Posts Tagged ‘Get Out The Vote’

Phone Banking: The Musical

September 9, 2020

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!

The art of the canvass

November 5, 2018

For many years I was a newspaper reporter and didn’t allow myself even the teensiest involvement in electoral politics. No campaign buttons, no bumper stickers, no lawn signs. I didn’t go as far as former Washington Post editor Len Downie, who famously didn’t allow himself even to vote, but I made every effort to show no bias that could be held against my newspaper and its news coverage. This was and still is standard practice in daily newspapers in the U.S., and it’s part of what is so disgusting about Trump and the right wing’s attacks on “biased mainstream media.” Every reporter I worked with over the years made scrupulous efforts to set aside their personal biases – for we all have them – and report in a fair and factual manner, even about politicans they personally found awful.

I wish I could sit down one-to-one with Fox News viewers and explain this to them. We try really, really hard to be fair. This is not a joke or a smokescreen. Journalists are individual people – people like your family, friends, neighbors – working our butts off and taking our responsibility as information providers in a democracy very seriously.

Anyway.

In 2008, I left my last newspaper job in one of the waves of news industry downsizing. I put an Obama bumper sticker on my car. Hooray! Amidst the sadness of leaving my profession, I was a citizen with a public voice again!

In 2012, I did one short round of phone banking for Obama. It was not enjoyable. It was the end of the campaign, and either people weren’t home or they didn’t want to hear from the 432nd person calling them.

In 2016, I went to Las Vegas and did a weekend of door-to-door canvassing for Clinton. It was fascinating, educational, and fun.

This fall, I’ve done a bunch of canvassing for Democratic candidates in swing districts in California’s Central Valley – four days for Josh Harder in Congressional District 10 (near Modesto) and this past weekend for T.J. Cox in CD 21 (south of Fresno).

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Getting ready to canvass at Josh Harder’s campaign headquarters in Modesto

Door-to-door canvassing took a little bit of attitude adjustment for me. With a graduate degree and 30+ years of experience in newspapers and nonprofits, I didn’t want to just be a “worker bee.” It felt wasteful to not be using my writing skills or organizational knowledge. But I wasn’t prepared to put in the months of time required for a higher-level role in a campaign, and what these campaigns needed was worker bees. So… off I buzzed.

If you’ve never canvassed, it can seem scary – talking to strangers! What if they disagree with you? What if they yell at you? But the scariness quickly wears off. Maybe two or three out of every ten households are actually at home. You become so happy to get a live person at the door that it almost doesn’t matter if they support the other candidate. And by and large, people are civil if not friendly. The campaign doesn’t want you wasting time on fruitless arguments with diehards for the other side: Your job is to talk to the undecided, identify supporters, and make sure those supporters fill out their mail ballots or go to the polls.

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Sign at T.J. Cox’s campaign office in Hanford (CD21)

Canvassing is exhausting. Like going to a zoo or a museum, you may not be covering a lot of miles, but you are on your feet all day. There is also an up-and-down rhythm of stress. You approach a door and your adrenaline rises: Will there be anyone home? Will they want to talk with me? What will I say? No one answers, and your adrenaline level plummets. Then you walk thirty feet to the next house, and the process starts all over again.

In a day of canvassing, there are usually one or two encounters that stand out and make it worthwhile. On one trip to Modesto, I managed to help a Latino voter sign up for an absentee ballot entirely in (my very poor) Spanish. On another trip, I met a single father of four who had volunteered on the Clinton campaign and who offered to volunteer on Josh Harder’s campaign. I met an elderly Filipina who gave me her absentee ballot to turn in – saving her a trip to the post office, and ensuring it wouldn’t get lost or forgotten – and who told me she was praying for Harder every day.

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My friends Monica and Lindsey canvassing in Modesto (CD10)

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Canvassing with my neighbor Leslie in Turlock (CD10)

In our trip this past weekend to CD21, my friend Beth had a string of luck meeting 18-year-olds who had never voted and weren’t yet registered. She let them know that in California, you can register all the way through election day if you go to the county elections office! They were thrilled to be able to vote – exchanged fist bumps with her – and she racked up another three or four votes for T.J. Cox.

One of the highlights for me of canvassing this year was doing it with various configurations of friends – one trip with the women in my writing group, another with my next-door neighbor, others with Jewish women friends, not all of whom knew each other before the canvass trip. Carpooling to the swing districts provided rare down-time to catch up, share life stories, and learn about each other. Navigating unfamiliar neighborhoods and working through our “turf” together was a bonding experience. On our CD21 trip, the five of us stayed at a wonderful Air B&B on an organic peach farm in Dinuba, and got a tour of the farm from owner Mike Naylor.

Consider election-season canvassing for your next “girls’ weekend” – less expensive than a getaway to a spa or to wine country, and better for the world!

Now we’re one day out from actual voting. I have no better idea than anyone else of what the outcome will be. I’m as wracked by fear and angst as any other liberal right now. But I feel less powerless than I otherwise would because of the “worker bee” canvassing I’ve done.

And I feel heartened by how many other people – both friends of mine and strangers — have been canvassing, phone banking, texting, and writing postcards as part of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. They’re not just whining on Facebook – they’re putting in time and doing stuff.

Fingers crossed!

In 2020, I hope to take the next step — not just canvassing for individual days/weekends, but making a commitment of weeks or months to campaign in a swing area.