Why I’ve been dialing complete strangers

I’m not very politically involved. I tend to shy away from discussing politics, unless I already know a person really well, and I don’t engage in or provoke political discourse on social media. I think this stems from a deep-seated proclivity for conflict-avoidance,¹ coupled with the feeling that many of my friends, family and colleagues are more knowledgeable about politics than I. I have never registered with a political party, have never attended rallies; at most I’ve given a few bucks here or there and gotten a bumper sticker in return. 39.9 years, and I have generally avoided politics for all of them.

Until now.

We face a somber reality: the most dangerous presidential candidate in my lifetime stands a chance of winning the White House. Narcissistic, misogynistic, jingoistic, xenophobic, short-tempered, deeply insecure, ignorant, and any number of other adjectives that describe someone who should never lead our country, Donald Trump stands shockingly, terrifyingly close to being chosen to do just that. I shudder to think that he could be president.

Feeling so strongly, am I not obligated to do something? Especially in light of his facing an incredibly qualified opponent who stands for so much of what I believe in?

And so, for the month of August: political activism.

HFA

I knew I was not a good candidate for going door to door, because: three small kids. But I did think of something that I had no excuse not to be able to do- something I could do from home, when the kids were asleep, with minimal time commitment. I went to HillaryClinton.com and clicked “Act,” where I quickly learned how to sign up for phone banking.

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The sign-up was surprisingly easy, and within two minutes, a red button saying “Call” stared at me. No training was required, no vetting that I wasn’t secretly a Trump supporter, trying to infiltrate the campaign. These are good, trusting folk, these Hillary For America organizers. I was nervous: was I really ready to call random people and pitch them on why they should support Hillary?

Here’s how it works. You sign up for a state to call. You are given a name and phone number to dial, and a complete script to use. I took a deep breath and went for it.

The first time I phone banked, the only state that was “open” for calls was Hawaii.² I read through the script and was immediately troubled. They wanted me to say “I am a volunteer for Hillary for Hawaii here in Kauai.” But… my “here” is not in Kauai, even if I wish it were. Am I really supposed to lie, right off the bat, as part of my phone banking duty? I decided that I would allow myself to go slightly off-script so as not to say anything that felt wrong to me, like lying about where I was calling from. Sadly, I didn’t reach a single live person that shift.

Hawaii call

The next shift, I hopped on the phone on a Sunday afternoon, which meant I had many more states to choose from. Iowa needed me to make 3 calls. I was told it’s the first state to vote, with voting kicking off in September. Okay, Iowa- I’m here for you! I clicked on “make calls,” and was informed that all the calls had been made. Fantastic! On to the next state.

I clicked on West Virginia. They wanted me to make 5 calls to Hillary supporters in that state. I clicked “call,” and got the message, “Problem accessing phone banks. Whoops! Something went wrong. We’ll reach out when we get this settled.”

I tried West Virginia again, and was told, “Way to go! You called everyone on the list. Can you grab a few more calls?” Sure- this was easy!

Next, I tried Rhode Island. Same message. Either there were plenty of phone bankers, or the system had some major bugs. Surely some state could use my cell phone minutes and my ability to read from a script?

I clicked on Massachusetts, and finally — FINALLY — we had a winner.

I tried calling a 24 year old male named Louis. No answer. I continued: Bil, Sidonie, and Patricia: all went to voicemail.

Finally, an answer: Deb! I gave her my intro pitch, and she said she’s not registered in Massachusetts. I asked her where she’s registered: California. (Why, that’s where I am! Good thing I hadn’t pretended to be calling from Massachusetts!) The script hadn’t prepared me for this turn of conversation. Me: “Uh, that’s great. I’m actually there to0. Listen, can I ask you- because we’re trying to find out how many supporters we have in different states- can Hillary count on your support on election day?” Deb, after a pause: “Yes.” And the line went silent.

My heart slowed down.³ I made it through my first live call! And I didn’t totally bomb it!

I go back to the phone for more: Martha, Chad, Mark (number not in service), William, Patricia, Karen (number not in service), Michael, Paula, David. This phone banking is not for those who seek instant gratification — it’s very hard to get someone to pick up. This doesn’t surprise me, since I would react the same to an unknown number calling me on a Sunday evening. Still, now that I’m the unknown caller, I’m silently begging people to answer their phones.

Another Paula, this one an 81 year old female. She answers! I tell her who I am, and she says, “Isn’t it rather late to be calling?” (It is 8:30pm Massachusetts time.) Once again, I stutter and go off-script. “Well, we’ve found that this time in the early evening is the best time to find people while they’re at home, uh, before they go to bed. If it’s too late, I could try back some other time.” Paula: “Oh no, that’s all right, it’s just that I’m tired is all. Why are you calling, dear?” I go back to the script and ask her if Hillary can count on her support. “Of course!” says Paula. It turns out that Paula had even volunteered for Hillary in the primary, and she will again, if the timing works out, but it all depends, because “her husband isn’t well.” I feel bad, but I press on: this is the first time I’ve made it this far in the script! I ask her whether she could possibly go to New Hampshire next weekend, and she says that Elizabeth Warren is coming to speak next weekend, and she’s “the top,” so she can’t miss out on that. I agree, and congratulate her for having volunteered in the past, and Paula and I hang up cordially.

So, after all of this phone banking, what have I learned?

  1. Taking action, no matter how small, does give a person a sense of accomplishment. Even if that accomplishment is letting H4A organizers know when a number is no longer in service.
  2. Even though the Hillary Phone Bank organizers encouraged me to fib about my location, I am still strongly supportive of Hillary (and I would be even if her opponent was someone other than Trump).
  3. Elizabeth Warren is the top.
  4. Volunteering for a campaign feels a bit like a gateway drug. I confess that I have since gone on to purchase Hillary paraphrenalia, again, a first for me.

In my newfound role as political activist, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage all of you to make sure to vote on Election Day and help us elect Hillary. You might even try phone banking, or doing something that requires you to leave your house (and if so, my three children and I tip my hat to you).

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¹I remember when my older sister used to try to argue with me. She would yell and try to provoke me with her words and tone of voice, and I would refuse to engage. I’d stay calm and usually walk away, and this would drive her crazy.

²This is what I get for attempting to phone bank at 10:15pm California time. Hawaii is one of the most reliably blue states in our country. It’s a gimme for the Democrats in modern presidential elections. Why are we spending volunteers’ precious time calling a state that is guaranteed to go Hillary? Might we not want to reallocate our resources? (Says the campaign newbie who, two minutes in, thinks she knows what’s best. I’ll pipe down now.)

³Readers may be interested to note that phone banking for Hillary gave me a bigger adrenaline rush than jumping out of the airplane, back in April. Yeah, I know. Weird.