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.
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
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.]
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
or making 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?