Wow. There’s so much that comes to mind as I look back at the campaign trip… so many emotions, memories, faces, and places.
Our visit to a mountain top removal (MTR) site the first day, set the tone early. We really had no idea what we were up against until we saw coal mining firsthand. As we walked around the site, our eyes were opened to the enormous scale of mountain top removal mining. It took a while to soak in, but when it eventually did, it soaked in deep. I would carry my experience with me for the rest of the week, drawing upon it during long hard days.
Canvassing, Canvassing, and More Canvassing
Our days in Charlotte were mostly spent canvassing. We knocked on so many doors, talked to so many people, and collected so many signatures. Going into the week, I only had a rough idea of what we were trying to accomplish and our specific message. But over the days of canvassing and training both of these gradually became clearer. And so did my purpose for being there.
Day One – Talking to Strangers
We were all slightly nervous on our first day and extremely tired as well (we arrived in Charlotte at 4am), but still excited to be out in the field. The past three weeks of training were preparation for this week and we knew it was time to shine.
Because of our late arrival the previous night, our schedule was pushed back a little on Monday. I took advantage of this time by grabbing breakfast and hopping onto the couch to watch the England v. France Euro soccer game. A great way to start the morning. Eventually we moved into training time and worked on our pitches. At this point, I still didn’t have a clear idea of what we were actually going to talk with community members about and was even unclear on the nature of the petition. Sweet, more reasons to be nervous.
Thankfully, we were dropped off in pairs and handed a petition with a clear goal, “Shut Down the Riverbend Coal Plant.” Sarah and I stumbled through a couple of our first doors, but slowly gained confidence. As we would learn, canvassing is all about conversation and connecting with people. The doors where you connect and have good conversations will not only provide good stories to share at the end of the day, but will carry you through all the doors you wish you hadn’t had knocked on.
About an hour or so in, we hit four houses in a row where people told us that the coal plant was scheduled to be shut down in 2015. I guess here is a good point to explain why we were out canvassing.
Essentially, Duke Energy dominates energy in the south and has multiple coal plants in the Charlotte area. Coal plants spew out mercury, lead, arsenic, and many other pollutants/greenhouse gases. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that these things are bad for public health. Approximately 34,000 Americans die every year as the result of coal-fired power plant pollution. Duke is also the largest purchaser of mountain top removal coal. They’re evil, I know. So, we were out canvassing to get one of their oldest coal plants, Riverbend, shut down and even more importantly cleaned up. Federal law does not require companies to clean up the toxic ash coal ponds that they keep. The toxic waste is left open to the air and tends to leak into groundwater. It should be cleaned up.
So, back to our predicament… we were obviously confused and frustrated that our petition was outdated. But, was it really? We called our coordinator and learned that Duke PR was spitting the year 2015 out and that the Duke legal team had 2020 in their paperwork. She also explained that Jim Rodgers, Duke’s CEO, refused to commit to 2015 publicly. Hmmm. Well, now I’m upset. Sarah and I knocked on doors prepared to fight back against this lie that Duke had spread throughout the community. By the end of the day, we were somewhat more comfortable canvassing and at responding to people’s objections, but knew that we still had a lot more improving to do.
Day Two – Making Connections
Just like the first day, Tuesday involved trainings in the morning followed by an afternoon of canvassing. After breakfast and some P90x (a nice warm-up for canvassing ha), we started a training on Response Cycles. Basically, we learned how to respond to a community member in an effective way. It’s quite simple and involves 1. acknowledging their response to your pitch then 2. bringing it back to the main message. A lot of the responses you get while canvassing are great questions, but drift away from the main issue. In our case, it was quite simple: “Coal plants are bad for our health and corporate profits shouldn’t be put above public health. You agree? Great, sign here to shut down the coal plant up the street.” When talking to a reasonable person, they almost always sign. But sometimes even reasonable people won’t commit and make up some random excuse like “I need to do my own research.” Lame.
Our territory on the second day was a country road situated next to the lake (which was poisoned thanks to Duke). Compared to the first day in a pretty wealthy neighborhood, today’s houses were in theory supposed to be easier. That was not the case. However, we did meet a couple of amazing people. Our first memorable encounter was with Gloria. When she answered the door, she immediately invited us into her house to sit down. We had been dripping in sweat and were more than happy to head inside. She was an extremely nice lady that cared deeply about the effects of coal on children and happened to be an old teacher. Our conversation with her really turned our hot and unproductive day around. Near the end of our day, we ran into someone we had talked to yesterday and got to meet his wife and child. Finally, we ended the day talking to a lady that was really pumped about what we were doing and even gave us the name of a local reporter that might be interested in what we were doing.
Back at the house for supper, Michelle and I prepared to run a phone bank that we had signed up to do. Phone banks are basically just mass callings of people that signed a petition and indicated that they were interested in helping out. We called to not only thank them for signing, but also to let them know about upcoming events, including a workshop that our class was putting on to teach community members to canvass. The phone bank went very smoothly and was actually a ton of fun since we had the Heat game on and our leader made a ton of homemade pizzas. That night we also got to meet the local organizer in Charlotte. She was incredibly passionate and really reminded us all why we were fighting for this campaign.