Conversations with a Canvasser
By Diana Wear
Diana Wear and City Council candidate for D4 Jamin Pursell getting ready to canvass.
People often ask me why I'm such an avid canvasser. I’ve been an RPA member for seven years, and each year I get new enthusiasm for walking Richmond's streets and speaking with our community. In fact, at the end of each campaign season, I’ve mentioned to our strategy teams that we ought to do this year-round and not just during campaigns.
The organizers have often smiled at that idea, haggard from the tremendous hours of scheduling, planning, recruiting, publicizing, and arranging all the on-the-ground efforts during the campaign. They just want to rest and recuperate. I get it—it’s a huge endeavor.
So, what is it about canvassing that I find so compelling?
Volunteers pose before a District 6 canvass hosted by Council member Claudia Jiménez early in the 2022 campaign season.
As a canvasser, I have the easy part. I show up, hear some pretty inspiring words from the candidates, then walk voting precincts with another canvasser (who, more often than not, is a pretty interesting person). In the two or three hours we hit the streets, we encounter loads of Richmond residents. Here, too, I get to meet awesome people from all walks of life, political leanings, and attitudes about what our city needs. Some folks are stunned just to have someone come to their door and ask how they feel about Richmond. Others are very eager to talk about what they think needs attention.
This year, I’ve been walking in District 4 with Jamin Pursell for City Council. We started canvassing back in late February, when I committed to a regular Monday shift from the end of March through present. Jamin is amazingly attentive and open as some folks have poured their hearts out about their frustrations and hopes. A common concern we hear is about speeding cars and donuts. He would respond that we have some engineering solutions that don’t require the police, who often respond after the fact anyway.
His compassion for their frustration is palpable, and I've been impressed by the depth of conversation Jamin and residents have about this issue. This dialogue often leads to how we need to think more broadly about achieving safety in our city by mentioning the successes of YouthWorks, attending to the needs of the unhoused, the Office of Neighborhood Safety’s gun prevention and violence intervention achievements, as well as our need to address mental health crises in ways that don’t start with an armed officer coming to the door.
We also bring up fire safety, since that is a really vital concern in his district, as well as the environment, Point Molate, and the like. One time we met a Republican who, at first, wasn't completely keen on Jamin’s association with the RPA. But when she learned of his position on Point Molate, she became a supporter. Such verbal victories are not usually spoken right away, but we plug at it house after house, week after week.
Volunteers gather for a canvassing training, hosted by Jamin Pursell and AC Transit Director Jovanka Beckles.
When we canvassed for Doria Robinson last week in District 3, she was adamant that we were not to speak ill of the other people running against her. She said they live in this district too, and they have their own valuable stories, friends, and supporters worth honoring. But she added, “We have different values. Look at what they have stood for, who has supported them in the past, and what they stand for.” Doria is confident and steadfast about what she’s done with Urban Tilth—the hundreds of young people she has hired and trained over the years, the service to the city of Richmond, the relationships she has garnered in our city government, and the respect she has from so many.
When Ana and I canvassed in District 3, we saw some of the poorest residents of our city and we had some beautiful, moving conversations that touched my soul. I was glad, too, that Ana is fluent in Spanish—we needed her translation at many homes. To nearly all of these residents, we also handed out information about Measure P and explained why it’s an important protection for renters.
Walking with Eduardo for Mayor is another treat. We canvassed some months ago in his own neighborhood. I chose Wednesday afternoons for my shift, since all those wonderful DSA folks show up for the Saturday canvass outings followed by parties. My preference is the simpler, during-the-week canvass. Many of the people who answered the door were working at home, so didn’t want long chats, but they were often friendly, expressing that they enjoy their neighborhood and think Richmond is moving in a good direction.
Trash is an issue for some—“Why do they feel they can just dump trash in our fine neighborhood?” they would ask. Eduardo would empathize and explain he has a plan for that. For those who didn’t know Eduardo, we’d stress how he wants full city staffing and fiscal responsibility (an underemphasized hallmark of progressive city council members), better public safety for everyone in the city, and of course, his strong record on the environment, Point Molate, AstraZeneca, making Chevron pay their fair share and clean up, too.
October is our final push, whether canvassing in person, phone banking, distributing signs, or sending out print material. I will do as I have done these past months, only now a little more. I also hope we will harness some lessons of this canvassing season. Our Richmond residents are awesome, diverse, caring, and interesting. I have been truly moved by so many of them, and I plan to continue canvassing once our RPA candidates take office in 2023. I hope you’ll join me.