My name is Emily Woodcock, and on Sunday, 4/11, I had my 10 year anniversary as the Field Canvass Director in Clean Water’s Ann Arbor, MI office. I’ve been with Clean Water since Sept. of 2004, and I’ve been field organizing since July of 2002.
Like most people, by early March of last year, I was starting to become pretty concerned about Covid-19. We were having conversations within our team about canceling volunteer nights and other events, and about changes we might need to make to the core of our work – the canvass. By March 13, we had made the decision to pull our canvass from the field.
To give you an idea the impact the canvass makes on our work I’ll give you some quick numbers from 2019 in my office. In 2019, our field canvass team knocked on about 247,000 doors, raised over $675,000, and collected tens of thousands of public comments, phone calls and letters to our lawmakers on a variety of issues. So you can see what a big decision it was to pull our team from the community. That said, the safety of our crew and the communities we work in has always been in the forefront of our decision-making, so we absolutely made the right call.
Organizing teaches you a lot. At the top of the list of skills we acquire as organizers are flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to function well under pressure. We’re good at getting creative, and finding solutions. 2020 tested these skills like none other! From March of 2020 to mid-Feburary of 2021, our field staff learned how to become phone canvassers, how to do election outreach over the phone and via text, learned skills like navigating voter outreach platforms, and attended trainings on everything from virtual organizing to racial justice. We helped make millions of calls to voters in MI and PA to make sure they understood new voting rules and what their options were for voting in a pandemic. We endorsed and helped elect or re-elect environmental champions at the local, state and federal level. We passed strong standards for PFAS in our drinking water, established a moratorium on water shut-offs in MI (twice), and won the shutdown of Line 5! And we did it all from our couches, spare bedrooms, and back porches.
On Feb 15 of this year, our small core team who weathered the pandemic together returned to our traditional community outreach. We’ve been able to adapt our outreach work to be almost totally contactless, and we’ve adopted strict procedures for masking, cleaning and social distancing in the office. And the community has welcomed us back! It has been pretty amazing to reconnect with our supporters, update them on what we’ve been able to accomplish, and to once again bring new members into the fold.
The last year has reminded me how lucky I’ve been in my career. Many of the challenges we faced in transitioning to working from home were ones that people all over the world were dealing with, but I feel privileged to be working with a team and to have a set of skills that made that transition pretty seamless. And I’m grateful for my canvass team for taking this wild ride with me. You really couldn’t ask for better co-workers. If you see us at your door, we’ll be wearing Clean Water masks so we’re easy to spot, and we’d love to tell you what we’ve been up to! Hope to talk with you on your porch or front walk soon.