Friday, January 6, 2012

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Last week I had to take a few days off from public locations because my car needed work, and there aren't any good public locations within easy walking distance from home. Nick printed walk packets for my neighborhood, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I walked a packet and a half each in my general neighborhood.

There's a reason why we tend to collect signatures in public locations over going door-to-door. About half of the people aren't home when you stop by, and it's not like a normal canvass because there's no literature to leave behind. I'd thought about leaving behind my phone number and/or address in case people wanted to follow up with me, but I wasn't sure how my husband would appreciate calls coming into our home, especially since the names pulled for me to visit included a lot of "no data" individuals and "independents." When I used to consider myself an independent, I believed fiercely that it was nobody's business how I voted, and while I consistently voted one way, I did NOT want to talk about politics, ever. Turns out that studies suggest that's typically how independents feel, with two-thirds of them not being independent at all. Last summer, the people most likely to aggressively chase me off their front steps where people identified as independents, so I tend to approach independent voters with caution.

For the most part, I didn't have too many aggressive or combative people on my walks. I had one middle-aged woman who ordered me to "get the fuck outta here," and one retirement-cusp blowhard who might have gotten ugly if I'd engaged with him. He wanted to know why I would recall the Governor of the Year, among other misguided talking points. I certainly had plenty of answers to his Walker praises, beginning with a critique of that so-called award, but I told my blowhard that I wasn't there to try to change his mind, I was only there to collect signatures from people who wanted to recall the governor. "I wish you ROTTEN luck!" he hollered back. "Thanks! Happy new year!" I called over my shoulder. Since I collected twice as many signatures that day as the day before, I don't think that his wish had the desired effect.

An older gentlemen in a larger lakeside home who identified himself as a Walker supporter told me rather solemnly that he was sorry that I was involved in all this. I was sort of taken aback by this response. I'd never met the man, so I had to ask myself why he would respond in the same tone as if I'd told him my mother was dying of cancer. Perhaps he thought of me as a sweet, young girl, naïve and misled. I told him not to be sorry, that I wasn't sorry to be involved in the recall at all. I didn't want my tone to sound flippant, but I also didn't want him to think that I was not the mistress of my own fate; I don't just blindly follow where I'm led. In the end, I'm not sure how my response appeared to him, but I thanked him and wished him a happy new year.

Unsurprisingly, I found that people in my neighborhood with more impressive homes nearer to the lake were less likely to sign and more likely to identify themselves as Walker supporters. The people in rental properties were more likely to want to sign. There were people in both groups, though, that went the other way. I visited around 230 doors in about eight hours over two days and only had 17 signatures to show for it, and two of those actually came from people who weren't on my walk list but were in an apartment parking lot I passed. One of the women hollered out and asked me what I was doing as I circled a nearby building with individually numbered housing units all connected together. She ran over as soon as she heard, and her friend offered to sign if I'd bring the petition over to her vehicle. "It's cold out here!" Only half of the people are home, and for nearly ever house that told me 'no', there was a person who told me that s/he had already signed or who wanted to sign on the spot.

It is surprising, though, that sometimes people still get confused about what it means to recall a politician. By now, it seems everyone in the state should know what is going on and what it means. One gentleman sent me on my way, and while I was visiting the adjoining duplex apartment, his wife poked her head out the window to ask me to come back when I was done. Before I returned to their apartment--they both signed--I spoke with their neighbor, a woman who had no clue what was going on politically. I told her a little of why we were collecting signatures, and I gave her my phone number in case she decided she wanted to sign. I may follow up with her again, but I didn't feel comfortable taking a signature from someone who had so little understanding of what was going on in the state at that exact moment.

Overall, I was happy to find that most of the people in my neighborhood, even if they didn't agree with me, could be polite about it. While they may be less productive, there are a few advantages to doors that you don't get from public signing locations. People are where they live, and while that gives some a greater sense of entitlement to do as they feel, when you ask for them by name they are less inclined to be rude to you. Also, you are suddenly a real person looking them in the eye. I'm reminded of the women in Eau Claire who rolled down their windows to yell something at me, made eye contact, and changed their minds. Some of these same people might holler out their windows at you or flip you off if they drove past, but they remember their manners when you become a real person. I had one registered Republican of retirement age even thank me for coming to her door. "I don't agree with you about recalling Walker, but I appreciate you volunteering to offer this service to people." I thanked her and shook her hand--I can see her apartment from my yard, so I'm glad to know that even though we don't agree, that we can respect each other.

After all of the abuse many of us have received out collecting signatures, doors can actually be a pleasant reminder that most Walker supporters are not like Carl Sosnoski, who felt entitled to threaten my Yoda Bob by saying he would be 'killed' pretty soon. (I've heard rumors that other recall petitioners saw the video and thought that he had harassed them as well, though I'm unable to confirm. I've been lucky not to deal with this man. I have also never been followed home by Walker supporters, which has also happened to people in our office.) In light of responses like Sosnoski's, it's refreshing to find out that most of your neighbors, even when they don't agree with you, aren't like this man, and it's probably refreshing for your neighbors to know that circulators are real people, too. Let's face it: both sides tell bogeyman stories about the other. And both sides do have a bogeyman or two in their closets. However, they're not indicative of the majority. Perhaps we will eventually heal this deep divide in Wisconsin politics. When I walk through my neighborhood, I can believe that it's possible.

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