In June, on a bright and cloudless Saturday morning in Alhambra, my friend and I pulled up to a small grassy wedge of a public park to help canvass for Planned Parenthood.

Our job, the organizer informed us, was easy: We would pass out leaflets to as many houses as possible, and if we came face to face with any residents, we would give some basic information about the services Planned Parenthood provides. Armed with pamphlets, water bottles and sunscreen, we set out to do something that feels increasingly archaic in today’s political environment: talk to strangers, face to face, on their own front porches. And about politics, no less.

Politics has gotten less personal, but that doesn’t mean that people have gotten less political. Social media allows us to interact politically without seeing each other’s faces. In some ways, this had made politics more vitriolic: we now can engage in ferocious debates with Twitter icons, launch ad hominem attacks on Facebook avatars and post meaner and nastier comments than we would probably ever have the guts to say to another person’s face.

While in some cases social media might amplify the distance between us, technology has also proven to be an incredibly powerful organizing tool: email blasts, Facebook groups and phone banking can reach many times more voters than door-to-door canvassing, and more and more political campaigns are using these techniques.

There’s something deeply personal about political canvassing. Walking through someone’s front yard, knocking on their door and asking people to stop what they’re doing to chat with you for a few minutes can feel awkward, uncomfortable and intrusive. Studies also show that it can be incredibly effective. A 2016 field experiment in Florida published in the journal Science found that engaging in a 10-minute conversation with a canvasser about transgender rights measurably reduced transphobia in voters for three months. So before you write off door-to-door canvassing as irrelevant in the age of social media, remember that face-to-face interactions are powerful. It’s much easier for two people to find common ground when they’re standing on the same front porch.

While canvassing, I found that it’s a lot harder to villainize a person when you’re looking them in the eyes. I started the day ready for a fight; I was prepared to take insults, rudeness and slammed doors. Ultimately, I was surprised by the civility of the people who refused to take a flier. One woman, who, after inquiring if Planned Parenthood offered abortions — it does — said, “Oh, I don’t support that, sweetie, but thank you and good luck with your day.” Most of my interactions were in a similar vein.

Of course, such civility doesn’t always happen. Two other volunteers said that as they distributed fliers one woman screamed at them, calling them baby killers and yelling “Shame!” after them long after they had left her block.

But for the vast majority of interactions this wasn’t the case. Face to face, it was harder for me to label these people as disgusting misogynists, and it was much harder for them to call me a Godless baby killer.

Door-to-door canvassing is far from some grand fix-all to hyper-partisanship in American politics. It’s understandably hard to employ canvassing as a wide-spread political tool in America’s nationalized political system that’s supposed to serve 300 million people. But we should recognize canvassing is ultimately a very individual act, with immense benefits to both the canvasser and the voter. Canvassing exercises a skill that is quickly becoming less and less developed: the ability to look someone in the  face and defend your position respectfully and diligently.

Also, the ability to take an insult.

Maggie Grether is a rising junior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena.

Original Article Here: