A guest rant from Steve: Life as a Pollster

Hello all,

To those that asked or were curious, here's my roundabout way of describing what & how I'm doing. Overview - I'm an "organizer" at Progressive Minnesota in St Paul, Minnesota for the summer. That means:

On Thursday I awoke at 9 and layed in bed till 10. Glistening with sweat from the heat and humidy, I cleaned up, ate, and was at work by 11:00. The first hour of work was slowly devoured by reading the news, clipping articles, and joking. At 12:00, a staff member of the Minneapolis city council briefed us on structure of the Minneapolis council and current power dynamics.

By 2:00, I was roleplaying with one of the other organizers a "second visit" - or a meeting with new members to get them invovled in the current campaign. Each day we repeatedly practice talking with strangers at the doors, visiting new members, calling to voters to generate calls to their councilmember, etc. The work really starts at 3:30.

That mid-afternoon, I drove out to eastern St.Paul to meet with two members I had signed up the previous week. Both didn't show. So I 'hit the doors' - or started door knocking.

Most of the (field) work so far has consisted of two things - knocking on stranger's doors and meeting with new members. Door knocking means entering a neighborhood and knocking on every damned door until its 9:00. The goal, naturally, is to sign up people as members of Progressive Minnesota.

The issue I'm working on is a pork-barrel stadium the mayor is pushing. He wants to raise the sales tax to build a

new private baseball stadium for the billionaire owner of the team (yada yada). So, at each door I rapidly tell people what's the mayor is trying, ask their opinion, and either leave or talk on. If they are interested, I try to sign them up as members, if not I leave. (Saving you the details of "responding to issues", etc that you can guess)

The second part of the work is more...revolutionary. After who are concerned about the given issue (the stadium) join as members, we go back to meet with them for 15 minuntes or so. In these meetings, the organizer seeks to get the person active on the issue. Basically, at the end you ask them to take some small action or small role in the campaign in the coming week. Often that's petitioning with others, phone calling, whatever.

The next stage of the work, which I am just starting on, is to 'develop' these new members with increasing levels of commitment & resposibility to the campaign. This process, like the "second visits" is a subtle dance... I am not doing it justice here, and probably could not in writing.

Progressive Minnesota is a "membership organization" - the organization is its members. They run Progressive Minnesota, pay the bills, and direct its future. The organizers, myself included, are there to recruit and bring in new members. The organizer's time and energy is spent building the group out of community members.

It is a subtle and odd process - to recruit but not to lead. It means that when you are done, you have built a living, breathing entity comprised of community members exercising new skills and new leadership. The entity is wholely NOT under your control - you are in fact paid and directed by this organization you have created / grown.


In a night of 4 hours on the doors, I often knock on 80 doors, talk to 30 people and sign up between 0 and 4 new members. Recently, I've started meeting with the new members, talking about their experiences and about the campaign. The overall process ranges from depressing to boring to breathtaking. On Friday I meet with 4 new members. To give you an idea: One was a woman from Liberia who had worked in the government there before the Civil War, and is now taking care of family members in this tenement I door-knocked n St Paul. In her four years living in this area, no stranger had ever come to her door to discuss politics, social issues, etc. I later met with an ex-gang banger from Chicago who has just quit his job as a chef to produce (amazing) Christian rap.

I have been in some of the poorest areas of St. Paul, and now I am in a more middle class white area. I work 10 to 11 hours a day, with a few extra hours on Saturday. The life is bloody tiring, and I've done very little else. I celebrate when I can do a load of laundry or go to the library in between working and sleeping. I don't know if I'll want to do this come December when I graduate. At the moment, I alternate between love and hate.

Hmmm there is much more - enough for now though. I'm sorry if it is unclear, but I don't feel like going back to edit / delete it. In a nut shell: I am working a hell of a lot, am usually tired, but I've seen a range and depth of humanity that I will not forget.

-Peace, Steve

Tuesday, July 6th, 1999 todd@notreality.com