The time for quiet grief is over. It’s time to make moves that can effect real change. Whatever skills you may have – as a communicator or otherwise – now is the time to put them to use. Selling your soul is potent; it can catalyze others to join in. In my case, it may be ensuring just five people vote in a midterm election, but that act of change ripples out. They tell their friends and I tell mine. Passion is powerful.

Molly Devlin