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Your first words as a canvasser are the most important

(What I learned knocking on doors for

Democratic Congressional candidate Adam Gray in Modesto 2024) 


My opening

Hi my name is Charlie Varon

I'm a volunteer

I'm with Adam Gray and the Democrats

Adam is running for Congress and he's asked us to talk to every voter in the district

He wants to know what's most important to you

Like, if you were in charge and could change one or two things, what would they be?


I had one woman open her door partway

She seemed preoccupied

I knew she wanted to get back to what she'd been doing

But she answered the question - Homelessness, there are all these homeless people nearby

I said, "Tell me more about that."

She did

I took notes, I drew her out, I repeated what she said

That went on for a minute or two

Then I said: "Would it be okay if I share what you're saying about homelessness with Adam Gray?"


And the conversation continued for another 5 minutes

Only after listening to her with complete focus and respect, until she had said her piece, did I even find out her name.

After that, I told her why I'm volunteering for Adam Gray and why I'm excited about him

Then I began filling out the PDI survey 

When I said, "Can I put you down as a supporter for Adam Gray?" I showed her my phone, so she essentially was helping me fill out the form

By the end of the convo, she said she would fill out her ballot, mail it in, and tell three friends about the election and about Adam


The reasoning

My opening is kind of a run-on sentence

I don't rush through it, but I don't stop either

I don't ask if I'm talking to the right person

I don't try to bond about the weather

I don't talk about the candidate

I don't want any give and take yet

I am trying to get as directly as I can from saying my name to asking my question 

a question that gets the voter talking

a question that treats the voter as the expert - the more important person in the "scene"


Changing the game

The question changes the expectation of what happens when someone knocks on your door

I am not a salesman going door to door selling a candidate

I am an ambassador from the candidate 

A candidate who wants to know what voters are thinking

I am a listener, a note-taker, in a way I am the voter's secretary

taking shorthand as they dictate



The more I can let go of my agenda, the more I can treat the voter as the most important person in a democracy, the more effective I am. Some things I notice when I do this:


People's body language changes once they start saying their truth

They become less defensive


People long to be heard

They listen better after they have been heard and feel respected


I didn't come up with this approach

Here's where I learned it

I've also drawn on the ideas of my friends Elizabeth Chur and Jackie Tulsky (

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