Forget November 4th, for local political nonprofit The Bus Project the biggest night of the year was Halloween. By four in the afternoon yesterday, Bus workers and volunteers were squeezing among a chaotic crowd of 300 junior high, high school and college kids, handing out glow sticks and clip boards. After months of planning, YouTube based advertising and countless sorting of tote bags, Trick or Vote, the state's largest youth canvassing effort, had finally begun. The idea behind Trick or Vote is to get as many young people as possible to put on their Halloween costumes and, in the evening as little kids start to go candy-hunting, knock on doors and remind people to turn in their ballots.
This, as you may guess, is the organizing job from Hell. The months of intensive outreach worked - yesterday 565 volunteers (some as a school field trip) showed up at the Bus's Trick or Vote headquarters at the gritty Audiocinema warehouse art space under the Hawthorne Bridge. Imagine sorting hundreds of high schoolers dressed as ninjas, sexy fairies and ravers into color coordinated canvassing teams, assigning them all a turf of 30 houses, making sure everyone has a stack of voting info fliers and hitting the streets in under an hour. It looked like this (only noisier):
All too quickly, I found myself in the back of a van bound for Beaverton, surrounded by four Reedies discussing their votes. Like many of the Trick or Voters, Hannah a Reed senior in a Harlequin mask, had never done any political action before. Finally, she says, she was motivated to canvass at the last minute by a compelling mixture of "guilt and fear." "I know politics is one of those things I really should care about," she said, "But it's more like following sports. I don't find the idea of doing activism interesting at all."
Hannah and the others got a little lost trying to find our turf among a Beaverton subdivision built on winding, empty streets named after Arizona suburbs. After half an hour, the canvassers finally found Scottsdale Road and tumbled out of the van, laughing at the ridiculousness of being marooned in the middle of the suburbs with nothing but a clipboard and costume.
spoooky spoooky Beaverton
While Trick or Vote started here in Portland, it's spread to 25 other cities this year. Portland's is still the biggest, bringing over 500 volunteers while Seattle had 300 and knocked on 7,000 doors. One of the appeals of the event is that unlike most canvassing trips, Trick or Voters have no problem getting people to come to the door. Most people the Beaverton team greeted seemed confused at first, opening the door to a political message rather than an adorable child dressed as a bee or sandwich. And although Trick or Vote targeted the special list of people who hadn't turned in their ballot yet, most people said they were totally 100% completely not going to forget to drop it off and, yes, they'd vote in every race.
This makes me think that the point of Trick or Vote isn't actually to get people to turn in their ballots. They're probably going to do it whether a sexy ninja tells them to or not. The point of Trick or Vote is to get a bunch of young people to canvass so that they identify as political, which later on means they might be more likely to vote themselves or keep up with the political news because they feel like it applies to them. Or, as a Bus Project leader disguised as John Stossel said before we left the headquarters, "We want Trick or Vote to be a gateway drug to civic engagement."