Canvassing is a foundational organizing skill. It builds needed relationships with neighbors and coalition partners as well as the capacity of the organizers in our chapters. Speaking with our neighbors allows us to take abstract political demands and translate them into concrete material concerns to build a real mass political base. By connecting with ordinary people in a shared struggle against capital, the fight for Medicare for All unites the working class and becomes a winnable demand.
Our canvassing goal should be to have high-value conversations. In other words, we don’t just want people’s signatures in support of universal healthcare — we want them to think hard about the inadequacies of our current healthcare system, how it personally affects them, and how they might join in the fight for Medicare for All.
To do so, we can’t be in a hurry to move on to the next door. Thus, in a 2-hour canvassing block, aim to have each canvassing pair knock on 25-50 doors. Cut turf (see step #8) appropriately, so that your canvassing teams don’t feel pressured to cover more ground than they need to.
To avoid lonesomeness and build solidarity, it is indeed a good idea to canvass in pairs rather than by oneself. The paired structure can be especially helpful to onboard new people, as inexperienced canvassers can be paired with more experienced ones.
What follows is a brief rundown of what is involved in planning a canvass. You can find more details in the campaign documents (like the Medicare for All Call Script, Captains Training Agenda, Canvass Logistics, Medicare for All Rap, Medicare for All Rap Breakdown) at the end of this section and linked to throughout, but you should also reach out to our national organizing team for any assistance in getting your canvassing operation up and running at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Set a location and time (at least 4 weeks prior to canvass): Find a location that will serve as your home base for the day of the kickoff canvass. This is the space where you’ll hold the rap training and debrief, and where you can send people in case they need anything while canvassing. As for the time, Saturdays and Sundays between 12 pm and 4 pm tend to work best. Provided that the weather is nice, public parks can make good meeting spots, since they tend to be both free and in the middle of neighborhoods.
Assign roles (once you’ve set the date/time for the kickoff canvass): A canvass has multiple moving parts, and you’ll want specific people in charge of certain tasks. Some people might take on multiple responsibilities, and some of your captains (step #5) might take some of these. Regardless, you want to make sure that each role has a name to it. These roles include:
- General Logistics Coordinator: Responsible for location scouting, day-of logistics, and coordinating with everyone below.
- Communications Coordinator: Responsible for phonebanking and media/social media hype.
- Rap Trainer(s): Responsible for running the 1½ hour welcome and rap training at the beginning of the canvass. It’s helpful to have two people take the lead on this.
- Materials Coordinator: Responsible for preparing canvasser clipboards.
- Turf Coordinator: Responsible for establishing the required number of turfs and cutting/printing them.
- Food/Water Coordinator: Responsible for arranging food/water the day of the canvass.
- Data Manager: Responsible for post-canvass data entry and management.
- Phonebank your membership (once you’ve set the date/time for the kickoff canvass): You can do this in shifts, with multiple people each calling in their free time, or in one huge push, using the Medicare for All Call Script. On these calls, you should have 2 asks: 1) Come out to the kickoff canvass, and 2) Come out and learn to canvass so you can teach others. You shouldn’t make the second ask of just anybody, but of people who demonstrate a serious interest, have prior experience, or who you think would be good. As with digital communications (step #4), make sure to lead by framing Medicare for All as the solution to our inhumane healthcare system before making the ask to come canvass.
- Hype the kickoff canvass through your announcement lists and social media (once you’ve set the date/time for the kickoff canvass).
- Run a pilot canvass and identify captains (2-3 weeks before the kickoff canvass): To pull off a full canvass, you’ll need a team of trained organizers who can support other members. The pilot canvass is designed to identify these people, give them experience in the field, and build excitement about your new canvassing program. You’ll need to do the general prep for the pilot canvass that you’ll do for the kickoff canvass but on a smaller scale: set a meeting point/time, get the clipboards and materials ready (step #7), cut a small amount of turf for your pilot canvassers to cover (step #8), coordinate food (step #9), and then canvass (step #10). You don’t need to worry about media hype at this point. The goal of the pilot canvass is to do a test run of the larger canvass to work out the logistical kinks, but more importantly to identify captains for the kickoff canvass, so look carefully for people who stand out. Talk to as many people as you can and pay close attention during your debriefs, looking for people who might be leaders (see Organizing and Leadership Development).
- Organize a Captains Training (after the pilot canvass): The Captains Training, which you can run following the Captains Training Agenda, is for the people you identified at the pilot canvass. Your goal here is to get captains comfortable with the Rap, and make sure they understand logistics for the kickoff canvass and what their responsibilities for the day are.
- Buy clipboards/pens, and print/collate all the materials for the canvasser clipboards (a few days before the canvass): Since you’ll need a whole bunch of clipboards and pens, buy in bulk. You’ll need to get canvasser clipboards ready a few days before the pilot canvass (step #5) and then again a few days before the kickoff canvass (step #10). For both events, take your best guess as to how many people are going to show up to canvass and try to have one clipboard ready per canvasser. All of these canvassing materials are available here in easily editable form. Feel free to modify to your own chapter’s needs. Each clipboard should have, in this order:
- Cut turf (a few days before the canvass): You should expect each canvassing pair to knock on 25-50 doors in two hours. If you’re assigning 5 canvassing pairs to a captain, you should thus cut out an area of turf that includes 125-250 houses/apartments per captain. Google’s “My Maps” is a helpful way of doing so, and it allows you to keep track of where you’ve been. Print out each turf so that captains can give their canvassers maps (zooming in so that you can see buildings is helpful) and direct them down particular streets. When selecting the location in which you’ll be canvassing, be conscious of the demographics. We are trying to build a working-class political movement, which means we should be talking to people in working-class neighborhoods. Our M4A Turf Guide and the accompanying turf cutting training video will help walk you through this process.
- Coordinate food (a few days before the canvass): You’ll want to have snacks and water on hand for your canvassers. Everyone likes snacks.
Canvass! The roughly four-hour canvass is composed of the following time blocks. See Canvass Logistics for more details:
1.25 hours: Welcome and Rap Training. Two individuals should be in charge of leading the rap training, which should include:
- Welcome and what is DSA/socialism? (10 minutes)
- Introduction to Medicare for All and why it’s important for us to work on (10 minutes)
- Explanation of the Rap and Rap Breakdown and example role play (15 minutes)
- Breakout into assigned canvassing groups and practice role play (25 minutes)
- Debrief and head out to turfs (15 minutes)
- 2 hours: Canvassing! Be sure to give your canvassers phone numbers to call in case issues arise.
- 30 minutes: Debrief. Canvassers return to talk about what went well and what didn’t, particularly moving and difficult encounters, etc. Pass a hat around to collect donations to cover snacks, water, materials, etc. and explain that any extra money will go to your DSA chapter.
- 1.25 hours: Welcome and Rap Training. Two individuals should be in charge of leading the rap training, which should include:
Data Entry (a few days after the canvass): Follow-up communications are critical to building power and are dependent on clean and well-organized data. You’ll always want to know a) who your canvassers were and b) who amongst those that were canvassed support your campaign.
- Canvasser Sign-ins: As people arrive at the canvass, have them sign-in. Google forms are really helpful here (be sure to get email and phone numbers).
- Canvasser Data Collection
- Pledge Sheets: When canvassers are out knocking on doors, they should have community members write their own information on the pledge. Signatures add weight, and stacks of pledges can be a display of organizing power. Hold on to them after the canvass.
- Contact Sheets: During the canvass, canvassers should transcribe information from the Pledge Sheet to the Contact Sheet. Take notes on the interaction, and record any good healthcare stories.
- Consolidation: After the canvass, captains should consolidate all of their team’s contact sheet data into a digital format. Here is an example data sheet that you can use for your canvassing operation. Google Sheets in general work really well for this step. Be sure to centralize the data at this point so you can easily set up emails or phonebanks.
- Debrief (a few days after the canvass): Debrief with the captains to review the kickoff canvass and plan for the next one. Debriefers should also identify what worked and what didn’t, and plan future actions accordingly. Captains should be identifying at least two people who could step into the role of captain at the new canvass. This will increase your capacity the next go-round.