Phone Banking: The Musical

There is the romance of political change, as broadcast in the sweeping, inspiring soundtracks of Hamilton and Les Miz:

Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away… Raise a glass to the four of us, tomorrow there’ll be more of us!

Red, the world about to dawn! Black, the night that’s gone at last!

Les Miz

And then there is sitting on the phone for hours leaving messages on people’s voicemails.

A year ago, I promised myself I would take the months of September and October and move to a swing state and walk door-to-door for whomever the Democratic presidential candidate would be. Instead the Covid pandemic arrived, door-to-door canvassing was cancelled by the party that listens to science, and we’re left with phone calling, texting, and writing postcards.

So I’m writing postcards. I’m phone banking. I don’t need to explain why: The New Yorker and The Atlantic and the New York Times document with eloquence and detail how our country is being goaded into hatred and division; racism is being legitimized; longstanding democratic institutions are being hollowed out; our environment is being wrecked; we have ceded the world stage to strongmen and bullies; self-interest and “winning” are lauded above all other values.

But get-out-the-vote (GOTV) volunteering is no fun, at least for me. None of it uses my skills or creativity. Phone calling combines the introvert’s anxiety at speaking to strangers with the frustration of getting mostly voicemails and disconnected numbers. Postcard writing takes advantage of my lovely elementary school penmanship (thank you, Mrs. Brodman and the Miss Tighes!) but makes me want to jump out of my skin. Sweep the patio, clean the kitchen sink, bother the cat—after neatly copying the same script ten or twelve times, I want to do anything other than write another postcard.

Perhaps I could cultivate a Zen-type meditative practice around it: Empty your mind, be here now, write the postcard. Perhaps.

Writing postcards to voters. Photo:Ilana DeBare


No matter, though. I need to do this. The stakes are so high: A few dozen hours of tedium now versus four more years of disaster—or 40+ years with the impact of judicial appointments—and all the regret and “could I have done more” that I’ll feel if Trump wins.

Those of us in the college-educated professional class are raised to feel that we are important, we are uniquely talented, we have skills honed over decades, we should be using those skills to make an Individual Mark. Yet national elections are an arena in which very few people can make an Individual Mark. Out of a nation of 328 million, maybe 1,000 people make a visible individual difference in a presidential race—candidates, campaign managers, leaders of broad grassroots movements, journalists at the biggest media, huge donors, or the rare CEO or celebrity.

The rest of us are foot soldiers, making phone calls and giving small amounts and writing postcards. The 60 phone calls I made on Monday evening are meaningless, except when they are combined with the 20 other people making calls in that particular Zoom event, and the hundreds of other local groups holding phone banks that same day, and then all the phone banks on other days of the week…

 Flip the West, which is doing GOTV for key Senate races, says its volunteers have done 2 million postcards, 1.5 million texts, and 400,000 phone calls in 2020. The Environmental Voter Project says it has spoken with one million non-voting environmentalists—many of them young, low-income, or people of color. And there are so many other organizations doing Democratic GOTV too, such as Indivisible, Swing Left, Black Voters Matter, Mi Familia Vota, Reclaim Our Vote, and more.

(I am fortunate enough to be able to use my writing/social media skills for one of them—Auk the Vote, which several of my birding friends recently set up to mobilize birdwatchers to get out the environmental vote. :-) )



None of these GOTV efforts offers rousing music like Hamilton or Les Miz. You’ll have to supply your own inspirational soundtrack. But the cast is a lot larger. The stage is immense. And this is a show that, for better or worse, won’t end after three hours.

Please get involved. Add your five or ten or fifty hours of volunteer GOTV to the rest of ours: You can find opportunities through any of the groups linked in this post. Even when the big picture seems out of my control, I feel a surge of optimism at how many of my friends are also doing this. I invite you to join us!

“Tomorrow” is now today. Get involved!

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