Bank on This: Phone-Banking Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up To Be. It’s Better.

You know those things you swear you’ll never do because you’re bad at them and you think they’re annoying and don’t make any difference and oh, by the way, you hate doing them?

Could I be talking about anything but political phone-banking? And have I been doing it anyway? And am I going to quit with the stupid rhetorical questions? Yes, yes, and yes.

The whole enterprise started with my furlough. I had some extra time on my hands, which I mainly filled with some physical volunteer work: packing school meals to be delivered to children, and groceries to be delivered to families. That felt meaningful.

But then both those programs ended (because hey, everyone knows kids don’t need to eat in the summer, especially when their parents might also be furloughed or unemployed!). [Note: this is NOT a slam on my community, which is doing everything in its power to help everyone.It’s about funding from upstream.]

Anyway, there I am in early June with the world on fire with injustice and COVID, and my deep-seated urges to pitch in have nowhere else to turn but…the phone. Calling voters in states without mail-in ballot programs to try to help voters get mail-in ballots, and gosh, by the way, wanna help elect Mr/Ms/Dr ____ to the ______?

On my first go, in Wisconsin, I swore I was done with this.

Woo-hoo.

Me, phone-banking: This is such a waste of time.

Myself: Nuh-uh, all the political people say it’s been proven that phone calls make more difference than any form of voter contact!

Me: But I even hate getting these kind of calls!

Myself: Well, you won’t from now on, will you? Maybe this is your punishment for not being nicer to the last person who called you.

Me: Not true. I’m always nice. But you may have a point there: this job feels like penance. Can I just go ahead and like, bank it against future sins?

But then the nice campaign people in Wisconsin let me know how badly they needed my help, so next day, there I was again. I don’t know how many calls I made because I hadn’t thought to keep count. But then I took some phone-bank training and discovered the joy of tally marks.

So NOW when I’m calling, I’m really competing with myself. Last week I made 100 calls in 2 hours. How ’bout 110 this week? Do I hear 120?

And along the way, even though there are SO many things I’d rather be doing on a lovely summer afternoon, like

noticing wildflowers…

or

…noticing wildlife…

I’m learning other ways to “enjoy” my political “work.” Like:

Fun with numbers! “Hey, this guy’s number’s almost the same as my Social Security.” “Whoa, a triple 6–wish I had a cool Satanic phone number like that.”

Enjoying the different recordings people leave on their voicemail, like this one man: “Hello, this is Mister Wonderful.” Or this adorable couple: “You’ve reached Grandpa and Grandma Willis.”

[Note: these generally make up for those irritating ones where the person’s clearly trying to fool the caller into thinking they’ve reached a real person instead of a recording. You guys suck.]

Grooving on cool names. I like to do this: “Hi, I’m Gretchen with the ____ Campaign, and I’ve been calling folks all afternoon and you’ve just won the Coolest Name of the Day award.”

Playing the Find my Age game: I’m 58. Nothing so special about 58, right? Except that only about .000008 of the folks I’ve called seem to BE 58, and only half of those are women. So when I get a 58 year-old female on my list (all we get are name, age & gender, and sometimes not even gender), I let them know how excited I am to talk to them! [If they pick up, that is. Which they do only about 10% of the time. So I’ve really only bonded with two other 58 year-old women so far. Sisterhood is beautiful.]

So much darn fun, I can almost forget I’d rather be kayaking.

For those of us who enjoy Life Lessons, there’s the Note Your Prejudices game: see what mental image pops into your head when you see someone’s name, age & gender pop up, then–quick, before they answer the phone!–re-arrange that prejudice into something completely different. Then find out how right or wrong you were when they answer! (If they answer. 😦 ) And briefly ponder the internal biases that caused your initial guess, quick–before you dial the next number.

Then, of course, there’s always good ol’ Gazing Out the Window…trying not to think about hiking into the sunset

Not till you’ve finished your tally marks.

or making pie.

I think I’ve earned pie.

But really? It’s all about the tally marks. And yes, just in case you were wondering: I DID make 120 calls this afternoon, thanks!

Which means I need to shoot for 125 next time. 

Total # of calls (since I started keeping track, so it’s really about 100 more): 650. And when I get to 1,000, I WILL make a pie.

Anyone else engaged in some political work right now which requires a struggle to feel meaningful? How do you keep your positive energy up?

 

The Big Antiracism “Now What?”: Can There Be Angels in the Details?

Erin Aubry Kaplan, in her op-ed in the New York Times, “Everyone’s an Antiracist. Now What?” makes a rather devastating point: Congratulations, White People. You have arrived…at the beginning of something:

Recognizing that Black people matter as much as all other Americans is only acknowledging what’s always been true. Embracing Blackness as a something of value and dignity is a baseline for progress, not progress; it is moving into position at the starting line, but it is not the race.

I am finding my days heartened currently by the scope of racial education among people and groups who have, like me, always assumed themselves to be “good,” “non-racist” folks without doing any real work to back up that assumption. People who’ve coasted on privilege for generations (like me) are finally scrutinizing that fact and grappling with the implications. BUT, as Kaplan writes,

But this is all part of Step 1. Being truly antiracist will require white people to be inconvenienced by new policies and practices, legal and social, that affect everything in everyone’s daily lives, from jobs to arts and publishing.

It’s one thing to declare your support for Black Lives Matter with a lawn sign and quite another to give up segregated schools, or always seeing yourself and people like you as the center of the moral universe. The privilege to not engage is one that many may be loath to give up, even if they believe engagement is the right thing to do.

This is the part where people usually say, “Yeah, antiracism’s great, but the devil’s in the details.” As in: what do you mean by antiracist work? What if it’s not only inconvenient by messy, complicated, hard, threatening?

To that thought–my own thought!–I am trying to give this reply: What if those aren’t devils but angels in the details? What if we can find our own redemption as a dominant race by taking some nitty-gritty steps toward REAL equality, REAL justice? Doesn’t that sound like a blessing to you?

So, for my own work, my own “angels,” I am committing to the following:

  1. actively engage in the struggle to protect voting rights in “battleground” states, by phone-banking to promote mail-in balloting, along with promoting progressive candidates from the bottom to the top of the ballot; continue to mail letters to individual voters to urge their participation in November
  2. continue to advocate, through phone calls and email, for the closure of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, run by the private prison company Geo Group
  3. continue to educate myself about the American carceral state, to see what else needs advocating for (restoration of voting privileges for former felons? prison defunding? what else?)
  4. look for opportunities to support Black businesses, like WeBuyBlack.com (gorgeous dresses!)
  5. stay open to calls for action from organizations like Color of Change, using the privilege of my free time to advocate on specific cases of injustice whenever I have a moment

    Not gonna lie–it’s a tough read.

When I find myself foot-dragging on any of the above actions–which, face it, are not inherently fun–all I have to do is re-read Kaplan’s line: The privilege to not engage is one that many may be loath to give up, even if they believe engagement is the right thing to do.

Photo Courtesy of Color of Change.org

I admit, I’m writing this as much to keep myself motivated as anything. Privileged non-engagement is very, VERY comfortable. That’s why I’ve lived there for most of my life.

Anyway–thanks for reading about my commitments. I’d love to read about yours! Please share your current or next steps, wherever you are on this journey.

 

My New Furlough “Job”: Fun With Elected Officials

Even though, like many Americans, I’m furloughed from my job at the moment, I recognize that I’m in the 1% of ridiculously lucky people who has no one in my home demanding care nor worry; ample resources; and lovely outdoor space close to hand.

I’m sorry, New York–I wish I could send you some!

What I also have? A sense of helplessness. When we finished quarantining after our road trip, I signed up to deliver food around our island. But then I had to go off-island again. Twice. I understand the reason for the quarantine rule, but still I chafed. What can I DO to HELP?

Enter University of Washington professor David Domke and Common Purpose. I’d already attended an Orientation with this impressive group dedicated to promoting voting, and signed up for national get-out-the-vote work next fall. But next fall is so, so far away, and the daily COVID news weighs heavily. So I was thrilled when the email call came to ADVOCATE FOR EXPANDED VOTING OPTIONS FOR NEXT NOVEMBER,* from my own living room.

*Notice I’m not saying voting for whom? That’s not what this push is about. You don’t have to dig too deep to find which party supports more voting and which party wants to limit it…but that ain’t my affair. I just happen to think America has had about enough disenfranchisement for our past couple-plus centuries.

Plus, Professor Domke said it would be fun!

27 of our 50 states don’t allow for any way to vote except in-person on one single day. Which, in a pandemic, sounds pretty CRAZY, right? Right. Just ask Wisconsin. So I signed up to contact elected officials in those 27 states. Two senators. One governor. And one person in charge of elections.

Oh dear. That’s 4 x 27…128 people. Fun, huh?

I decided to treat this task like a job. You have the option to call, email, or tweet, and since the only thing I loathe more than making political calls is receiving them, I chose email as my medium. I tweaked the form letter Common Purpose sent to make it sound more like me. Okay. Ready for fun.

For the past 2 days, I’ve emailed for approximately an hour. Because there’s a Senate bill coming up now (Thank you, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden!) I started with Senators. 

Copy email letter. Open provided link to given Senator. Autofill all my details. Pick topic. Paste letter. Make sure I’m not subscribing to any newsletters! Prove I’m human. Click Submit. Next…

Y’know what, Professor Domke? This is NOT fun. This is boring as all get-out. I hate this.

So I started embroidering a little.

I let the two senators from North Carolina know I’m a Tarheel born & bred, and finished my letter with “Go Heels!” (Too bad for me if they’re Duke fans.)

I congratulated some of the senators who recently (or less recently) dropped out of the race for being so stalwart.

I started noticing stuff. Like: Some senators make you choose a prefix for your name; others let you opt out. Some senators have “Abortion/Right to Life” on their Issues list; others, just one or the other. Some senators don’t have anything on their Issues list that covers the topic at hand–Elections? COVID? Civil Rights?–forcing me to choose “Other.” Hmph.

And Cory Booker has the most adorable website, which asks for your first name right off the bat, then goes to “Hi, Gretchen!” Awww…Miss you, Cory.

After thirty minutes or so, I noticed something else: I was actually having a kind of nerdy fun. Go figure.

Hey, time’s up. I contacted 40 senators. Only 14 to go. And then all those Governors and Secretaries of State…

Wonder if any of their websites will tell me “Hi!”?

If you’d like to join this fun enterprise–no, really, in all seriousness, if you’d like to participate in the push to keep voters safely at home without being deprived of their right to help elect our next President, click here.

Woohoooo! Democracy! At least until I get to back to work at the bakery.