How-To: Running Your Own Bernie 2020 Canvass

A guide for organizing DSA Bernie 2020 canvasses

Note: The following was written assuming canvass attendance of 20 or more.  For smaller crowds some of this may be unnecessary. Please refer to the DSA Medicare for All Canvass guide, which has a lot of good information on how to host a canvass, identify captains, and other useful information. Philly DSA’s Bernie canvassing operation came out of our Medicare for All canvassing operation.

Table of Contents

Why run a DSA Bernie 2020 canvass

Explanation of included materials

The Canvass from Beginning to End

Before the Canvass

At the Canvass

After the Canvass

Why run a DSA Bernie 2020 canvass

If you’re reading this guide, you probably already have an answer to this question that sounds something like ours. In short, we see Bernie’s candidacy as a means to build working class power that can challenge capital and win dignified conditions for all people. Canvassing for Bernie is not just about winning primary and general elections voters, though this is a central goal of the work. Canvasses are an opportunity to fight disillusionment and atomization and replace these with solidarity and the belief that we can build a better world through political action.

Before planning your first canvass, you should check with national’s Bernie campaign and see if you can set up a chapter account for VAN. VAN (and the accompanying app miniVAN) allows you to target voters and cut lists the way any other Democratic electoral campaign would. It also almost completely eliminates data entry (a huge time save!), as you don’t need to plan a separate data entry session and solicit volunteers. You can also easily track your door knocking progress and analyze your data. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND USING VAN FOR ALL CANVASSING EFFORTS!

Explanation of included materials

  • M4A Turf Guide a4 (if you don’t have access to VAN)
    • This guide shows you how to “cut turf”, i.e. create turf maps that you will hand out to canvassers. 
    • Use this method until you get VAN.
  • M4A-based Bernie 2020 Rap
    • A script for how to do a Medicare-for-All-based Bernie canvass. It is sometimes easier for canvassers to limit the scope of issues they talk about. Healthcare is a signature campaign issue for Bernie and DSA as well as the number one issue for most poll respondents.
  • Multi-issue Bernie 2020 Rap
    • This script deals with a few more issues beyond Medicare-for-All and might help in conversations where people cite other issues they care about. The issues in this script include healthcare, housing, workers’ rights, and education.
    • Only print pages 1-2. The last few pages of the document have notes that Philly’s Canvassing Committee wrote for other topics that we could cover in a rap, so feel free to browse and select new issues. 
  • FAQ for Canvassers
    • This document attempts to answer some commonly asked questions while also modeling an organizing conversation strategy called AAR: Affirm, Answer, Redirect, in which you build solidarity by validating concerns, giving your best answer to the question and then pivoting back to the campaign issue.
  • English PHL Bernie Trifold
    • This literature is meant to be given to individuals you talk to at the doors who may have additional questions or want to learn more about Bernie’s platform. 
    • These are very expensive to print, so encourage canvassers to only give them out to people who are interested. 
    • Glossy printouts of these are the best. They hold up to moisture better, which is relevant because you can leave them rolled up in door handles if no one answers. They are more expensive though.
      • DO NOT PUT THESE IN MAILBOXES.  Canvassers cannot place materials in mailboxes.  It is illegal!
      • It is legal to slot them into cracks in doors, close them in screen doors, and roll them up and stick them in nooks and crannies of door handles. Ensure they are relative snug and secure, as them blowing off the door easily defeats the purpose and creates litter.
  • English PHL Bernie Halfsheet and Spanish PHL Bernie Halfsheet
    • This literature is meant to be printed beforehand and handed out by canvassers while they canvass. You print these out and cut them in half, thus the term “HalfSheet”.
    • If you are using your own funds for these, you should probably set up a PAC to monitor your spending and you must print a statement similar to this one: “Paid for by Philly DSA (www.phillydsa.org) and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.”
    • Glossy printouts of these are the best. They hold up to moisture better, which is relevant because you can leave them rolled up in door handles if no one answers. They are more expensive though.
      • DO NOT PUT THESE IN MAILBOXES.  Canvassers cannot place materials in mailboxes.  It is illegal!
      • It is legal to slot them into cracks in doors, close them in screen doors, and roll them up and stick them in nooks and crannies of door handles. Ensure they are relative snug and secure, as them blowing off the door easily defeats the purpose and creates litter.
    • These documents are in English and Spanish (ESP).
      • If you are in need of these in other languages, please let us know (phillydsa@gmail.com).
      • If you are able to translate these into other languages, please let us know.
  • Petition sign-up sheet
    • A sheet for gathering contact info while canvassing.
      • This sheet is for contacts that expressed some amount of interest in hearing more about Bernie2020, M4A, or DSA.
      • You should use this information to follow up with contacts made during the canvass.  Specifically, we want to try and get them further involved.
    • Please note that this document should be printed double sided.
    • The turf # and date up top should be filled out prior to handing the sheet back to the Canvass Captain. This helps the canvass organizers keep the data organized for the person logging this info into the Post-Canvass Data template sheet.
      • The turf # is a unique id for each turf that is “cut”, i.e. generated, printed and assigned to a canvasser. The turf for the canvasser is a map of where they should canvass, i.e. a “turf”. See “M4A Turf Guide a4.pdf” for more info.
      • If you are cutting turf from VAN, you’ll have both a list number (a 13 digit code which is VAN’s way of ID’ing the list and is what you’d input into miniVAN to download the list) and you can set your own “turf number” starting at 1 and ending with however many turfs you need to cut. We use the “turf number” to keep track of these petitions, as it is easier to write “15” than “310427767-21288”.
  • Turf Note Sheet
    • This document is only used if you are NOT using VAN. It’s purpose is to keep a tally of doors knocked, contacts who answered, contacts who were not home, and contacts who were not interested. You should also record info about the contacts you make and their level of support for Bernie.
    • Please note that this document should be printed double sided.
    • Note that if you get a supportive Bernie contact who is also interested in getting involved in Bernie2020, M4A, or DSA, contacts on this sheet will end up being redundant with the contacts in the sign-up sheet.
      • This is fine though, as the Petition sign-up sheet is for contacts to sign after you make an ask of them while the Turf Note Sheet is for your eyes only. We actually want the contact to sign the Petition sign-up sheet themselves, as this creates a certain level of investment from them compared to you filling it in for them. Also, some contacts will give you info about their level of support for Bernie but won’t sign our petition.
    • The turf # and date up top should be filled out prior to handing the sheet back to the Canvass Captain.  This helps the canvass organizers keep the data organized for the person logging this info into the “Post-Canvass Data template.xlsx” sheet.
      • The turf # is a unique id for each turf that is “cut”, i.e. generated, printed and assigned to a canvasser. The turf for the canvasser is a map of where they should canvass, i.e. a “turf”. See “M4A Turf Guide a4.pdf” for more info.
  • Post-Canvass Data template
    • Copy this document before a canvass and fill in date for that canvass!
    • The data from the canvass is logged here. The data for each turf is kept separate and logged in its own row using the turf #.
    • If you’re not using VAN, you’ll want to collate the petition sign-up sheets and turf note sheets before starting data entry. This will ensure that you can log any data about a canvass contact who signed a petition sign-up sheet from the Note Sheet onto this form. 
    • The tabs at the bottom are so that multiple people can type into this document at once. 
  • Sign-in Google Form
    • Use this to sign people in at the canvass, find out if they’re new canvassers, already in DSA, want to get more involved, etc.
    • ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have your canvassers sign in. You should actively advertise the number of volunteers who come out to your canvasses, especially if you have a well-attended event.
    • You can use the contact data from your sign-in form to build a canvassers email list to encourage people to come out to your future canvasses. With issue-based canvassing, people get better as they practice and we want to make sure that people who’ve canvassed with us before come out again not only to knock doors, but to help train newbie canvassers.
  • Canvass captain team and note sheet
    • Give one to each captain so that they can collect canvassers’ phone numbers and turf numbers before going out (in case someone doesn’t return on time and you need to call/text them). Captains can use the back side to take notes during their debrief with their group.
  • Canvass captain checklist
    • Give one to each captain to help them run trainings and debriefs. You’ll have to modify the specifics in this one so that it fits your canvass.
    • Please note that this checklist is designed for canvasses that use VAN.

The Canvass from Beginning to End

Before the Canvass

  • Pick a location/date/time for canvass and post-canvass data entry
    • Target working class areas that are responsive to class war messaging and are often neglected by the Democratic Party.
    • We like to run canvasses on Saturdays from 12-4 and usually launch from a park. Choose an indoor location (if possible) for winter months so that people aren’t freezing during set up and training.
    • We go to a bar after the canvasses and like to let them know in advance if we expect a big group.
    • We usually do data entry the following Monday in a bookstore cafe or canvasser’s house. If you’re using VAN and there isn’t too much data, just 1 or 2 people can do the data entry.
  • Invite people to the canvass 
    • Ask for RSVPs so you have a sense of how many people will show up.
  • Select and train canvass captains
    • Captains lead mini group trainings on the day of the canvass and ideally have some canvassing experience. Having captains at a canvass makes it much more manageable for the canvassing committee to ensure that all materials are set up correctly and allows for more dedicated canvassers to develop their leadership skills. We’ve recruited most canvassing committee members from our canvass captains.
    • Set up a meeting with these captains in advance and make sure they understand how canvasses work and what their responsibilities are. 
    • Here are sample captains training agendas:
    • Update the Canvass captain team and note sheet to give to captains day of the event. (Note that this captain sheet is for VAN canvasses)
  • Cut turf
    • If you’re using VAN, make a voter universe, cut your turf and assign list numbers, and make sure to have a few turf printed out (for people who show up without smart phones). Also ensure that you print out the summary page for your lists, so that you have all of your turf list numbers available to assign to canvassing pairs.
    • If you’re not using VAN, see the M4A Turf Guide a4 for info on how to do this.
    • Prepare one turf for every pair of canvassers plus a few extras.
  • Prepare materials 
    • Leave behind literature
    • Record keeping 
      • Each pair gets: 
      • Bring petitions even if you’re using VAN for people you meet that don’t show up in the app.
    • Training documents
    • Clipboards
      • We use one per team to hold the petitions, turf note sheet (if using), raps, and FAQs.
    • Table
    • Laptops for sign in 

At the Canvass

  • Set up
    • Set up table and laptops with sign in google form
    • Divide materials (except for raps and turf maps) and pens up and clip onto clipboards
      • If using VAN, stick all materials for each pair on one clipboard. Otherwise, put leave behind lit on one clipboard and everything else on the other.
      • If you’re expecting a large number of canvassers, you can pre-divide them into groups by writing numbers at the top of the rap and handing them out when canvassers sign in. For example, when we expected 75 canvassers, we had 8 captains and wrote the numbers 1-8 on the top of the raps. This made dividing people into groups much easier. 
    • Bundle lit into piles and rubber-band together.
  • As people start arriving, someone should greet them, hand them a rap and ask them to sign in.
  • Around 10-15 mins into the event, gather everyone for a motivating speech
  • Group Training
    • Explain the goals, canvassing materials and walk through the rap.
      • Make sure to emphasize that the goal is not to do all the talking at the door! An effective canvass is one where the other person talks about their own struggles and issues. This means canvassers should ask questions and leave space in the conversation for people to speak rather than jumping in to make a point anytime there’s an opportunity.
    • Optional: experienced canvassers role play example conversations for the group.
  • Divide into groups of 4-10 according the number on your rap.
    • Organizers give sets of turf maps or VAN codes to each captain.
    • Introductions
      • Starting with the captain, canvassers introduce themselves, say how much canvassing experience they have and briefly talk about why they’re motivated to canvass for Bernie. 
    • Captains review the rap and goals of the canvass and collect everyone’s phone numbers. Canvassers should take the captain’s number as well.
    • Divide into pairs of more and less experienced canvassers
      • Role play conversations using the rap and FAQ (both included) as guides.
    • Captains distribute turf maps or VAN codes to each pair and implore them to write the turf number at the top of their petition and turf note sheets.
    • Captains remind canvassers when they should be knocking their last door (we usually say 3:20 if we want to be back and debriefing at 4).
  • Go knock doors
    • Someone stays behind at the launch site to watch everything.
    • Pairs take turns by having the same person initiate conversations until a substantive conversation happens, then they switch for the next doors.
    • Captains text their group when it is time to head back.
  • Debrief and collect materials
    • Canvassers hand in their canvassing materials and captains debrief with canvassers, asking them questions (and taking notes) such as:
      • What were some of your best conversations at the door?
        • What do you think you did well?
      • What political issues come up in conversations? (immigration, climate change, education, etc.)
      • Any logistical problems with the materials/canvass? (eg walksheets, handouts)
      • Any themes in negative interactions with people you talked to?
      • Did any questions come up that you couldn’t answer?
      • Was there anything you felt unprepared for? 
      • What was your worst conversation at the door? (note more for fun conversations)
    • Captains should try to identify new canvassers who might make good canvass captains in the future
    • Ask people to come to a data entry session or phone bank for your other Bernie events
  • Hangout somewhere together 
    • Engage new canvassers by asking them questions. Don’t overwhelm them with weird internet shit if they have no idea what you’re talking about. We want them to come back.

After the Canvass

  • Schedule a debrief call with canvass captains to see what kind of feedback they got and if they have any feedback about the canvass. 
    • Take a look at the Captain’s agenda for debrief question ideas. Our canvassing committee takes feedback seriously and we’ve used feedback to change our rap, our set up, our lit, etc.
  • Send out an email thanking canvassers and inviting them to help enter the data.
  • Host the data entry event if you got a lot of signatures!
    • Ask people to bring their laptops. Give them the petitions and turf note sheets and ask them to record the information into the post-canvass data template (example included).
  • Follow up with people you canvassed that were interested in getting involved with DSA. 



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