“Part of a movement” for a stronger democracy in Michigan

They call themselves the Turf Busters, and at the end of a long day in the field, this group of tired but motivated Team Michigan volunteers shared their experiences hitting the pavement for Common Purpose.  They are talking to voters about candidate campaigns and two initiatives that will strengthen Michigan’s democracy: Promote the Vote will remove common barriers to voting, and Voters not Politicians will redraft some of the nation’s most gerrymandered districts via an independent commission.  Absentee voting has already begun in Michigan, giving additional urgency to the effort. The Michigan team hopes to knock on at least 4,000 doors in all to influence swing voters in suburban Detroit. 

“The enthusiasm that you feel toward people coming to their door is amazing,” says Sean McDonald over a shared Dutch apple pie from the local cider mill.  “Moving the needle” has become Team Michigan’s catchphrase, and the Turf Busters find inspiration in knowing they’re having that effect with hundreds of voters each day.  A friendly competitive spirit seeps in, as volunteers celebrate those moments when their conversation moves a voter to be more favorable.  Virginia Felton adds, “People really appreciate someone coming to the door and talking civilly and thoughtfully about politics.”   

The Turf Busters lean on each other to keep up their energy and spirits throughout the day.  When they return to their cars, they share their stories – successes and failures, warm and cold greetings, fears and funny encounters.  They celebrate “unofficial” wins, such as when the garbage man or babysitter expresses support, even if they can’t reach the targeted voter.  And they commiserate when they have difficult or frustrating encounters.  “I came with a lot of trepidation,” admits Debbie McDonald, “but it has been powerful to do this with a group of people who are dedicated and supportive.”  

Several Turf Busters participated in Wave 1 and noted the difference between the campaigns now and then.  “It’s much more organized now.  It’s crunch time for campaigns, and now they have the infrastructure to deploy people.  There’s plenty of work to get done,” says Richard Marks.   Team Michigan draws inspiration from local campaign staffers.  “They tend to be young and enthusiastic, and they believe in what they are doing.”  Staffers rely on volunteers to make an impact, Marks notes, and they care that volunteers feel comfortable -  so they will be effective.    

Unsurprisingly, national politics are affecting Team Michigan’s efforts and creeping into their conversations.  The Kavanaugh hearings have come up a few times, with voters expressing concerns across the political spectrum.  Some voters wonder whether local candidates would confirm the nominee.  Campaign staff are concerned the Kavanaugh fight may energize Republican voters on November 6th, making Common Purpose’s work even more important in the upcoming month.  

Luckily, Team Michigan is on the case, tirelessly pounding doors and pavement to ensure an overwhelming blue wave on election day.  Their experience has made them passionate about the Common Purpose approach.  As Debbie McDonald shares, “I know we have talked to people who didn't know anything about the issues. I think we've changed minds.  By letting voters know we believe in these initiatives, they're thinking about their vote more than before.  I see the importance of it.  We’re part of a movement.”

Written by Christena Coutsoubos