I’m delighted to present this BlueWave Interview with Jane Palmer, one of the leaders of Indivisible Berks in Pennsylvania. You can find the group on Twitter at @IndivisiblBerks. Jane is a longtime advocate & political volunteer, and divulged a lot about how campaign activities are structured and how effective they can be.
Here is my interview with her. I hope you enjoy it.
TS: Thank you for talking with me today, Jane. First things first. Were you politically active before 2016?
JANE: Yes. I’ve been involved politically in some way since my college days. I’ve canvassed & phone banked, and have worked on all the recent Democratic presidential campaigns as well as several state level campaigns.
TS: Tell us more about volunteering for a presidential campaign.
JANE: When a campaign comes into town, it has a life of its own. It may coordinate with the local party organization but it really has its own operation.
In 2008, I walked into the Obama campaign office and offered to do whatever they needed. At that point, the office had only recently been set up and it was fairly disorganized. Honestly, it was chaos. It was clear to me they needed to set up some structure for the office.
So, I got a sign up table so volunteers knew where to go. People were working in the office with no food, so I called a bunch of my friends and asked them to bring dinners to the office, and later created a signup sheet for food deliveries. That’s what a lot of volunteering is — figuring out how to be of service
TS: I like the way you framed volunteer work. What advice do you have regarding navigating a group of volunteers, especially if you are new to this type of activity?
JANE: Any group can present challenges, but remember, they’re just people. Ask any campaign and they’ll tell you that your individual contribution is the most valuable thing you can offer. You are part of something big and important. It is supremely valuable to volunteer.
TS: You’ve probably witnessed some incredible volunteers over the years. Who sticks out in your mind?
JANE: There was one volunteer who had some serious vision impairment that made it difficult for him to read a phone list. But he did the work. Day after day he would make calls to the voters in our city. I am not exaggerating when I say he probably made 10,000 phone calls.
TS: That is incredible! Now I understand you’ve done a lot of canvassing for campaigns. What is it? What purpose does it serve?
JANE: Canvassing is when you have face-to-face conversations with registered voters in your party. Depending on what phase the campaign is in, there are different goals for canvassing. The same is true for phone calls.
Early on, a key task is IDing voters — our job is to find out which candidate the voter is leaning towards. Are they strongly in favor of one in particular, leaning in favor, undecided, or leaning the other way.
The campaign enters this data to keep information fresh — they need to know exactly where on the spectrum each of their voters are.
TS: Once you’ve IDed your voters, what comes next?
JANE: The next phase is persuasion. Now that we know more about our voters, we talk to those who were tentative or undecided when we last talked to them.
The campaign has a script or talking points for you, but it is also important to make it your own and be authentic. People want to know why this election matters to you personally.
TS: What is the final phase of the canvassing efforts?
JANE: The last phase is getting out the vote (GOTV.) All the work that was done with previous canvassing and calling means the campaign knows exactly who their voters will be, and our job is to get those committed voters to actually turnout and vote.
TS: You sound really enthusiastic about canvassing. What do you like about it?
JANE: I love canvassing. It’s really fun. I’m curious about people, and every neighborhood and household is distinctive. You learn a lot about your community, and it’s great exercise. It is deeply satisfying.
I am often thanked by the people I speak to. People who didn’t know the candidates and were glad to learn more about them. People are usually gracious and kind.
Sometimes when you’re talking to a voter you find out that others living in the household aren’t registered to vote yet. With technology these days, you can get them registered right then and there.
TS: What would you say to someone who recognizes the importance of canvassing but is still nervous to give it a shot?
JANE: Sure, you might be nervous, but you have to push through your comfort zone if you want to change. Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” and that’s what you’re doing.
If you give it a try, you will rise to the occasion. You will discover that you CAN do it. You gain the skills and become stronger, more powerful, more courageous, and more of the kind of citizen activist our nation needs.
TS: Jane, this has been great. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Before we go, tell us what you are working on right now.
JANE: Right now, I’m the lead organizer for Indivisible in Berks County, Pennsylvania. We have 2,000 members and we cover 4 congressional districts,
#PA06 #PA07 #PA15 and #PA16, all Republican and all vulnerable.
We are focused on holding our state and federal reps accountable, and making sure they represent all their constituents, including the most vulnerable. We’re also working on the special Congressional election for PA District 18.
TS: Any final words of advice?
JANE: If 2016 taught us anything, it is that voting is not enough. People have to be involved beyond just voting. Our democracy is at stake. The lives of millions of people are at stake. Whatever you care about, find a group that’s making a difference and give it all you’ve got.
POSTSCRIPT: I want to thank Jane for talking with me and sharing this great info about how important personal interactions are. I hope all of you have enjoyed this BlueWave Interview and will join me for upcoming chats with more terrific grassroots volunteers.