Three weeks ago, I turned up alone to West Hampstead station on the instructions of an email from my local party. Campaign organiser Vicky put me in a group with Councillor James Yarde, Councillor Thomas Gardiner, Youth Officer Jack Boardman and former MP (now London Assembly Member) Andrew Dismore. Wearing Sadiq Khan stickers and clutching leaflets, we started the two hour canvassing session.
The process is this: someone 'runs the board', giving you names of past Labour voters and their house/flat numbers from a list on a clipboard. You knock on the door or ring the buzzer. There are usually several names that you need to remember for each flat.
"Hello, my name is Sienna! I'm from your local Labour Party!" This upbeat greeting is followed by questions. 'Do you know whether you're registered to vote? Do you know which party you'll be voting for on May 5th?' If they respond well, we also ask about the EU referendum in June. With this information, you return to the board person and share the data you collected. They write it down in a code: 'V' for voted, 'L' for Labour, 'X' for non-voter, etc.
Most of the properties we were covering had buzzers, which meant talking over the intercom. Somehow this made the process more nerve-racking. 'This is the hardest it gets,' said Andrew Dismore.
Dynamic team out with @Andrew_Dismore @mikekatz @AlizonMoore for @SadiqKhan in WHampstead this afternoon #YesWeKhan pic.twitter.com/ntDupb4I8C— Philip Rosenberg (@PhilR_R) 16 April 2016
May 5th: Election Day
After finishing my internship at House & Garden, I decided to canvass as much as possible. Come election day, I have a few sessions under my belt. I go to a nearby committee room ready to campaign on polling day from 7am to 10pm. Jack has given me the impression everyone does this, but it turns out we are the only ones this year. (Two days later, I am still hobbling, unused to 15 hour walks.)
Meeting voters, I tell them elections are today and ask whether they've voted. Some are annoyed and say they've already voted; quite a few are surprised - "Oh, is that today?". A couple of people I spoke to seemed to think they could vote all week, one dismissing me with "it's alright, I'm voting Saturday" and another asserting he planned to vote in the next couple of days. Why don't we have posters everywhere saying 'Election Day Today'? We really need to make this clearer.
The real fun starts in the evening. Although my feet are vibrating with pain and my legs are wobbly, excitement (and, admittedly, pride) keeps me going. We run around telling people who are under the false impression they're unregistered to get dressed and vote. One man says he can't leave to vote as his child is sleeping. I say I'm sorry to hear that and it's a real shame - every vote counts! Later, he comes out of his flat, groggy-looking kid in hand, asking for directions to the polling station. Another voter (surrounded by scary barking dogs) claims he will vote Labour just for me. These moments make my heart buzz with joy.
I still find myself too nervous to join in some political discussions with the other activists for fear of sounding stupid. Councillor Thomas is super knowledgeable about housing, and Jack has equipped himself with every detail of local politics. Thomas - fair enough, he's in his 30s and elected. Jack, on the other hand, is my age. I feel complete shame when I don't know about the Kilburn estate that makes its own honey and I can't name all the Camden councillors. But I've already learnt so much.
Here's my advice: don't wait until your knowledge is perfect to get politically active if that's something you'd like to do - just go for it.