Lucía Dreissen, a 19-year-old who grew up in Forest Hills, voted for the first time in the 2020 election. And then she traveled to Georgia with her father Karl to canvass for the Democrats running in the Senate runoff.
They took two road trips down to Athens, Georgia – one in December and the other in January right before the special election. There they knocked on doors and made phone calls to get out the vote.
In this email interview with Margery Elfin, Dreissen described her motivations, her experiences, and what she learned.
Margery Elfin: Tell a little about yourself, e.g. where you grew up. when you became an American citizen, the first election in which you voted, whether you have a strong interest in politics.
Lucía Dreissen: I grew up in DC, and since graduating from high school in 2019, everyone around me seems to be volunteering for some political cause or other, and I wanted to get involved. I voted for the first time this November, so it’s been very recent that I’ve even been actively participating in politics at all. I’ve been involved in marches for gun control and women’s empowerment, and protests against police violence, but this is the first time I’ve worked with a campaign. I applied for a volunteer fellowship with the Georgia Democratic Party.
ME: What captured your interest in this particular election?
LD: The Senate control was in the balance: We knew if [Raphael] Warnock and [Jon] Ossoff won, the VP [Kamala Harris] would cast the deciding vote, which would be a major boost for the Biden agenda. Both Democratic candidates were strong.
Run-offs do historically have much lower participation rates and Georgia does have a voting turnout problem, so helping in this campaign seemed like a worthwhile effort given the stakes in this case could not be higher.
One big reason we came out to canvass – knocking on doors to get the vote out – is because in November, the Republicans had canvassed door-to-door despite the pandemic while Democrats had not. We all realized canvassing now might be the difference needed to win. Of course the Georgia Democrats door-knocking strategy was covid-appropriate: We had our temperature and symptoms checked before starting our day, and made sure to always social distance and wear masks when canvassing.
ME: What were your expectations?
LD: We signed up for canvassing without ever having gone before. We thought perhaps people would not realize there was a runoff, but given blanket media coverage, that was not the case. We thought it would be difficult to become adept at personalizing our door-knocking script. This is the one I crafted:
“Hi, I’m Lucía with the Georgia Democrats, is (name on list) available? I’m coming by to make sure we have your support for Warnock and Ossoff in the upcoming runoff election…. Great! When do you plan on voting?”
We would encourage them to vote early in person or by mail, and answer any questions they had. If they said they didn’t support Warnock and Ossoff, we thanked them and left.
After the first shift it became second nature. Canvassing is definitely an intense task, with long walks and more social interactions with strangers than we were used to in a pandemic.
We also thought we would be the only group canvassing, but actually different groups did (even just for Democrats). Different organizations cannot share information on where they have canvassed, so there were many duplicate areas. Some voters stated we were the fourth canvassers to knock. Understandably, some voters were getting a bit irritated.
We also expected more undecided voters and discussions about issues of concern. Turns out that when you knock on someone’s door and someone opens (maybe in 20% of the cases), they just want to close the door. Also, we expected to have to argue a lot more, but the Georgia Democratic Party strategized to focus on registered Democrat/independent turnout in this election, so most people were excited to vote Warnock and Ossoff.
We were surprised to see that Georgia (at least Athens) is quite diverse; there was a large Hispanic community and we frequently had to translate the canvassing script into Spanish on the fly. Both my father and I speak Spanish fluently.
I made hundreds of calls a day after canvassing, up to minutes before polls closed on January 5. The biggest difference between calling as a fellow vs as a regular volunteer is I often recruited canvassing volunteers instead of just reminding people to vote.
ME: What, if anything, did you learn about voters and the act of voting?
LD: When canvassing or phone banking, we aim to firm up a prospective voter’s plan to vote: where, how and when. While canvassing, we always recommended early voting because it allowed for more flexibility. Most people seemed to understand why the election was important, and many thanked us for our volunteering. The neighborhoods we went to were extremely varied in terms of urban density, socioeconomic status, and racial makeup, but voters across Clarke County were very kind to us.
Surprisingly, a small portion of registered voters wanted nothing to do with the election, stating that they “don’t vote.” On some rare occasions, people would be so excited about our canvassing that they would cheer us on as we left.
Lots of people made their plan to vote on election day, despite Covid-safe options including early voting and mail-in. One memorable occasion is when we asked a man (who was clearly into sports) if he would be voting early and he said “No, I like to go on game day.” It showed us that voting is a ritual for many people.
And people were very proud of having voted, or of their voting plan.
ME: Would you like to say something about the father/daughter travel experience?
LD: Traveling together was certainly a nice experience. We would split driving the 10 hours to Athens in one day and listen to audiobooks on the highway. We are both very into food and discovered a lot of great take-out in Athens. Since I am at [Pomona] college most of the time, I don’t get many chances to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my dad and it’s always nice to hang out together. Also, it’s not often that we are working towards the exact same goal, and that was something special to have. Canvassing certainly involves a lot of teamwork. The second time we went to Georgia, we brought a family friend who helped us knock on doors too.
ME: Overall, would you say it was a good experience? Would you do it again?
LD: We would definitely do it again and recommend it to anyone who wants to be politically involved. In fact this gave me the experience to become a field organizer in future campaigns.
Knocking on doors seems really intimidating at first, but it’s not often that we get to face our fears and see our impact on communities (and U.S. politics as a whole). We went hardcore and volunteered all day for every day for the two times we were in town for five days. Canvassing was also great exercise! We did around 28,000 steps per day with 8 hours of door knocking!
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