A favorite aspect of the work we do at Koné Consulting is community engagement, regularly employed for needs assessments when we’re seeking both qualitative and quantitative data. This mixed-methods approach also reflects the blending of my direct service background and public health education, and allows both my people skills and my inner nerd to shine. Numbers, statistics and trends are increasingly important in a data-driven world, but when it comes to health and human services, people’s real-life experiences provide depth and nuance that tables and graphs can’t portray.
Community engagement is what I get the most excited about, the work of which I am proudest, and would even go so far as to say is our “special sauce.” So, it may not come as a surprise that I have been volunteering in community civic engagement efforts in my personal time. Initially, however, the idea of knocking on a stranger’s door was very intimidating to me.
I am an introvert, especially in new situations when the reserved Norwegian in me activates and I am more comfortable listening and observing my surroundings. I believe this personality characteristic is why I was good at engaging people experiencing homelessness and behavioral health issues. I am comfortable patiently sitting in silence next to someone who is struggling but too suspicious or internally preoccupied to talk. I respected the space of those I outreached under bridges, in doorways, at bus stops as if it were their home and used my words to announce my presence in lieu of having a door to knock on.
And yet it was a stretch to think about knocking on my neighbors’ doors to ask what community issues they care about and whether they align with what any of the local candidates care about enough to fill out their ballot. But there are compelling reasons for me to get uncomfortable. Less than half of the folks who live in my community are registered to vote and on average only one in four registered voters sends in their ballot. I live in a minority-majority community where many of my neighbors feel disenfranchised and even fearful of government. Door-to-door canvassing is still the most effective way to get out the vote and I wanted to find out from my neighbors what it would take to fill out their ballot and have their votes counted and their voices heard.
I’m about 200 door knocks into what has become quite the social experiment for me. At about two of every three homes, my neighbors were not home or not willing to answer their doors. I would say half of the doors I knocked on have at least one dog. One of every six homes had a sign prohibiting solicitors or a locked gate that prevented me from even getting to their door. And about one of every three homes have home security cameras and/or “Ring” doorbells. It makes me giggle (and perhaps you, too) to think of my neighbors recordings of me awkwardly smiling and waving into their cameras while holding up candidate flyers. Oh, and timing is crucial – showing up during a Seahawks game is not good but showing up after a Seahawks win is good.
A few folks opened their doors only to immediately close them again and some accepted literature but did not want to talk.
Those who were willing to engage had a lot to say. Those who don’t often vote told me they only vote when it’s for someone they feel they can trust and supports the community. Many are worried about affordability – incomes staying the same but other expenses such as housing, food, healthcare increasing, and public safety – having sidewalks and streetlights in the neighborhoods, education – making sure students and teachers have what they need to be successful. Some told me “it’s not broken, don’t fix it” and even though we acknowledged we have different perspectives, we still found something in common to talk about – sports, pets, weather. I still believe there is more that unites us than divides us. Sometimes you have to come out from behind screens and have face-to-face conversations to discover what we have in common with our neighbors.
P.S. I am so grateful to live in a state that makes it so easy to vote. I can fill my ballot out in the comfort of my own home or at a ballot party with friends. It gives me time to read the voters pamphlet, decipher Initiatives and Referendums, and “follow the money” so I know who and what my vote is supporting. King County Elections and Sound Transit recently partnered on adding ballot drop boxes at lightrail stations, but you can just drop it in return mail – no stamp needed!