SURJ Door-Knocking Call Notes

SURJ Call: White People Door Knocking for Racial Justice

Call Notes

[7:07] Dara Silverman, SURJ – Welcome.  We are lucky to have a number of guests who can help outline how they have done door-knocking, what to expect, share some tips and answer questions.  First, we'll get an update from Betty Robinson in Baltimore. 


Betty Robinson:  Baltimore Update:

On Friday (May 1) the Baltimore States Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, brought charges against 6 police officers ranging from second degree depraved heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office to false imprisonment.  Friday afternoon into the night there were rallies, marches and protests; the same on Saturday.  Some celebratory, some thanking Marilyn Mosby.


Saturday night there was a curfew protest led by anti-racist whites in a white gentrifying neighborhood – a silent protest – with a sign saying they were centralizing black voices.  The police commander politely asked the curfew violators to go home and not get arrested saying he “respected them”, etc.  At the same time across town at Pennsylvania and North Avenues, the epicenter of the uprising, the curfew violators were handled very differently by police with clubs drawn and tear gas and arrested without warning.


Bail fund raised = 103,000

Right now there are 30 people still in jail. Baltimore Bloc youth - part of Baltimore United - unfurled banners at the City Council meeting on Monday (the 4th) demanding that the remaining 30 people still in jail be let out.  They are especially highlighting the case of 18 year old Allen Bullock - a young man who had his picture in the paper hitting a police car with a highway cone.   His parents convinced him to turn himself in - which he did – but he's still in jail with a $500,000 bail - higher that the bail for the 6 officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death.  Terrible jail conditions, 400+ people arrested including legal observers and medics arrested but they are now out.


Churches opening up to help with food distribution and people finding ways to transport seniors to pharmacies. Two rebuilding funds established -- United Way of Central Maryland and Baltimore Community Foundation, a white led foundation.  Big questions about who is going to control the funds and make decisions – and are we going to figure out new ways of doing it so we don’t face this same situation in 50 years. There's lots of interest and energy and folks are trying to harness that, continue to work on police accountability, and also pivot to direct that energy on a variety of systemic changes that are desperately needed.


Lots of white people are wanting to rush into Black neighborhoods to help.  I see the door knocking as a key way to involve white people now and down the road, both supporting changes in police culture, ending police brutality, working on an end to mass incarceration, changing the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, insisting on equitable school funding and culturally relevant education, demanding youth jobs, re-opening closed Recreation Centers, etc. This is what SNCC asked us to do in the 1960s – go into white areas of the South to organize white folks in ending segregation.  We were really unable to do this because of the systemic violence and intense racism, but now is a time when I believe we can do this, passionately and powerfully.


Dara: 3 deaths of Black people in the last week or so. Introduces Jeff Ordower, Executive Director of MORE in St Louis.


Jeff Ordower: Ferguson. People organizing. Special tick police are writing, “man walking” or something like this, easy way for PD to collect revenue. Can end up in jail easily. Saying the local systems are messed up. Legislature passed a bill. Caps limit of money that can be made. Change conflict of interest laws for judges.  Limits amount of $ people have to pay for bench warrants. One of the tactics used to pas this was door knocking, people have conversations with white folks to share about how the court systems in St. Louis County worked so well. We need more door knocking as a base building strategy.


Dara: Turn it over to Elyse Vesser, who worked on the door knocking with Jeff in St. Louis in collaboration with Black Lives Matter (BLM).


Elyse, Anti-racist collective, St. Louis: Background: I work with anti-racist collective, part of justice institute. White anti-racist activists. We decided for outreach we wanted to go to white communities and door knocks. Early stages. Responses have been varied. Out of 33 doors, 11 signs got in the ground (33%!!). Pleasantly surprised. We’ve been

(1) getting group of people together

(2) 1 Hr long training, reviewing script that says, “I’m doing x,y,z, the big ask if would you put this sign in your yard. Also recruiting person to their organization meetings and left people with a handout (10 things white folks need to stop saying to POC). Also addressing that “all lives matter” sharing why POC lives are on the line in these issues.

(3) Put a seasoned person with a novice.


Jimmy Wells: Tucson BLM Solidarity Group. Door knocking.  AZ 1070. Participated in coalition campaign, split the city into two different areas, very segregated areas. Sent some white groups to white neighborhoods. Had yard signs “we reject racism” with a big X over numbers 1070. Great experience. It helped raise the visibility. We door knocked on neighborhoods and businesses, planted 1500 signs. Also difficult, lots of no’s. But we also got to connect with people, surprises, organize in one neighborhood organized a neighborhood meeting got neighbors involved, helped create momentum in the city.


Dara: The goal of the conversations is engaging other white folks, who may be across the spectrum, but SURJ wants to reach people who are already in motion. How do we engage people in “why”? Getting these yard signs up helps make visible that people are supporting the BLM. Questions? Elise sent the script. We’ll send it out.




Meg: In St. Louis and with 1070, both local issues happening. For those of us without immediate issues going on, what do you think the convo might look like?


Elyse: Try to connect your city to the issues/national experiences


Jeff: There may be issues, may not be as big as what’s happening in some cities, every city has some thing going on, what is the story that works for your community? “I’m a white person and this ___ touched me because____” Sharing personally about why you’re doing this work


Dara: right, sharing why you do this, what is your motivation for this? Organizer for Obama campaign, story of me, story of us, and the story of now. Why am I engaged in this? Why am I committed to anti-racism? 


Liz: Jimmy, can you say more about what was difficult about door knocking?


Jimmy: it was scary. The fear of knocking on strangers’ doors. No guarantee that they weren’t going to just yell at me. It was scary. Difficult in the beginning to get volunteers who were willing to do this. More volunteers began to show up as they saw more volunteers coming. We had a script. We role-played  difficult conversations. Early on in the script we tried to gauge the person’s sympathy and if it wasn’t going that way we encouraged knockers to walk away.


Jeff: The hardest part of organizers is getting out of your car. It’s easy to build up a lot of what-if’s, but once we’re talking and connecting with people, once you’re doing it, it is so much different. Pairs are important. Often we’re more afraid of doing it than it actually turns out to be. What an opportunity, to knock on people’s doors and talk about racism and white supremacy.


Dara: right. So many people want a way into this work. 


[7:37] Elizabeth: We don’t do door knocking, for access reasons, NY. We do “tabling” where we present ourselves in public with a big sign, “advice for the lovelorn” and people stop by and all want to talk, and we ask them to put a sign in their windows “BLM” recently putting out signs “Black Kids’ Lives Matter”. First demonstration in December, Times Square. Put scripts on back of signs. Encountered “all lives matter.” How do we respond to “All Lives matter?”


Elise: My favorite, my go-to is “all lives do matter, yes,” Affirm, re-assure, message. “Yea, all lives matter, re-directing. I want to say that’s true but society tells us it’s not true, housing, health, education, etc. Black lives do not matter to our society”


[What if a one-liner could be, Make All Lives Matter]


Jeff: We’re organizing, and so we need to take the time to have the agitational conversation. Let people talk, think, vent, etc. We’re going out to ask questions. If we don’t let them talk through their stuff they don’t have time to process all of that.”


Lily: Two-prong question. Sense that those neighborhoods are segregated, but here in Birmingham what happens when trying to knock on W person’s door and POC answer? Second, for those people who want to put it in their lawn, but for people who have lots of resources what else can we ask?


Elyse: Two asks – so one of our asks was “can you want to come to a meeting to learn more about this” and “make a donation for the sign”


Dara: Financial support to BLM, could be to get people involved in your local group, follow-up with them, recruit more volunteers. One goal is to identify people who could be more involved, great way to connect with people hadn’t met before.


Desaray: North Carolina. Door knocking in my part of town I imagine doing it on our main drag, most Southern towns have main drag. Wondering if people have done door knocking in business areas rather than residential.


Jimmy: We did that as part of our campaign, 175ish business to put up signs. We identified neighborhoods and business districts that were popular, around University, really effective for adding resistance visibility.


Desaray: What challenges?


Jimmy: We focused on small local businesses. Chains might have corporate policies around politic signs. Learned early on. Found a lot of ally businesses, more receptive than expected.


Josh:  Madison. Had our own shooting not too long ago. Trying not to step on turf or toes, having too many organizations out door knocking. How can we network to avoid this?


Dara: Get in touch with Ground Work, Madison affiliate. Haven’t encountered too much of a problem with too many doorknockers. News groups forming in NM, Santa Fe and ABQ. How can we make this a regular part of our outreach? In B-Town talking about doing it 1x or 2x a month to recruit people. Will send out script. Basic framework: four C’s. (1) Connection. How are you? Lovely day. Rain. Small talk. (2) Context. Why are you knocking on their door? Tell them why. Tell them you’ll ask a few Q’s. Get a sense of how they feel about what’s happening with police brutality against POCs? (3) Crunch. Making the Ask. Yard sign. Will you donate to cover costs. Do you want to get more involved with White people doing this work? (4) Catapult. Closing of what you’re doing, repeating next steps, making a plan if you’re going to do follow-up. (5) Follow-up. You should follow-up. We’re exploring launching a national campaign against police brutality.


Jeff: We want to be prepared, taking folks who may not have same world view, people will say things you’re not quite prepared for, role playing, thinking about how we get to what people need versus trying to correct people about their language.


Elyse: De-briefs are really important, and the training before you go out. Because we had someone at our first door knock who wanted to put All Lives Matter. Put out script in advance so people can know messaging ahead of time.


Dara: Update on yard signs from Sam. Process for signs.


Sam: SURJ is really trying to support door knocking in support of BLM. Quick updates. Designer made a sign for SURJ. Say “Black lives Matter” have SURJ Website on the bottom, front and back, black and white. Working with Local Union Printer in Tucson. SURJ is working with them to develop website to order from. Order directly from the printer. Will have information tomorrow. They are giving major discounted rates on our sign but charging retail pricing, at least $1 per sign will go to BLM nationally. Signs $4.50 per sign. Have to order stakes. Ask people to put in windows. One more detail: we can work with you to make something that makes sense in your local context, order 100 or more. Financial assistance.


Dara: going to go for 12 more minutes. Questions. Quick ask. Next survey.


Meg: If the proceeds can go to local BLM group rather than the national group?


Dara: Sam?


Sam: Definitely possible through our printer. Will need info on where money will go.


Lis: What to do if POC answers the door? What about the accountability part of door knocking? How do we make sure this is something POC groups want?


Elise: If POC answers, we’ve been talking about it, in St. Louis it’s pretty easy to go into White neighborhoods. Have not had that encounter. Agreed upon offering a sign and offering to tell them about what we’re out doing, but not trying to organize them into action. Not the folks we’re intending to have this conversation with.


[8:10] Dara: In terms of National Accountability, we’re in convo with BLM nationally and Ferguson, they’ve been very supportive of door knocking, proceeds going to these groups. Break out groups. Get practice making the ask, for 4 minutes.


Split into small groups


Dara, Whole Group. Closing Asks: (1) Commit to door knocking in primarily white neighborhood, try multiple times. 50% of people on call.  (2) Do you know other people who you can ask to go door knocking with you? Over 57%. That’s it! Go forth! J