Hesitating at the Door

ACORN Base Building Organizer Training Organizing

            Philadelphia      Like a bad penny, the same question popped up again in the crowd of forty activists and organizers in Philly, just as it had in Easthampton and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  People understood that home visits and door knocking are fundamental to the ACORN, but everywhere people are asking if it’s really safe to hit the doors.

I get it.

The pandemic is part of it.  People are still gingerly coming out of their houses and into public spaces once again.  Some continue to wear masks, as protection and perhaps as armor.

The recent hate-and-fear-based shootings and killings in Pennsylvania and Kansas City of people driving up the wrong road or hitting the wrong door by mistake and being met by gunfire are chilling to people.  From the questions, it’s clear that they worry that this could happen to them if they were going door to door in their own or another neighborhood.

Even seasoned organizers in New Orleans and elsewhere in the post-pandemic report that they feel like people are more reticent to open their doors.  Others report that the new devices on some doorbells that show who is at the door are also reducing the number of people willing to open up for a conversation.

I try to respond to the trepidation as best I can.  I mention that ACORN folks often are wearing t-shirts, buttons, and even identification saying they are with ACORN.  Sometimes there’s a team of neighbors or other tenants or workers doing the doors together, which calms some.  In short, people are trained to be nonthreatening.  One woman in Philly reminded people to stand away from the door, so you weren’t in someone’s physical space.  We agreed that you needed to have a smile on your face.

At the same time, I challenged some of the questioners who seemed to think that it was less safe on the doors, but had no personally experience to cite.  As organizers and as people who live in America, we can’t surrender the streets to fear, which triggered these incidents in the first place along with prejudice.  Door knocking is our most effective organizing tool, so we can’t surrender it without struggle.

I also remind people that there are a lot of doors to knock, so the fact that someone or even fewer people are currently reticent to open up, is the organizing equivalent of a rounding error.  Were the people in the past who were unwilling to open the door or the ones now who won’t open really going to join the organization, come to a meeting, or go to an action?  If they are afraid to leave their house or talk to a neighbor, that’s a personal and community tragedy, but it also keeps the organizers from wasting time.  There are a lot more doors to knock in an drive, and the odds of success lie with those that open, not the ones hiding behind the curtains.

It has always been smart to be aware and careful in our communities of who you are and where you are working, but people want to talk to us and join the organization to fight for change and build power, but they can’t do it, if we don’t hit the doors and show the way to join and get involved.  We can’t give up on the doors.