Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same. Today’s interview is the 45th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Becky Bond, who was a senior adviser on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Since the election of Trump she has taken part in many resistance efforts, including co-founding a group called KnockEveryDoor.
Sarah Jaffe: I want to talk about KnockEveryDoor. Tell us how that got started. Where did the idea come from and how did you end up putting it together?
Becky Bond: Like a lot of people that have been involved in organizing after the election of Trump, everyone I knew and people that I didn’t know, would come up to me and say, “What do we do now? What should I do?”
It was kind of an amazing moment in part because everybody wanted to do something … it wasn’t just that they wanted to know where to give a donation or how to make a phone call, but they wanted to do things that were in-person where they lived. They wanted to be with other people, and they wanted to be active together in person, which was an amazing impulse. I, personally, felt that, too. I wanted to be with other people and I wanted to be engaged in work that was going to be part of the solution.
One of the things I would tell people was that surely one of the next things that was going to happen was that we were going to start talking to the voters who had supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and who flipped to support Trump in 2016, as well as with the people who voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, but didn’t vote in 2016. Understanding what happened with those voters is going to be key in how we were going to make things be different next time. We have got to get out there and knock on doors and talk to people, and we have got to phone bank these people and start the conversation.
I actually just really thought that most organizations that were involved in elections were going to basically start the work for the next cycle then because so many people were ready. They were like, “Let’s go! Let’s go canvas.” And then nobody asked them to do that. Nobody asked me to do that…. Somehow, we lost this feedback loop between voters and the people who were running campaigns. If you had actually gone out and talked to people, like we did on the Bernie Sanders campaign across the country, you knew that people were really angry and hurting…. [Democrats] were talking about the amazing advances of Obamacare, which did solve problems for a lot of people, but I would talk to people again and again across the country who said, “I am forced to pay expensive premiums that I can’t afford and my deductible is so high that I can’t go to the doctor when I am sick.”
There was a dissonance between the voters and the messages that were coming out of the Democrats. There was this disconnect. There were a lot of people that were ready to go out and start having the conversations and to listen and try and forge the connections that we need and the civil dialogue that we need to get out of this hole. When that opportunity wasn’t offered, there were some other organizers that were feeling the same as I was and we all got together, kind of as volunteers, and we said, “Well, what if we could just help people go out and go canvassing? Why do we need a professional organization to run these canvasses and to invite people to do it?” We learned a lot on the Bernie Sanders campaign about how to use very cheap or free consumer software to help volunteers actually run their own voter contact operations.
So that is when we decided that we would set an all-volunteer run (pretty much) campaign up that we called KnockEveryDoor. That was a series of conference calls and Google Docs and data entry teams and text message turnout teams and sort of bringing people together where they lived to go out and talk to voters.
It has been a few months now that this has been going on. How is it going? How many doors have been knocked? Where are people doing the door-knocking?
It is amazing. Volunteers are running canvases in 37 states right now and they’ve knocked on tens of thousands of doors, and they have had thousands of amazing conversations. And a lot of it is listening…. [The volunteers] believe that we need to break out of filter bubbles and go talk to people that may not agree with us to try and understand, “What are the problems that they are facing? What are their hopes and fears for the future?” Then, how do we engage with them about our hopes and fears, especially if they are different? … It is a really amazing personal experience for them to actually go out and relearn talking to people that are different than we are and sharing experiences. It has opened their eyes to the world in a certain way and it is creating a sense of connection that they [were] missing.
What kinds of things are people learning by door-knocking?
I think the thing that we are learning at the doors is that people actually want to talk. We worked with some political scientists to try and write scripts that would be most effective at the door that would also tap into a new kind of research about canvassing that suggests that … “deep canvassing” is actually the most impactful in terms of persuading people and having that persuasion be durable over time. We ask people at the end of the survey, “Would you like to have someone come back and talk to you about this again?” Overwhelmingly, people say “Yes,” they would.
There is this myth that people don’t like to be bothered, that the voters don’t like to be bothered, that we are bothering them by going in and having conversations. One of the most amazing things that we are learning is that actually people do want to have these conversations with their fellow citizens about what is at stake, and people really want to feel like they are listened to — not just delivering a script and trying to tell somebody what they should think.
Where does the information go? Where do the conversations lead?
When you go to the doors with your fellow volunteers, you pre-print out these forms where you can record the answers and what people say at the door. It is a combination of verbatims and picking on a scale of 1 to 10 “How do you feel about X or Y?” What they do after a canvass is there are these free apps you can put on your phone, and they turn the forms that they fill out into PDFs right there with their phone. Then, they email those forms in. Then, we have a team of a volunteers who actually enter the data into the database.
Right now, the data I think just goes into an air table just like on Google Sheets where we are tracking these responses. Then, we also send the Google spreadsheet back to the canvass organizer to give them that data back, because a lot of people … have a small local group that is actually running a campaign…. If enough people get involved, it will get large enough to be useful, at which point, what we say is that we are open to sharing the information with campaigns that are fighting for racial and economic justice. But, for now, we are just keeping information and putting it back in the hands of the people that are organizing on the ground.
It has been really interesting to me to see all of these new organizations or formations like KnockEveryDoor. There are a whole bunch of other things where it seems like you are doing basically what political parties in countries that have functional political parties would be doing. Especially in this vacuum of the Democratic Party not wanting to do some of these things, how do you feel about how all these different formations come together and what they’re building toward?
I think, in some ways, what we are seeing is that people are just way out in front of the politicians and party leaders. With KnockEveryDoor, one of the things that we wanted to do was make a bold statement saying that this was really important and we need to show that volunteers actually really wanted to do it and to show that the voters at the doors actually want to be a part of the conversation. When we started this, there was no chair of the DNC [Democratic National Committee], and now we have people at the DNC talking very passionately about the need to go out, especially in an off year, and knock on every door.
We have created a demand to knock every door, and we are seeing the party start to talk about it. I think that is progress…. There are a lot of people that work at state parties who [have reached out to us], especially in red states where there are counties where they don’t have staff on the ground because they just don’t have enough Democratic voters there. For them, this has been this great tool, this great platform where they can say, “I am going to run. I want help to run a KnockEveryDoor canvass in these counties in my state where we don’t have party staff.”
We already have ActBlue, which really revolutionized how people can raise small-dollar donations to candidates without ever having to talk to staff or having to rely on a group like the DNC or the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] to promote a candidate. We thought, in the same way, what if people could contribute small amounts of doors knocked to a larger strategy and create a platform that would let anybody plug into it? … We are turning people on to canvassing, and once people start going door to door and talking to people, it is pretty addictive…. [Future campaign leaders] are going to find these volunteers who have been doing KnockEveryDoor canvasses, they are going to be ready to come and be their top volunteers and start canvassing for that candidate for that campaign.
This obviously comes out of your work on the Sanders campaign and the willingness to trust people to go run their own canvass, to do things largely without asking for permission. The tough question will be: How do you decide who is part of the movement and who isn’t?
The folks behind KnockEveryDoor are working on a lot of things as part of the resistance. This is a certain platform that we thought could be important to all sorts of things that are going on. For example, a lot of the Swing Left chapters and Indivisible chapters are running KnockEveryDoor canvasses. They have a program, we have a platform to help people with resources to get trained and tools to use and data entry ability and the conference calls where people can debrief together and support each other. In this work, we have really said this platform is going to be used by anyone who supports racial and economic justice. But in our other work we are more specifically ideological.
There is a real divide in the party right now and all these calls for unity within the Democratic Party, I think they kind of get it wrong. I think what we actually have [are] groups of people that believe different things. I think we have factions or formations, and the people we generally refer to as the neoliberals, they want to have a few more winners and a few less losers, but they want to keep the current economic system basically the way it is. Then, there are other people that think that financialized capitalism is a huge contributor to gross economic and racial injustice and that we have to take on capitalism and structural racism at the same time. That is incompatible with a party that represents big money and elites in this country.
In our other work, we are working on racial justice campaigns. We are working to elect district attorneys who are going to end mass incarceration. We are looking at other municipal and county campaigns where we can stop pipelines and protect voting rights, supervise elections and that kind of stuff. I think that it is important to be clear about what you believe in and to be working for specific solutions, but also, I think it is sort of the tax on all of us, or maybe a tithe, that we all need to contribute to creating practices and infrastructure for everyone that is going to lift all boats.
I suppose part of the goal of this is to bring some feedback back to candidates that should shape what their policy decisions end up being, right?
Yes, I think that is right…. There are a lot of things to take away from the 2016 presidential election. One of the things to take away was how absolutely dangerous [the Clinton campaign’s strategy was of] going for 50 percent of the vote plus one. There should have been a wide margin between the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign going into election day. Had there been that wide margin, then the Comey revelations and the other things, they could have gotten it down some, but it wouldn’t have been so catastrophic.
The big data strategy [adopted by the Clinton campaign] is where essentially you hire a bunch of data consultants to run a bunch of models to find out “What is the smallest number of people you can talk to and win? Who are those people and what do they care about?”
We need to talk to everybody. When you talk to a small group of people, they may not reflect back what the campaign needs to hear…. I think that campaigns need to hear from the majority of the people how policies are affecting their lives. Then, that could really change what politicians decide to talk about and fight for.
One of the things that I really learned from talking to people across the country is that the people that are not participating in elections, the so-called “low information voters” [are not] ignorant people at all. In fact, time and time again, when I talk to them I come away feeling like they have a very sophisticated political analysis and they are choosing not to participate in politics. Not because they don’t know, but because their liberation is not on the ballot, or they don’t see how voting is actually going to materially change anything in their lives. I think that reestablishing the feedback loop of talking [to] voters is doing an important thing. That the concerns from the people that are not participating can also be something that politicians take into account, not just the narrow slice of voters who they think will put them over the top.
We are having this conversation shortly before the People’s Summit, which is going to be the second year in a row of this post-Bernie campaign gathering. You are going to be talking. What are you looking forward to about it?
I am really excited about the People’s Summit in Chicago…. There is going to be a panel about “big organizing” after Bernie. Big organizing is this idea of campaigning behind big ideas that are really going to change things and getting as many people involved as possible in making change.
And then also, I am really excited to be there because this is an explicit gathering of the left activists who are fighting both fascism and neoliberalism and are involved in a project of political education so that we know not just which races we need to win and not just who we are supporting, but, “What is it that we are actually for and why?” and “How is what’s going on right now and is that caused by the deeper issues that are going on in politics?” … I think we will look back on the People’s Summit in 2017 possibly as a real turning point for the Democratic Party and for the American left at a really dire moment when big change is needed and the country could go in two very different directions.
How can people keep up with you and sign up to knock every door?
Go to KnockEveryDoor.org. If you sign up at KnockEveryDoor.org, you will get a text message from a volunteer inviting you to be on a conference call where you can talk to people about how you can get started going door-to-door in your community. It is not just about getting some information, it is not just a software site, it is really a community of volunteers that are supporting each other to do this work, and we would love to have as many people come and join us as available.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.