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Mapping Your Political Territory

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Movement Building, Organize and Be Heard

This is the second post in a series on how to organize and be heard in public discourse. It’s largely US-centric, but many principles will apply to any liberal democratic civil society setting.

I want to tell you about being a Jehovah’s Witness in the last decades of the 20th Century.

They’ve changed a few things since then. For instance, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has a website now, and Witnesses no longer tell each other that the Internet is Satanic.

(On the other hand, if you read the comments under news articles, or just Twitter, maybe staying off the Internet isn’t such a terrible idea most of the time! Grain of truth, and all that.)

For another thing, they do less of the door-to-door ministry that I’m about to explain, in favor of standing with a portable magazine display in high-traffic areas.

Anyway! Witnesses who can do so are strongly urged to go out “in service,” from the teens on up, and spread the Word to unbelievers.

Hardly anyone is a Witness, so you’d think, well, target-rich environment, right? You can go anywhere. But there was a system to it to make sure they didn’t miss anyone if they could help it.

Every congregation in a Kingdom Hall—often, one church would host two or more congregations to make the best use of their local real estate—had a territory, a geographic area of responsibility where they were supposed to try and talk to everyone they could.

There was a mapped-out area, and copies of small portions of the map, between 3-5 city blocks, would be copied onto an index card and kept in a file box. A member of the congregation could check out a territory card, and they’d be given one from the front of the box. When they’d gone around and knocked on all the doors, maybe with a group of others, they’d return the territory card, and it would get put in the back of the box.

Unless they had your house marked down as the home of an apostate (a former member who’d actively turned against the faith and tried to talk others out of it) or a Satanist, that house was getting visited at least once every year or three.

It’s a little like how political turf-cutting is done for electoral campaigns in the US, though this is automated now, too.

This canvassing operation is why everyone knows what a Jehovah’s Witness is. I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t know, and I’ve met people from a very wide range of backgrounds.

When I went to Costa Rica for a student project, there was a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a nearby town, and the family I was staying with knew all about that.

There are Witness converts in countries where their faith is illegal, and it’s because they have an unshakeable belief in the power of peaceful, persistent dialogue. It gets them pretty good results too, because around two-thirds of their adult members in the US are converts.

They spend no money on advertising. They hire no lobbyists. There are only a few million of them in the world. 

But you know who they are, because conversation remains one of the most effective modes of communication we have.

So when you’re ready, start working on your political territory card.

Homework: Get a new spreadsheet file out, or a notebook, and start making a list of local officials that you can vote for. Town council, mayor, county executives, etc., anyone in your town or county whose seat is going to show up on your ballot the next time you go to vote.

If it’s relevant for someone like your mayor, maybe write down who their deputy or assistant is, depending on what numbers are listed on their website as additional contacts.

You may wish to also note their email address, or a mailing address, in case you want to write them.