3 lessons from a weekend canvassing for the GND

On a baking hot day in June 2022 I found myself crammed into a corner on the sweaty floor of an over-crowded train, bound for Coventry. 

I was on my way to the Green New Deal Rising mass canvass. My nerves about the weekend of canvassing, training, staying in an unfamiliar place and meeting other GNDR volunteers for the first time had been temporarily pushed to the back of my mind as I battled the country’s substandard public transit system. But after several hours on the stuffy train floor reading happy welcoming messages from the group Whatsapp, nerves had been replaced by pure excitement — I couldn’t wait to arrive.

Here are 3 lessons I learnt from the GNDR Coventry mass canvass.

Lesson 1: Connect with people's needs first, talk solutions later

In our Canvassing 101 training, we were advised to ask people how they feel about the climate crisis and cost of living crisis, before talking about the Green New Deal.

While it made intuitive sense, it was only once we got into the swing of things that I realised how important and powerful this is. Thinking about the people I spoke to, I’m convinced if I had started the conversation by saying “I’m here to talk about a Green New Deal” right out of the gate, they would have been confused, probably shutting the door in my face. But by getting people talking about the issues they were facing, we were able to show how the GND is relevant to their lives. I found it most effective to start with the cost of living and then connect that to climate change via the energy crisis. It made an effective bridge.

Our canvassing results show there is mass popular appeal for a Green New Deal in Coventry. But as most people don’t know what it means, they need context, not jargon.

Lesson 2: To be inclusive, you need to be always learning and growing

GNDR is probably the most inclusive social environment I have ever been part of. Social justice is in the DNA of the movement.

One of the most refreshing things for me was the culture of always learning and helping each other to learn about intersectionality. We had workshops about trans and non-binary rights, gender equality and racial equality and allyship. We all introduced each other with our pronouns. We clicked our fingers instead of clapping so as not to be too over-stimulating for any neurodiverse members of the group.

When people gave feedback it was appreciated and acted upon, with no judgement and no defensiveness.

This experience made me realise it doesn’t matter how informed you think you are about social justice issues, you need an attitude of always being open to learning.

Lesson 3: People with shared values getting together is even more powerful than you think

Before this trip I thought I knew the power of like-minded people coming together, but I realise now I had no idea.

I had experienced a taste of it from protest marches. The giddy feeling of hundreds or thousands of people marching and chanting around you, all calling for the same thing. But spending three days with 160 people all for the same cause takes that feeling and cranks it up to 100.

We were all sleeping on the floor of a church together, like a massive sleepover. We were all eating together, courtesy of our hero food team volunteers. We were all doing the training and workshops together. Canvassing together. Dancing on Saturday night together. To say it was a bonding experience feels like an understatement.

There’s something magical about bringing together a large group of people with shared values, to have a shared experience, helped along by the incredible facilitation of the GNDR organisers.

By the end of Sunday I felt like we were invincible, like together we could do anything.