Gassed to Canvass
Whether your Cut the Rent group is building for demos, fundraisers, a rent strike, a general meeting, disrupting university events... The best way to drum up support can often be the same: talking to people one-on-one. Door-knocking helps create both a presence of your campaign on the campus as well as personal relationships between students.
When door-knocking the goal is to not only to inform people about how much the university rips off students (armed with statistics), but to gain the trust of the people you're talking to. For this reason, if you do decide to call a strike, some organisers find that using the words “withhold rent” rather than the more edgy-sounding “rent strike” are better when canvassing. When canvassing, we usually found that people were often very willing to chat: you don’t get nearly as many people as you think telling you to fuck off.
All Cut the Rent groups are grassroots campaigns run by students, not “professional activists” or union hacks. The endgame of canvassing is to build trust and affinitive links between students, and make them aware that the movement is comprised of students just like them, who are struggling to pay their rent. In achieving that, students will feel confident that the campaign supports them, and will hopefully support the campaign in exchange.
The aim is to be approachable, and also to show that we are human beings who like to socialise and go to the pub after meetings. Coming to a Cut the Rent meeting in freshers’ week to bitch about the rent can be a great way to break the ice, which is why it’s important to start canvassing from day one!
A good way to have an excuse to door knock early on is having a petition with broad aims that everyone can get behind, while building you should be taking people's contact details (tip: phone numbers are way better than emails).
When the petition ultimately fails, it can encourage students to mobilise and escalate: more direct action is justified and necessary. The failure of “softer” actions such as petitions and leafleting will confirm the narrative that the university is refusing to listen to student demands and radicalise the students who believe that the university cares about their wellbeing.
When canvassing it's better to do it in groups with people whether splitting up or in a couple. If there’s around five or more canvassers you often end up working through a block pretty quickly.
When door-knocking you want to get contact details of potential organisers and strikers, but also they need to have your contact details: make sure you have some good-looking flyers on you, which include your email, facebook and twitter. If people aren’t in, leave a flyer under their door and/or in their kitchen; if someone is keen and wants to get their flatmates involved, give them a stack of flyers! Having posters and stickers is a big bonus.
In conclusion, canvassing is super important in strengthening your actions, building awareness and support for your campaign and recruiting new individuals to the group. You should start as early as possible in the year for maximum effect.