One Conversation at a Time

On a sunny Sunday afternoon this March, Stafford Richter knocked on doors in the federal swing riding of Esquimalt/Juan de Fuca along with a handful of other volunteers. He was there donating his time and energy to work with Dogwood’s Victoria organizer Celine Trojand, whose passion and dedication was one of the reasons he showed up.

“I think canvassing is a lost art,” Stafford told me over coffee. He believes far too much emphasis is placed on social media these days to connect with people about an issue like a tanker ban, when what it really takes is meeting people face to face. “I’m able to tell people that I care about this issue, but I’m also able to have a two-way conversation and figure out where they’re coming from. You just can’t do that in 140 characters or less,” he says. It’s starting to look like there’s going to be a spring election, and a tanker ban will be a defining election issue in B.C. This is why Stafford’s been knocking on doors in his spare time.

“It all comes down to the art of conversation. The worst thing you can do is use some kind of canned speech at the door,” Stafford says. He notes the main concern for a lot of people who are skeptical of a tanker ban is jobs. However, he’s able to make a convincing case to people like this. Tens of thousands of people depend on a healthy coast in B.C. for their livelihoods. This fact alone usually causes people to reconsider their initial skepticism.

Stafford moved to Victoria a couple of years ago and recently finished an environmental studies degree at UVic. He’s been working to find ways to encourage people to take action on climate change, but is trying to do so without resorting to the common “doom and gloom” language and scenarios that are commonly associated with the topic. He’s an avid blogger who focuses on people taking action in their communities to effect positive change. He started writing last June, and has been prolific since then. I discovered during our conversation that he’d even written a piece about the fair trade coffee we were drinking and the caf where we met. His blog is called To Tread Lightly; I highly recommend it.

Going door to door can be exhausting; there’s a lot of walking and talking. For Stafford, though, it doesn’t feel like work. Apparently, for every discouraging conversation there are five great ones. Ben Porcher, one of the other election team members, told me: “A lot of people feel energized by this campaign because they feel like it will actually make a difference.” Volunteers have been meeting every Sunday, and going door-to-door for about three hours. Afterward, everyone meets at a pub to swap stories, relax and have fun.

Stafford told me that his best conversation at the door so far was with an older gentleman in Esquimalt who said something along the lines of: “You can’t trust the word of politicians anymore, and that’s not going to change.” They talked about this and the prospect of north coast oil tankers for quite a while. By the end of the conversation, Stafford said he realized that part of why he was doing this was to restore peoples’ faith in politics. Just by virtue of being there and having these conversations with people in his community he’s able to show that “there are still people involved in politics for the right reasons.”

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