Knock Knock

Members of XR Oxford knock on doors in the Florence Park area

“Door-knocking” doesn’t fully capture the magic of project 3.5, I think. Knocking on someone’s door is just the first step, it’s the magic that follows afterwards that is the heart and soul of the project. This project, in my experience, is what brings human connection back into the politics of climate change.

As a recent immigrant, I was quite sceptical of how people would recieve me if I knocked on their doors with some leaflets and a clipboard in my hand. I wasn’t sure I would be able to address all the concerns or questions they might have about the climate crisis either. But I was quite keen to talk to people, and experience what it actually means to do “deep canvassing” – something that people have been talking about in progressive circles in the recent past.

With a wonderful team of organizers in the local affinity group, I felt instantly comforted to know that I would not be going to knock on doors alone and that there would be 4-5 other familiar people on the same street as I. The organizing team put in a lot of effort to organize all the leaflets, survey sheets, the script (yes, there is a script!), and all the rest that we needed to carry with us. The schedules were chalked up, and street names decided. The script for the survey was very helpful as it gave a structure to the conversation, which was focused squarely on letting people do the talking and the rebels would do the listening. This flipped around what has become a normal mode of communication, where either everyone is opinionating and hardly listening.

And why is listening important? There is this one particular interaction that I had with a woman that I think can serve as a proof of concept for project 3.5, an example I certainly wouldn’t forget ever. So on my first day of doorknocking, I walk up to a couple who were working in their front yard, where a big van was parked too. The car had an array of plumbing equipment stacked away neatly. When I introduced myself as a member of a local climate action group, they looked at me with what I thought was a bit of skepticism, but nevertheless they gave me some space to ask questions. When I asked the lady the first question- “On a scale from 1 to 5, how serious do you think is the climate and ecological crisis?”, the lady burst into a tirade of how the climate crisis is an elite conspiracy. I was taken aback a little bit, but I was also genuinely curious (something that helps quite a bit while door knocking). She went on for about a minute longer with a lot of concerns about how life is difficult for ordinary working class people, and how the elites, clubbing climate activists with them, are a load of BS. And then, she looked at me and asked, “Sorry young girl, I am sure this isn’t what you expected to hear, did you?” I replied, “This is exactly what I would like to hear- what you really feel and think. I hear that you share a lot of concern around difficulties that ordinary citizens have to bear and how the elites seem to not care about it all”. She softened considerably, nodding in agreement and over the next few minutes she talked about how the renewable energy sources have been around for a few years but the government isn’t subsidizing them; she spoke of her concern with plastic pollution and dwindling animal population. She even shared that she found the pink boat of the 2019 rebellion quite cool!

Will the lady join XR? May be, but mostly not. Only time will tell. But I feel that she definitely felt a sense of connection and validation of her concerns and her place viz a viz the climate crisis. As for me, I definitely left this conversation feeling validated too- for my sincere attempt to connect to an individual “across the political aisle”. Of course, not all conversations went like this- a few were frustrating and a fair few somewhat banal too, but everyone in our team had at least one or two gems of conversations on each day that they were always eager to share with others afterwards.

The doorknockers’ team in East Oxford knocked on a total of 1866 doors and had 512 conversations in a week. Many other affinity groups are thinking of having their own rounds of project 3.5 in the months to follow, and I really hope we can all experience this together.

Abha Jeurkar, Oxford Geese