Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: What I learned canvassing my own town

  • Lindsay Sabadosa. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 11/16/2018 12:00:53 AM

At the recent Friends’ of Children Advocacy Dinner, a woman came up to me and said, “You probably don’t remember me but you knocked on my door …” That’s something I have heard a lot in recent months. It is true that I don’t always remember faces, and I am terrible at remembering names, but I generally remember conversations. In this case, I certainly remembered her. I had broken the cardinal rule of canvassing at her house: I sat on her porch to talk with her for well over 20 minutes  

I did that a lot this summer. Canvassing as a candidate is very different from canvassing for someone else or for an issue. The goal is always two-fold: Find out what people are thinking and feeling, and make your pitch as to why people should vote for you. As the candidate, I wanted to make sure that my humanity came across as well. 

Too often regular people — the ones who don’t make it to every political fundraiser, forum or meet and greet — don’t ever meet the people who represent them. Candidates focus their attentions on “super voters” in their own party (the people who vote in every single election) due to time and financial constraints. Many voters get to know candidates through snippets in the media or mailers. That may be fine for figuring out where they stand on issues, but it doesn’t say much about who that person is as a human being.

So, when someone asked, “Do you want to sit down?” I almost always did.

When I drive through neighborhoods now, I see people instead of houses. When I was dropping my daughter off at an event recently, I passed the house on the right where an ophthalmologist lives who wanted to talk about how single-payer health care would help his business. Three doors down was a woman who used to work for the Department of Children and Families and had a lot to say about reforms she would like to see passed. Across from her house, there was a woman who was really excited about someone canvassing her house, so much so that she asked to sign up for the newsletter immediately. She had recently moved to Northampton from New York and wanted to talk about what issues were important to people here compared to her previous district. That’s the hidden secret of canvassing: While you are working hard to make sure voters see your humanity, you see theirs as well. 

I cried at a lot of doors this summer. Sometimes, it was because the person who had opened the door needed to talk to someone. One extremely kind man, after listening to my spiel, said, “Yes, I was planning on voting for you.” Then he paused before he continued on to tell me about his wife who had passed away, how much he had loved her, and how hard it had been to watch her get sick with cancer. At another door, a woman wanted to talk about immigration, sharing her concerns and fears for her family. It is impossible not to cry with someone when they are sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with a stranger. Those tears are both out of empathy and frustration that the unjustness of the world is not just something on the nightly news. It impacts our neighbors right here in our towns. 

Early on, I promised myself that I would knock on doors every single day of the campaign, and while I did miss a handful of days due to other commitments, for the most part, I was out every day. That meant I was able to knock on thousands of doors over six months and, with my team, we managed to knock on more than 14,000 doors. Now that the campaign season is over, that is one of the things I miss most. Canvassing is addictive — because human contact is addictive. There is no better way to find out what matters to your community than by showing up at their front door to ask and listen. 

As I transition from candidate to elected, the stories I heard at doors are the stories I bring with me. I have already shared them at the State House. When I sat down with Speaker Robert DeLeo, I backed up every issue I brought up to him with the stories I had heard while canvassing. That’s important because my job is to bring our district’s voices to Beacon Hill. There is no better way to do that than to convey the lived experiences of the people here.  

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the Representative Elect for the 1st Hampshire District: Northampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hatfield and Montgomery. This is the debut of her regular column, which will run the third Friday of every month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.




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