Political Phone Calls
Full transcript of this post after the cut.
It’s election season here in the U.S. — and if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from lately, it’s because I’ve spent the past couple weeks at a phone bank getting out the vote.
(On a related note —I’m currently working for [redacted] and they did not approve this message.)
When you spend several hours in a row, several days in a row, being that political zealot who harasses people about whether they’re voting, and how they’re voting, and for whom – you learn some things. For starters: people really hate political phone calls. Oh, sure, the occasional sweet old woman will call you dear and ask her god to bless you, and the occasional entertaining eccentric will thank you for letting her rant (for seven minutes) about the mistreatment of Ann Romney’s racing horse… but for the most part, you will be cursed at, hung up on, and told to sell your democracy elsewhere. Because Amrka.
I’m here today to tell you this: I understand. If I haven’t been one of those people cursing out the get-out-the-voters it’s only because I’m one of those people who, as a rule, doesn’t answer my phone. (A more direct version of my voicemail message would state “hang up and text me.”) But seeing this process from the other side has given me some strange perspective , which I now wish to share.
Pertinent point #1: We callers are not all robots. It’s true, I sound a bit artificial intelligence when I call. (Video breaks to MMax wearing a headset to speak to a caller: “Hi, my name is Mary, and I’m calling on behalf of our Perky Robot Overlords.” Video skips back to non-headset-wearing MMax.) — But I am, in fact, a person. The staff and volunteers who do this job with me are, also, people – people who care passionately about the everyday world we’re all trying to navigate, people who have children they wish to keep fed, people (in short) who are doing this for reasons that matter.
(MMax dances robot style, despite not being a robot.)
Pertinent Point #2: We actually get that you’re busy. No, really, we do. I do. I get that you don’t want your dinner or your coffee or your staring into space watching the dust settle interrupted by an awkward phone call from a stranger. I know this because I don’t particularly want to interrupt your dinner or your coffee or your staring into space – and I wouldn’t want mine interrupted either. Because even when I have time, talking politics with a stranger I can’t see would probably not be my first choice on how to spend it. I get that you don’t know what to expect and you don’t want to sign on for something that may cost more time or money than you have to spare. Which is why I want you to know – in two weeks at this job, I have never asked a single person for money. Minus my employer. Instead, I’m usually asking for information – things like whether you’re registered, whether you’ve voted already, whether I can count on your support of a badass candidate.
And these questions I have – there are almost none of them. Call scripts from these campaigns are designed to be quick; we want to make a lot of these calls and we want to make them to different people. That means, we don’t want 20 minutes of your time. (Especially if you’re going to spend it talking about Ann Romney’s horse.) My completed calls are usually between 30 seconds and a minute 30. That’s honestly about the same amount of time it takes someone to tell me to take my democracy and shove it. And what’s more, my questions are never trick questions. I’m not going to ask you what the capital of Sacramento is, or where to bury the survivors in a crash on the American/ Canadian border. I’m going to ask you fewer than 5 quick, simple questions – and if you answer them, without threatening me, I am going to sing your praises for the next several days.
Seriously, you have no idea how awesome you are at the phone bank if you a) answer our questions, b) thank us for calling, or c) treat us like we’re human. It’s the stuff of fruit baskets. Or would be. If we had the money we’re not asking you for.
The other thing I hear from people all the time is that they’re sick of politics or they hate politics or they don’t give a flying fla-hoot about politics. And, as someone who trolls the #mockthevote hashtag on Twitter during the presidential debates, you might think I’m bluffing here, but this, too, I understand. I hate mudslinging campaign ads almost as much as I hate lying ones, and despite the fact that I don’t own a functional television, I have still seen too many of them. October, that month of pumpkin spice lattes and made-for-TV spooks is overridden by messages about why we should vote for this dude over that dude (holy shit! Was that a woman? What? Oh…no… sorry) – and as someone who finds the lunch rush at the local deli overstimulating, I get how beyond saturated you are. Truly. The thing is…there’s still an election going on.
You’re sick of hearing about the election because we’re being told about it constantly, but there’s a context around that message that we all tend to forget, when we’re muting Mitt Romney for the seventeenth time that hour. That context is the other eleven months of the year. It’s who is going to be leading our schoolboard, our town, our district, our state, and our country for the eleven months, or two years, or four, when we are not listening to the constant pissing contest of the superpacs. And you can say you don’t care about politics – and I get what you mean. You mean you don’t follow the election like it’s a sport or you mean you’re sick and tired of political ads or you mean you don’t think we have anyone in office we can trust. Ok. Fair enough. Most of the time, I’m with you. But the reality is that Person X, in office, will make different choices than Person Y, and those choices will affect things you care about. Things like your student loans, your medical coverage, or the freedom of your Internet. You care about your life and your grandmother’s life and the lives of tiny children in your world. So please. For the love of all that is holy. Do not let the mudslingers convince you that you don’t give a chicka chicka boom boom about politics. Because you do.
Politics is designed to look after and protect those things that we care about. It is, you may have noticed, not doing a great job. But when my furnace isn’t working properly, I don’t just tell it off and walk out the door – because that tends to mean my house burns down. Instead, I pay attention. I notice what’s happening. And I take steps to ensure the right people are there to help address what’s broken.
Political phone calls can influence voter turnout and help us to create something better. Seriously, why not take 30 seconds to be a part of that?