My local petitioning report

Written/Posted by Kimberly Wilder:

Petitioning Notes

Wanted to share some of my experiences (funny, profound, and other) petitioning this week for the Cynthia McKinney/Rosa Clemente Green Party Presidential Ticket. The notes include two different kinds of volunteer work: Collecting signatures from the general public at supermarkets for a candidate nominating petition, and collecting signatures from fellow Green Party members door-to-door.

See more about the bunny in Part Two of the read more...

See more about the bunny in Part Two of the read more...

In our state, in order to get on the statewide committee for the Green Party, and be a representative for you region, you have to gather a certain percentage of signatures from other, enrolled Green Party members. It is a somewhat tedious task, because you use the list from the county Board of Elections, and knock on doors trying to find people home. The Board of Elections can’t keep up with everyone’s life, so often the people have moved away.

Since more people and more Greens reading this probably deal with the general public aspect the most, I will start with my supermarket experiences.

Part One
The supermarket: Collecting signatures from the general public

In the suburbs, it is difficult to find places that people congregate that are not private property. Malls are specifically considered private property, ie: non-Free Speech Zones. And, malls have security. So, we expect we would get kicked out of there fast. The Greens in New York City can usually petition at subway hubs, which is a great place to find lots of people. But, in Long Island, the trains come and go only on the half hour or hour, and there is not as much foot traffic. We have found that the best places to petition here in Long Island are at music festivals, cultural events, demonstrations, or supermarkets.

Most supermarkets have an unwritten agreement that people can petition for a candidate outside. Sometimes, a manager will try to make you move on, and if you are polite and invoke democracy, you can sometimes stay. But, like the mall, it is private property.

Here are some of the interactions I had outside local supermarkets last week. I realize that a lot of my descriptions include thinking of people in terms of race. I think that is because I am white, the candidates I am petitioning for are people of color, and also, in Long Island, people’s perceived “race” sometimes fits into the (sometimes tragic) comedy of manners that is suburban living.

Sometimes, I try to form opinions about categories of people and take statistics as I petition. I actually figured out with one campaign (for a Congressional candidate several years ago), that if I saw a person with a tattoo walk by, and pointed out that our then candidate drove a Harley Davidson, I could often get that person to sign.

For this campaign, I had assumed that most African Americans would see Cynthia McKinney as a hero, the way that I do. After all, Cynthia McKinney was a Democratic Congresswoman (now Green Party), who was very progressive. I discovered that it was difficult to predict what black people would think about this black, woman candidate. Some black people knew Cynthia McKinney, and that meant they loved her. Some black people knew (or thought they knew) Cynthia McKinney and they did not want to sign for her.

Statistics: Usually, I am able to get about 10 signatures an hour. 20 signatures an hour if I am the candidate, or with the actual candidate. The first day I petitioned for McKinney/Clemente, from 6pm to 7pm, I got about 23 signatures in one hour.

Two black woman, who I am guessing were friends that went shopping together, came by my post at the exit door. One woman said no, but the other woman, asked who Cynthia McKinney was. I flashed her the flier with photos I have on the back of my clipboard and she scanned it and agreed to sign. I kind of assumed it was because she saw the candidate was a black woman. As she was signing, her friend teased her and said, “What are you signing that for? You don’t even know who she is or anything about her.” The lady who was signing waived the photo to her and said, “Look, she’s got cute braids.” Her friend said that it was silly to sign for someone because they had cute braids.

I was mostly just glad I got one signature. But, I also thought that it was funny that two friends thought so differently. I also think that the woman who signed was more honest. The reason that we signature gatherers have the photos on the back of the clipboard is that a lot of the time, human beings formulate their impression of someone by appearance, and having candidate photos is one of the number one ways to build trust and answer the concern, “I don’t even know who that is, who is she?” (If you notice, candidates, massage therapists, realtors, and everyone in the service industry knows the power of having a really good portrait of them on every hand-out and advertisement. It wins people over and helps build trust.)

Another anecdote: While petitioning for Cynthia and Rosa–these two, proud women of color–a white woman not only signed, but cajoled her husband who had first said “no” into signing. As she walks across the parking lot to leave, she shouts back over her shoulder: “Us women have to stick together.”

A black man seemed interested in what I was doing and walked up to me to hear my spiel. Then, he said, not with much sadness, but slowly and deliberately “I can’t vote. I’m a prisoner.” I suddenly felt very real about my progressive politics. I told him that the Green Party believes that prisoners should have the right to vote, and that Cynthia McKinney in particular would support him.

When I am in petitioning mode, I am usually very focused on the project, and ignore people once I realize they won’t sign. But, in this case, I was very happy to give him a flier and tell him about Cynthia McKinney and her ideas.

Something I realized with that experience was also that I care differently about Cynthia McKinney, her message, and her work in the world, than I have about a lot of other candidates. Usually, I am focused on the task and the electoral aspect of what I am doing. Usually, if someone is not interested, I move on to the next person. With Cynthia McKinney, it seemed important to me to let people know who this wonderful, woman leader is. I realized that Cynthia McKinney’s story of having served in Congress, and having been outspoken on issues that caused her to receive flak, made her an important figure inside or outside politics. Since Cynthia works on issues like acknowledging Hurricane Katrina victims, getting answers about 9-11, prosecuting government officials for war crimes, and making sure every person’s vote is counted, if people did not want to sign for her, I still wanted them to learn about her as a historical figure and a woman on a mission.

I actually started to use as one of my call-outs to people: “Would you help me get my hero on the ballot?”

Another man, signed, and when I said the usual “thank you”, he said, “No problem, I want to help you, and her. I heard of her.”

A man, who I feel was somewhat odd–having noted how many times he went in and out of the supermarket, and other experiences from the day–gave me the most interesting answers. He thought he was being very clever, and when I asked him to sign for Cynthia McKinney for President, he said, “I can’t sign for her. She’s my competition. I am running for President. I just filled out the papers today.” He continued, “I have a suggestion for her, she should put it on Craig’s List. That’s what I did.”

The other thing about doing this kind of grassroots work is, even though I live in a huge county, and in a town of 100,000 registered voters, there is something about politics that whenever you apply yourself to it, interesting things happen. Usually more work or excitement happens than you planned on. I picked the supermarket I was at just because it has high traffic, and is in a neighborhood with a nice mix of people. Yet in the short amount of time I was there, I saw two of my political buddies. One woman I met there was a very Democratic friend of the family, who had, in years past, been outspoken about trees and the environment at Town Hall meetings. She gave a lot of apologies for not signing. But, I didn’t mind, I know she is very entrenched in the social circle of the Democrats. (But, I did hand her a Cynthia McKinney/Rosa Clemente flier, just in case…)

Then, a man stopped by who is one of the handful of local enrolled Green Party members. So, I got “Brownie Points” from a fellow Green for doing some gruntwork. And, I think it guilted him a bit into helping out more. Even though my husband had been at his house a few days before, this local green asked for a few more pages of signatures and to clarify instructions on who could sign. (Hurrah!)

Part Two:
The other kind of petition work: Approaching strangers’ houses

(at least you know they are people who took the time to register “Green Party”):

Yesterday, while doing the slow petitioning, door-to-door for our State Committee seat, I saw lots of bunnies. I had decided to go to a rich part of Long Island, the North Shore over by the University. First, I saw bunnies on the lawns of the huge houses I was driving by. One bunny had no fear. It stood there determinedly chowing down as I walked out from my car, walked down the road, came back to my car and it was still there. I thought that it was a phenomena of rich people’s land by the water. But, on the drive home, I saw a set of two bunnies on the median of Southern State Parkway in one spot, and then another one a few miles ahead on the same parkway. When I got back home, Ian reported seeing a bunny, too, even though he was petitioning in a totally different town.

So, we decided that it is “Rabbit Season” in Long Island. It might be a great time to go hunting for wabbits (of course, greens only photograph them), but not so easy hunting for signatures. When doing this kind of petitioning, the results are very mixed, but always slow going. Ian often goes out for about 2 or 3 hours after work. He has been getting between 0 and 5 signatures each night. Mostly, I would say between 1 and 3 signatures a night. Last Sunday, I went out for about 5 hours, went to over 20 houses, and got no signatures. I was extremely discouraged. Thank goodness, on Monday, I went out for 2 hours and got 3 signatures.

When someone comes to the door, I usually say, “I am Kimberly with the Greens.” I think that saying Greens instead of Green Party sounds more friendly, like a club. Sometimes the person you are talking to is not your Green, and they don’t know what is going on.

Almost all the time that we take the energy to go to the door, if we find someone, they will usually sign for us. That means signing the petition that allows us to be the representative to the state. Then, we offer them the Cynthia McKinney/Rosa Clemente petition.

Unfortunately, we did find this time that some people were already “sold” on Obama for President. For some of the Obama supporters, they would not sign for McKinney/Clemente. But, even with some of those enrolled Greens who were for Obama, when we pointed out that our candidate just needed a chance to be on the ballot, about half of them signed for us, anyway.

One day when I was really low on signatures, I walked up to a house where there were 3 vehicles, and two young men putting paintings in a car. Turns out that the one young man was moving, right then, and if I had come 5 minutes later, I would never have gotten his signature! It was very interesting to share a moment of serendipity and adventure with someone like that. As I was leaving, him and his friend started shouting out, in a seeking and mischievous way, “Legalisation! Legalisation!”, meaning of marijuana. I actually stopped and told them about a local gathering where that was on the agenda. But, as might be expected, they were too busy with the move to attend.

Another time, I went to the door in a poorer neighborhood. It was a pleasant, August evening, and people were on the porch. The homeowners were Latino, African-American, and South Asian. They were small houses, with small yards. And, the streets were kind of crumbly. When I went up to the door of one house and asked for the man registered there, someone asked me very strongly who I was. I said that I was with the Greens and I wanted him to sign something. The mother said, “Oh, I really thought you were the police.” From that lesson, I learned to be very friendly, and not dress too professionally if I go to a poorer neighborhood. I did have many more doors open the next day when I wore just white jeans and a t-shirt.

Also, because politics is such an interesting and intriguing subject, experiences often happen that reveal useful, behind-the-scenes information. A famous incident of ours, from several years back, is that we walked up to a house where people were on the porch. When we asked to speak to the young woman on our list, she had no idea what we were talking about. She did not know what a Green Party was. Her brother came up to us, and he thought about it and said, “Oh, that must have something to do with Uncle X.” Uncle X was then a Democrat Suffolk Legislator. Best we can figure, he signed up an unsuspecting relative to keep an eye on us, or have the right to challenge our petitions if needed. But, an even better one happened this time…

I went up to a beautiful home in a neighborhood just on the border of a historic district. I knocked on the door, and was a little nervous because some dogs were barking. As I turned around, a car was pulling up in the driveway. I recognized the woman driving the car. It was a local County Legislator, who is somewhat progressive, who has been associated with the Green Party. She said she recognized me. I said “Hello” and her name, and introduced myself. I don’t know if she remembered me (we have met once or twice, at events she spoke at). Though, she was interested in discussing the Green Party. And, as I left, she threw us a compliment, and pointed out that she admired the position of “peace” one of our former Green Party Congressional candidates (Lorna Salzman) had taken in a debate. Though, before we got to that, I asked her if the man on my list lived there. She said yes. It was her son. But, she was pretty sure that he was for Obama, as she was. I did not push it. It was all interesting enough to feel like a complete piece of adventure. The Legislator offered me something to drink and to come inside. I kind of wish I had said yes, but it seemed kind of rude to impose, unexpectedly in the middle of her day.

I have many more stories of petitioning. The best ones are when someone is happy to finally here from the Greens. Or, when you don’t find the Green, but one of their relatives gets interested in your project. I think I will write up one more round in the next few weeks. But, for now, have to catch up on e-mails, and think about actually going out and petitioning some more in the next few days.

3 Responses

  1. That was a nice slice. Thanks for sharing your experiences. We deal with a lot of reactions related to our doc “Seriously Green” as well, ranging from enthusiasm, to disbelief to outright outrage. It always catches us off guard that people don’t want to understand a little bit about the very party they blame entirely for Bush’s reign, or in the case or Republicans, sneer at ruthfully. It doesn’t deter us, it just makes us more curious about human nature.

    I’m gonna post a link to your article.


  2. Good Blog!
    I like Harley Davidson too.
    It is classic motorcycle.

  3. […] good measure: While I am posting petition adventure photos, in case you don’t go back to the local petitioning report, which I revised, wanted to repost the bunny Ian spotted while out petitioning a few weeks ago (or […]

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