Early in the summer, I worked as a canvasser for the first phase of Planned Parenthood’s campaign Michigan Women Are Watching. It’s a political undertaking, leading up to the 2014 election season, to alert female voters of legislation attempting to restrict reproductive rights.
I hiked around Washtenaw County for three weeks—walking door to door across Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, and Ann Arbor to knock and talk to registered voters about a piece of legislation their speaker of the house, Jase Bolger, recently passed.
The law, which took effect on May 12, 2014, prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion services, even in the cases of rape or incest. It’s called the Rape Insurance law because women have to buy separate add-ons, or riders, for their insurance plans ahead of time—basically, financially plan for a potential rape.
It’s a villainous attack on women’s reproductive health care, and it’s another backwards step for Michigan’s legislature.
Michigan needs the Women are Watching campaign, and Planned Parenthood stepped it up and was successful in phase one.
As canvassers on the campaign, we targeted registered female voters who have shown they tend to lean to the left. In a few minutes at each front porch, we informed voters of the legislation and urged them to make their representatives aware they are upset by this law—call their representative, call Jase Bolger, send an email, or volunteer with Planned Parenthood on the campaign. We recorded the results from each conversation on each doorstep using an app called Minivan and uploaded the data to combine the team’s work at the end of each day.
Canvassing was just one part of the campaign. Planned Parenthood also sent out mail pieces, used robocalls, and a commercial to reach voters.
On June 28, the first phase was completed. Here are some numbers—
Between April 1 and June 28 we have:
Sent 75, 372 pieces of mail
Run our Jenni Ad 1,330 times on television
Knocked on 49,509 doors
Dialed 183,770 numbers
Contacted 73,406 voters directly
Identified 13,921 new supporters
Identified 1,523 new volunteer prospects
Collected 1,493 new emails
Garnered 4,938 new followers on Facebook
Generated 435 calls into target legislators offices
In the words of Gloria Steinem, Planned Parenthood is the most trusted organization. This campaign’s message is resonating with voters—it shows in the numbers and the reception we report from our face-time at doors.
Working on this campaign was an intense experience. I certainly learned a lot—from the conversations I had or didn’t have at doors, and also from walking so many miles every day and having plenty of time to reflect. Here are a few things I’d like to share.
1. I’ve learned ageism is one of those “isms” we can’t forget about.
Ageism is more important and pervasive than I thought.
I found that I assume and judge people’s beliefs based on their age, and that people do the same of me.
Many times I knocked on a door to be faced with a woman of silver-shaded hair and was surprised when she praised my efforts on the campaign or when she threw her arms above her head with jazz fingers spread and exclaimed, “Woohoo! Go Planned Parenthood! Go safe sex!”
Political matters concerning reproductive rights are not generationally divided like I supposed.
I also met plenty of lackadaisical young people who opened the front door reluctantly and muttered something along the lines of “I don’t follow politics” or “I don’t vote” (This feels like a punch in the face—but I’ll expand more later).
I experienced alternate ageist reactions, too. I can’t count the number of times I met someone at the door who was much older than me and told me that I’ll mature and my beliefs will change.
I was at a door in Dexter having an enjoyable, well-natured Ping-Pong-style conversation with an older female supporter, who, as she thanked me for my efforts said, “You’re too young to understand, but it’s very important work.”
It was an odd backhanded compliment and I was really hurt by it.
Why would I be out walking miles through subdivisions across the state in 80-degree sticky Michigan June weather all day every day if I didn’t understand it was important work? Why would I be out there if I didn’t want to change things? These harmful laws affect me, too. I’m young, yes, but reproductive rights apply to everyone at every age. We’re all tied to this cause. So you’re welcome.
- I learned that people often think they’re too busy to be politically active, or even to vote.
How to respond to this? Bullshit (I say this more politely of course).
It only takes a little effort to read or ask what’s going on in your community, state, and country. A vote is an action that signifies you care about your choices. It bothers me when people reply that they don’t vote because their vote doesn’t matter (because this is also bullshit).
Your vote matters.
All the women in the house put your hands up.
Women have a vote—a right we didn’t have until 1920—so we should exercise that power every opportunity we get. I think of all the women who busted their asses so my voice, my mother’s voice, and my sisters’ voices count in our democracy and I will never take my vote for granted. Voting is powerful.
- I learned that those beautiful Planned Parenthood supporters are very diverse.
We met supporters from a range of socio-economic classes. The supporters we met were racially diverse. We met female and male supporters and there were young and old supporters.
- I also learned that Planned Parenthood supporters are enthusiastic and gracious and very dedicated to its cause and message.
I had so many people thank me and applaud our work on the Women Are Watching campaign. It felt really good.
There was even one man who ran into his house to grab his camera to take a photo of our team in our pink “Women Are Watching” shirts because he was so excited we were canvassing in his neighborhood.
This encouragement and love kept me going throughout the days.
Planned Parenthood has supporters everywhere. They’re loud and loving and they’re strong. I’m proud to be tied to this organization.