Rabble Rousers

Who's that knocking on your door?

What goes wrong: Tonight all is mostly clear, although there is a report that one Richmond Heights resident found a flier in her yard the next morning and summoned the cops. "Some of our people have been harassed by the police, mainly in the county areas," Rob says, "but usually people are waving, and I wave back. As long as you seem friendly, and you're not racing through their neighborhood, jeopardizing their children and things."

What goes right: The next day the Alliance hot line is flooded. "We have a 'five-time' rule," Rob says. "We learned that people in the advertising business will often target people five times with their advertising, so we'll try to do a different flier in the same neighborhood five times in five different weeks."

A sample conversation: "Boy, I'll tell ya what, that tea is going right through me," says Bob. But he doesn't need to stop at a gas station as long as his bladder doesn't give way. "I'll be all right, as long as I can still have kids." -- Ben Westhoff

Christopher M. Smith

Amend Your Own Business
On August 3, Missouri voters will be the first in the nation to tackle that political minefield known as gay marriage. Several months ago the Constitution Defense League was formed in St. Louis. Its mission: to spurn legislative efforts to amend the state constitution to strictly define marriage as a man-woman affair.

The humid evening begins at the Defense League's command center four floors above the bustling University City loop. Foot soldiers are briefed and taught a few handy tips on how to avoid a good butt-kicking. (Never, for example, under any circumstances, enter someone's home.) The group is paired up, given maps and let loose into the night. They will be knocking on doors from 7 p.m. until the sunlight vanishes -- or at least until the last pamphlet finds a sympathetic hand.

The soldiers: Trevor Slom is a native South African who moved to America in 1994 and became a citizen last year. He's a doctor and for months has been wearing off shoe leather for the cause. He wears shorts, a worn Brooks Brothers short-sleeve shirt and sandals. He's calm and thoughtful. "Changing the constitution is a dire solution and enshrines discrimination into the constitution," Slom says. "I was born and raised under South Africa's apartheid government, so I saw firsthand what enshrined discrimination does to a country."

Angie Postal is a community organizer who works on issues involving reproductive rights. "This is my first time canvassing [on this issue]," she says. "I thought this issue was pressing, since there's not much time."

The plan of attack: The game plan calls for your basic door-to-door Campaign 101 gig in Shrewsbury, down Nottingham Lane, armed with only voter-registration rolls and a couple of informational pamphlets. One of them, a full-color fold-out tract, offers this declarative sentence on its cover: "Discrimination isn't just wrong some of the time." Inside, it reads: "Your 'no' vote on Amendment 2 isn't a vote for gay marriage. Your 'no' vote simply says that Missouri's constitution must never be a vehicle for discrimination." The other pamphlet lists the rights that a heterosexual married couple receives (among many others, "the right to custody of children after divorce," "domestic violence intervention" and "automatic next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions and hospital visitation status"). The next column, headed "A same-sex couple receives," is blank.

The goal: Nothing complicated about it; this is all about convincing registered voters to vote "no" on Amendment 2. Says Slom: "The goal isn't even necessarily to change people's minds when you talk to them. This is an issue of civil rights and not religion."

The technique: The key is to have direct engagement with voters. Slom takes one side of the street and Postal the other, and they commence to knocking on doors. They are always within eyesight of each other. If a person answers the door, Slom and Postal explain the amendment and ask if the resident has any questions or concerns.

Three observations gained from the experience:

Citizens are largely uninformed. A shocking number of people are so oblivious to the issue that they don't realize they're being asked to change their own constitution. Of the hundred-odd houses canvassed, Slom does come upon some informed residents, who are polite and open to Slom's conversation and greet him with a smile.

Watch out for the Christian symbol on the door. Enough said.

Democracy is kind of fun. Door-to-door canvassing on this quarter-mile stretch of residential St. Louis can be an uplifting endeavor, regardless of how futile it sometimes seems. In two hours of street pounding, only a few dozen people have been given a proper explanation of the amendment and its consequence -- and even fewer seem at all interested in the issue. But to engage in the democratic process at a grass-roots level is an exercise in hope.

What goes wrong: A large number of Shrewsbury residents, perhaps 50 percent, aren't home on weeknights, and a lot who are won't come to the door.

What goes right: An entire family answers the door. They have not heard of the effort to change the constitution but are registered voters. They listen, and after Slom is finished, the husband looks at him and says, "I believe in love, regardless of who's involved. Where do I sign?" When informed that no signature is needed, that just a "no" vote will suffice, the husband announces that he will definitely vote against the amendment.

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