Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Learning More and More, Every Step Of the Campaign

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. - Ernest Hemingway

People who know me know that I enjoy conversation. I have a lot to say, and usually enjoy saying it. I'm teased, lovingly, by those familiar with my penchant for speaking.

But I'm also a person who learns by listening. I consider myself a good listener - it's what has helped me in my interviewing experiences - and last night, that skill was what I used - much to my benefit, and that of an important cause I support: the election of my Conservative Party candidate, Valérie Assouline. 

Last night, I went door-to-door in the neighborhood to make contact with voters on behalf of the campaign. I had done this before, and had the most fantastic time.

Last night, it was an entirely new experience - I was paired with David, the candidate's husband, and took many cues from him.

The first night I went, it was with her campaign manager. It was my first time, and I learned a lot about how to make that initial contact. This man taught me how to do something many people cannot do: knock on a door and talk to people about the one thing so many avoid, shun, or even recoil from: politics. It was invaluable as an introduction to the practice of door-to-door.

Last night was yet another experience - and I'm grateful to everyone who is giving me the opportunities I'm getting to be a productive member of this team.

Last night, as with the first time, I did some of the doors personally, but mostly, I watched David in action. And wow, I learned so much!

The point of doing door-to-door is to just get out the name, not the vote - yet. The most visible candidate is the one people remember - obviously - and this early in the campaign (3 months till the election on October 19th), not many other candidates are ringing doorbells.

In fact, Valérie is the most consistent door-to-door candidate - for many reasons but for an important one I will discuss in a moment.

It's about recognition; see, the hope - and if history is any proof, the fact - is that when posters go up, names begin to be said in advertisements and issues addressed, the candidate who knocked on thousands of doors is the one who has made the biggest impression.

After all, it takes quite a commitment of time, energy - and walking power! (wear supportive walking shoes!) - to walk the neighborhoods, knocking on doors, trying to talk to those who may be turned off by everything from the Party you represent to the fact that someone interrupted their Judge Judy by daring to ring the doorbell at the 15-minute mark of the show.

It takes a certain amount of strength to knock on someone's door, not knowing whether that person will deride your Party due to its leader or reputation, whether the person will be hostile or cold, or welcome you with a smile and express solidarity.

It isn't easy. It's a true lesson in learning how to deal with even momentary rejection. It's personally fulfilling, personally empowering, and personally fortifying.

I would recount every door - each was different, each had lessons for me that I will, I promise, parlay.

But one major point David made - which is now my new talking point (or one of them, anyway) - is that Valérie is the only candidate from this riding (district, for my American readers) who LIVES in the area.

The other 2 candidates - Liberal and NDP - live in other parts of the city. The Liberal candidate lives in another area at least 20 minutes from the neighborhood he represents. The NDP candidate lives in Trois-Rivières, which is a 90-minute drive from here.

In fact, she had not attended any election events on the night of her election, she received a phone call to tell her she'd won the riding of Dollard-Pierrefonds.

Now that's commitment, isn't it?

Valérie, David, and their 4 gorgeous children - courtesy of Valérie's Facebook

I had the discussion with David as we walked from one street to another, as to my preconceived notion that candidates had to live within their riding. It isn't so, not in our system.

But it makes a huge difference insofar as the candidate's commitment to represent and speak up for her neighbors - because they truly are, in the literal sense, her neighbors.

We encountered one gentleman who told us in no uncertain terms, "I support [the Liberal candidate]." He had hosted the candidate in his home (which is a palatial mansion I'd always wanted to see). He was convinced this was the person who will get elected.

But he couldn't really name the reasons why he supported him. And when we got back into the car, David and I talked about it - this guy was clearly supporting a person, not a principle, not an ideology or even a future.

In our conversation, David said to the man, "If your candidate doesn't win, do you think he will come back to this neighborhood and smile at the people in this area? He doesn't live here, and has no reason to come back.

"The current MP did win 4 years ago - and she is notoriously absent, she never comes to this neighborhood unless there is a campaign event and photo opportunity; because she lives in Trois Rivières!

"But Valérie lives here. Win or lose, you will see her in the neighborhood because she IS a neighbor."

At that point, I brought up the fact that Valérie often takes her kids to the park which is within walking distance from this man's house. I said, "You could go on any given day and meet her taking walks near the lake, or on walking paths in the park."

Valérie and the children - Centennial Park, DDO, Fall 2014 - from Valérie Assouline Pour Pierrefonds-Dollard, Facebook

While it didn't seem to sway the man, David was able to zero in on what he calls "the sweet spot" of the voter: what is important to that individual.

This man is from India. He and his family are citizens, but immigration and visa issues are important to him. And the more David talked about it, the more the man agreed that it's important.

Quebec - and Montreal - have very few Conservative MPs or even candidates. The last election, our province went "orange" with the NDP.

There's a reason for that: Jack Layton, the late NDP leader. He had a charisma that people were drawn to, and sadly, the popularity contest is much of why people vote.

Jack Layton passed away 3 months after his election to the Opposition, and the "leader" who has taken over is Thomas Mulcair. He does not have the charisma of Mr. Layton.

But David explained to this voter - and to others as well - that because of the dearth of CPC candidates/MPs in our city, it's likely that Valérie will get a position in the Prime Minister's cabinet. The weight of MPs in an area which is not saturated with MPs from the ruling Party is tremendous.

See, if the Liberal candidate wins in our riding, he will have very little power with the Prime Minister (whom, we are anticipating, will once again be Stephen Harper).

This is solely based on the fact that the way Canadian politics are set up, the Party in power has the ability to get things done for the country.

Local MPs (Members of Parliament) may be able to swing local issues. But when it comes to the big issues, they are powerless if they do not represent the ruling Party.

David brought up immigration. He explained to the man that Valérie is, herself, an immigrant who came to this country and made herself into a businesswoman, a lawyer, and has built a life here. Immigration issues are not only important to her, she is very familiar with how the laws work and the various snags people can encounter.

He said, "If you needed a visa to go to India, because Montreal winters aren't your thing-" (to which the man smiled knowingly) "-how would you go about doing that, to ensure you don't have problems?"

The man said he would go to the candidate he supports, and if he couldn't get it done, then he would go to Valérie.

Here's where I have to get descriptive - because David drove home the point visually and it was the best example I've ever seen.

He took his right hand, raised it and stretched it to his left earlobe, over his head.

"Why would you try to do this,"  he asked, then taking his hand down and touching his right ear with it, "when you could do this?"

The example was pitch-perfect illustration of convoluted thinking. I don't know if the man realized it, he seemed quite set on his candidate, but I got it and it clearly resonated with me.

He left the gentleman with one thought - and again, it resonated:

"When you are in the booth, and you make your X in that box - it isn't for your candidate. It is for you. And you can vote for the person you feel will get your issues addressed with the leader of the country."

I don't know if this man's mind was changed - in fact, I doubt it. But I do know he was left with a lot to think about; and perhaps, as David stated, his moment in that voting booth will reflect his doubt as to his candidate's ability to address his personal concerns and actually get things done.

Because the beauty of the privacy we enjoy in our voting process is usually borne out in how polls and results can be worlds apart.

After our door-to-door, we met with Valérie and 3 others at the newly acquired riding office. It was really cool to drive up and see her poster in the window. There is a meeting for volunteers on Wednesday night (the 22nd of July) - and any of my local friends reading this, please let me know if you can attend; it will be only an hour of your time, and the energy you'll find within will stay with you for a long time.

We discussed our experiences, and talked about the plan as it unfolds from here on in. The whiteboard on the wall says it all:

Driving home afterwards, I reflected on the evening. It was as invigorating as every other time I have spent with this campaign and its incredible people, from the candidate all the way through the ranks of management and volunteers.

I watched David in action and realized I have much to learn. But if last night was any indication, I am getting a crash course and absorbing every fact, every explanation, every issue's reason and every historical overview I need in order to accomplish what we - Valérie's Army - are trying to do: send the most qualified MP to Ottawa to support the best leader Canada can elect, and to be a strong voice for this riding as well as for the country.

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