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Image / Editorial

I tried canvassing for the first time last night, and this is what I saw


by Geraldine Carton
22nd May 2018
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Last night Geraldine Carton popped her canvassing cherry. Being a self-confessed conflict-avoider she was nervous about the whole thing but says that the experience surpassed all expectations…

Considering how incredibly enthusiastic I had been only a few days ago when my friend and I decided to go out canvassing together, it’s slightly comical to note that when the day came I spent most of it trying to think of an excuse that would let me off the hook. I just wanted to enjoy my evening in suburban peace; free from all moral considerations for the future of this country. Was that so much to ask?

As someone who hates confrontation, the idea of approaching a stranger’s home, standing at their threshold and probing them to “have a chat” about one of Ireland’s most controversial (and confrontational) referenda in recent history was not appealing. I didn’t know what I would say or how I would react to someone from the opposing side challenging me. I imagined the hostile home owners shutting the door in my face, or shaking their fist, shouting at me to “F*ck off and get off my property!”, real American soap opera style…

“Passive bystander”

Over the last number of weeks my social media feeds have been filling up with friends sharing pictures of themselves and fellow canvassers – young and old – out getting the conversation going. Often I would leave comments, “Wow, fair play, you’re so brave! *Clapping hands emoji* x2”, but I never felt much need to do it myself. Sure, they have enough people by the looks of things was how I saw it.

That was, until a vague acquaintance on a night out challenged me about why I hadn’t done any canvassing, despite feeling so obviously passionate about the cause. My explanation of “Oh, I would, but I don’t like conflict!” did not go down well. He proceeded to school me extensively on my civic duty and how I shouldn’t be such a passive bystander when so much is at stake. And while I could have done without the long-winded mansplaining shpeel, what he said hit a chord. Because he was right; if I cared as much as I said I did then my limp excuse was no excuse at all.

In fact, although I hate to admit it, I think it was that high-and-mighty mansplainer’s words which made me bite the bullet, grab my coat and run out to the canvassing group’s meetup point last night.

The group

I was surprised by the wide range of age, gender and backgrounds of the group – it was like a nationwide selection had been made to get an authentic representation of the entire population. What was even more striking was the overt friendliness and instant community feel that wafted out of the group. It didn’t matter how different we all might have been, the fact that we were there, with one common goal in mind, made any potential awkwardness melt away with the evening sun.

And with, that the fun began.

The experience

The experience was far more positive than I could have possibly imagined, or hoped. As each door opened, I quickly found that so too did the opportunity for conversation, for a thumbs up of solidarity, and a smile-and-a-wink of encouragement. When this wasn’t the case, 9/10 times there was, at the very least, a respectful moment of silence bestowed upon us to say our little intro.

Sometimes the moment of listening was followed by a bellowing hurl of disagreement, but that was rare. Mostly it was a clipped rejection, and in that case we would thank them for their time, and off we’d go once again. Knocking on doors, pressing on buzzers, chatting to the people who were in, and attempting to push leaflets into the letter boxes of those who weren’t.

Note to future canvassers: watch out for the letter boxes with the brush bristles at the mouth. They force you to push the leaflets through with your fingers, resulting in a scratchy feeling that is wince-inducing at the best of times, and terrifying at the worst (imagine getting your hand stuck in between the bristles, or worse – someone grabbing it from the inside! My imagination ran wild whilst canvassing, as you can see).

Why do it

Canvassing is an incredibly important part of the whole voting process – it’s the conversations that take place on people’s doorstep that are often the only way some people get to express their doubts, ask their questions, and make their minds up based on facts.

Canvassing also gave me the opportunity to make an active contribution to my country’s future, and that in itself felt good. Another feelgood factor? Realising how we live in a country in which people of vastly different opinions are still able to live side by side, and that ours is a population in which the respectful differing of opinions can be expressed and explored in a rational and calm manner. Well, most of the time.

Regardless of your stance, be it Tá or Níl, I couldn’t recommend getting out to canvas more. Let’s make this referendum a fully informed one, and get out and talk to our neighbours while there’s still time!

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