Tabling/Canvassing For Power


Tabling and canvassing for power is all about connecting with the community. These two tools can be used for any campaign to build power and build community power. Tabling is when you set up a table to talk about an issue or problem. Canvassing is when you go from person to person and actively engage them in an issue by talking to them. Canvassing can be done going door to door, or by positioning canvassers in strategic positions at a locale.

The Questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How)

Who do we canvass/table?

We canvass and table people who live in our community who we wish to talk to. We’re looking for folks who have community and relationships in the locality and who can effect change. We reach out to talk with people who we haven’t engaged with before. We approach those who have curiosity about an issue.

What do we say?

We talk about the issue frankly, and how it impacts and affects us. It is so important when having these conversations to:

  • Keep them personal (Personal stories/how its impacted you/why you are involved)
  • Keep them informed (You’ve taken the time to understand the issue that you’re talking about)
  • Keep them involved (invite them to take further action, or get further involved in the issue.)

Your job is to welcome people into the conversation who may or may not be engaged in the work. When we speak to our community, we are flexible and open to their opinions and views, and if they feel strongly about it. Asking questions, getting their view, and asking about what their community has discussed are all great things to talk about in conversation.

As canvassers/tablers, we may rehearse a script, or use a fact sheet, but either way:

  • Keep your words authentic
  • Be kind, or failing that, polite
  • Look to invite to conversation, rather than shut down
  • Invite to work or keeping in touch.

Where do I canvass or table?

Canvass/Table in places with moderate to high local traffic. Find spaces where local communities congregate, conversate and operate. Ask to be in a space if it’s not public, and be polite to the communities who you are guests to.

Any location can be used to effectively canvass or table. You can table and canvass at:

  • Parks
  • Street Corners
  • In front of buildings
  • In your neighborhood

Ultimately the location to canvass or table is determined by local foot traffic, relative relationship to the region, support for the issue, and whether or not the communities in an area have been mobilized or activated.

When Do I Canvass/Table?

Canvassing or Tabling is best practiced during the day, when foot traffic is high. When doing door to door canvassing, it makes most sense to do it on the weekend, when people are often at their homes. During the day, people are generally more receptive to strangers talking politic to them.

Why Canvass/Table

Canvassing and tabling is integral to creating face time between organizations and their communities. Canvassing and tabling gives us the opportunity to talk with our communities, invite them into the work and create space to talk issues and problems.

Talking with our communities gives us opportunities to establish and elaborate on the mass line – the ideology of the masses and see where our conditions are at for work. We also gain the opportunity to gauge the needs and wants of the people, and take time to transform and uplift them.

When canvassing I have learned things about the state of the neighborhood, what folks need, and solving small issues while canvassing. (When I canvassed a few years back, a friend and I had to research local laws around voting rights and inform a person we were canvassing about if they could vote or not. We did not plan for this.)

Ultimately, Canvassing and tabling is all about building power. By building relationships and conversations in our neighborhood, we can create social momentum and invite people to envision the changes we need to make.

How Do I Canvass/Table?

We will explore this more in depth below. The simplest implementation is:

  1. Research the issue you are about to canvass/table. Be ready to answer basic questions about the issue and be ready to research questions that you may not know. 
  2. Have your organizational ask ready – Are you asking the folks you are canvassing to take action? Is there a way for someone to go from the conversation with you to expressing power?
  3. Pick a space during the day with light-moderate foot traffic from local communities.
  4. Get at least 2 more people. Always have a buddy to help you and be able to handle multiple people. I recommend a third to handle signing people up or assisting.
  5. Create a script or fact sheet – Something to help you guide the conversation and make sure you’re hitting core points and asks during your conversations. Often I will consolidate my research sheet to salient points and coherent asks at this point.
  6. Create any additional resources/handouts
  7. Show up and invite people to talk to you. Give them space to come to you, and take time to engage them as people in your community.
  8. Be shameless in inviting them to the work. It’s always okay to ask folks to attend events and get involved.
  9. Be ready for lots of Nos. Lots of folks will say no. This is okay, and there will always be ways to contact and conversate with people saying no down the line.
  10. Follow up! Set another canvassing/tabling event in the future with the same people you brought that day.
  11. Feedback – Take 10 minutes at the conclusion of your canvassing/tabling event to talk about what worked, what didn’t and what you will do next time.

How To Canvass/Table for power

  1. Research the Issue
    1. Create a google document like this one – Tabling for a Ceasefire Fact Sheet: – Pull the facts that resonate with you or might resonate with an ordinary person.
    2. Understand the communities you may encounter while canvassing/tabling and their particulars. Certain facts and issues resonate strongly with people because of their proximity to the issue, while others may fall short.
    3. Understand the current support level as best you can. When we engage in Canvassing/Tabling, we’re looking to sort folks into buckets of support, neutral, opposition
      1. Support: Someone who supports you on the issue.
      2. Neutral: Someone who may or may not support you on the issue and is not taking action at the moment.
      3. Opposition: Someone who does not support the issue, and is actively taking action against your position.
    4. Additionally, we’re looking to sort people into various levels of support:
      1. Core: Someone who is currently involved in an organization or community and actively working on the issue
      2. Activist: Someone who is not involved in an organization or community deeply but is actively working on the issue
      3. Supporter: Someone who is supportive of the issue, and has taken an action in the past, or has not taken an action yet.
  2. Have your Organizational Ask ready
    1. Talk with your organization and understand what the capacity for onboarding into the work is and what tools are available.
    2. Research upcoming actions or organization events and note when they happen
    3. Find something that is coming up in about a week. They can be events your organization is involved in, coalition events, or neutral events.
    4. Create an Action Network, spreadsheet, or other bucket to collect pledges with:
      1. Name
      2. Contact info (Email and/or phone)
      3. Membership status
      4. Interest in taking more action.
    5. We do this so we can follow up and potentially recruit supporters into more active roles in the work.
  3. Pick a space
    1. Find a space that is:
      1. Well lit
      2. Inviting
      3. Well trafficked
      4. Local focused
      5. Safe for organizers to hold conversations
      6. Has some level of support for the issue
    2. In this example, Carytown may be a less good place than shockoe bottom or VCU
      1. Carytown
        1. Well lit
        2. Inviting
        3. Well Trafficked
        4. Large Tourist presence intermixed with local presence
        5. Safe for organizers
        6. Has level of support
      2. Shockoe Bottom
        1. Well lit
        2. Inviting
        3. Well Trafficked
        4. Smaller tourist presence, large local presence
        5. Safe for Organizers
        6. Has level of support
      3. VCU
        1. Well lit
        2. Inviting
        3. Well Trafficked
        4. Local college student presence
        5. Safe for Organizers
        6. Has level of support.
    3. Additionally, Nice to haves in a space:
      1. Shade
      2. Drinking Water Nearby
      3. Bathrooms nearby
      4. Bus line
      5. Existing Tables
      6. Low/No police presence
    4. Sometimes you have to ask for permission to table/spot canvass
      1. Ask politely but firmly
      2. Mention why you are tabling or canvassing
      3. Accept Nos.
    5. Take a walk through the section you intend to canvass or table at
      1. Note any obstacles, issues, or opportunities you might see!
  4. Recruit for Action
    1. A good canvass or table action requires at least two people – but I recommend three as a minimum
      1. Person to talk and support other talker
      2. Person to talk and support other talker
      3. Someone to handle admin and signing people up/onboarding
    2. Create a signal or other bucket chat for the action
      1. Invite the people who will attend
      2. Share any documents needed for the action there.
    3. Meet up to discuss the plan
      1. Virtual, in person – As long as people are all on the same page about canvassing/tabling
      2. Discuss roles at action
      3. Discuss any risks and needs for the action
    4. 3 days before:
      1. Check in to make sure everyone can still attend
      2. Any final needs
    5. 1 day before:
      1. Any needs/last minute items
  5. Create a script or fact sheet
    1. Take your research from step one, and condense it to readable and speakable facts and bites
      1. 6th grade reading level, nothing too intense.
      2. Inviting people to do further research.
    2. Create a script (either ad hoc or templated) that speaks on the issues you wish to speak about, invites people to conversation, and creates relationships to our organization/community
      1. Hello, my name is ____ and I’m with _____. Do you have a moment to speak about _____?
      2. I am canvassing/tabling today because I care a ton about this issue. My big three points are ________, ________, and ________.
      3. Have you had a chance to talk/think about this issue and how it’s connected to our communities?
      4. What kind of questions are coming up for you?
      5. Are you looking to get involved?
      6. Can you support us? (Organizational Ask Here)
      7. Thank you for your time!
    3. Use the sheet, be shameless about it. Hand it to the person if they’re interested in seeing what you are talking about. Reference often and invite the person you are speaking to into the discussion
    4. Have some answers and scripting for neutrals and opposition
      1. Neutrals:
        1. Things like letting them know you’ll be around if they ever want to talk about this more
      2. Opposition
        1. Polite and perfunctual statements that shut them down, discourage them from harassing you, and uninvite them from the conversation.
    5. Make it yours! Don’t be afraid to improvise and use your vernacular, and make sure that what you’re saying is authentic to you.
  6. Create any additional resources or handouts
    1. Take a minute to resource any flyers, handouts or posters if you are providing them.
      1. Having swag and something to gift people you talk to is good as well!
      2. A guide or handout can keep people in our community talking about the issue and give them a shorthand to reference.
      3. A flyer can be passed through the ecosystem.
  7. Show Up!
    1. Show up about 30 minutes before the start of anticipated action, with your resources, tables, etc. Take a minute to do any last minute run throughs or lingering questions.
    2. Set up and get ready to talk. Create a space that is welcoming and invites curiosity.
    3. Talk to the people!
      1. Welcome them as they walk by and invite them to talk!
      2. Have conversations about the issues you are taking action about!
      3. Invite them to be a core component of the community and get involved.
    4. Listen to the people!
      1. Hear their worries, fears, and thoughts on the issue
      2. Understand their views from a place of compassion.
      3. Translate their words into actionable conversations
    5. Build hope
      1. Inoculate against fears
      2. Gas them up to be a part of the work
      3. Remind them that they are integral to the community
    6. Ask them to take action!
    7. Breakdown
      1. Break down any tables, and put away any resources you brought.
      2. Take a moment to process feedback and thoughts about how the action went, and create solutions to implement next time.
  8. Be shameless in inviting them to the work
    1. Always ask if the person you’re talking to wants to be a part of the work
    2. Let them know that the organization is always available to them
    3. Let them know that there is bigger work to be done, and that they can be a part of it
    4. Take a minute to imagine a solution with the person you’re canvassing/tabling and seeing what could be used or not used.
  9. Be ready for lots of Nos
    1. Lots of reasons for nos.
      1. People have limited capacity and sometimes limited interest
      2. People are busy
      3. People don’t agree with us
      4. People can be in opposition.
    2. A no is okay.
    3. If you receive a no, it is okay to ask for clarification and find feedback in it:
      1. I see you’re not interested, but would you be interested in talking about it?
      2. Are there particular reasons you are saying no?
    4. Never push a no.
      1. Canvassing is a long term project – Most no to yes conversations require many many in depth conversations which may be time and energy consuming
      2. You are not here to convert nos to yesses but rather to engage with potential supporters and activists.
      3. Always thank people for taking time to talk with you, for optics sake.
  10. Follow up!
    1. Canvassing/Tabling is a long term project to translate community support into community power
    2. If the event goes well, set up a follow up event in the same location if possible.
    3. If you are signing folks up, plan a follow up time to phone bank/email them following up.
    4. Keep in contact with the folks you table and canvass with, and talk with them about how to improve process!
  11. Feedback
    1. Take 10 minutes at the end of the action to discuss what worked, what didn’t work
    2. Record notes
    3. Bring notes back to Organization and community to process feedback into better processes
    4. Use the feedback to have better events!

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