Thursday, August 04, 2005

Beth Maskow thought you'd like to read this excerpt from "How to Turn Your Red State Blue", published in In These Times last March:
Last fall, I spent seven weeks in the suburbs of Madison, Wis.,
canvassing undecided voters for John Kerry. Driving back one day from a long session pounding the pavement, our car passed two young Mormon missionaries on bicycles. They were dressed in their standard garb: grim but oddly stylish black suits, white shirts, skinny ties and backpacks, all of which were getting soaked in the rain as they struggled up a hill, standing on their pedals for extra leverage. "Now that," said a fellow organizer sitting in the backseat, "is canvassing."
Going door to door was hard enough. My pulse would quicken at each door, and after three hours tromping through numbing subdivisions I invariably got the urge to fill in numbers on my walk sheet, grab a soda and wait for the carpool to pick me up. And all we wanted was three minutes of someone's time to ask a few questions, give a short pitch and hand out some literature. A missionary who approaches a stranger's door is seeking nothing less than a complete reconstitution of that person's worldview. One imagines a lot of door slamming, unpleasant words and icy stares.
And yet the improbable fact about missionary activity is that it works, regardless of the faith's specific dogma. Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the country. Evangelical protestant congregations make up 58 percent of all new churches in the United States. Globally, Islam continues to reach into new and unfamiliar lands, experiencing explosive growth in China. Religions that actively proselytize - Pentecostals, Mormons, Muslims - grow, almost without exception.
There's a corollary to this in politics. Yale political scientists Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber have found in numerous studies of voter contact that face-to-face canvassing is far and away the most effective means of persuasion: Roughly one out of every 15 voters approached at the door will add their vote to your tally.
In a speech accepting his new position as chair of the Democratic
National Committee, Howard Dean stressed the importance of reaching out to unbelievers through retail politics. "People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Utah, and West Virginia," he said, "if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves and tell them what we believe."
Five months after the election, progressives' efforts have largely shifted away from people's doorsteps, toward saving Social Security, opposing reactionary judicial appointees and reining in the administration's foreign policy. But I can't stop thinking about those Mormons on their bicycles. What are progressives doing to win conversions to our faith?
Where are our young people on bikes approaching unfamiliar doors? How are we preaching the good news?


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