Monday, May 05, 2008
Turkey Hunting: Notes From Phonebanking Into Indiana for the Obama Campaign
During this undying Campaign 2008, I have gotten over my fear of cold-calling my fellow Americans. I have called Democratic Undecided Voters in Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut, California, and, most recently, Indiana.
Most of these phone calls end in anticlimax, with the phonebanker, eager to engage rural undecided voters, forced to leave a scripted message on an answering machine. But sometimes you do get to talk to people -- real American people. Here are some highlights from my most recent round of phone calls:
Around dinner time, a boy of about ten or eleven picked up the phone. I asked if John Doe was home. I heard him ask someone else, as dinner plate washing up sounds were being made, where his dad was. His brother said their dad was turkey hunting. So the boy told me that his dad was out turkey hunting. I clicked the "Not Available" button on my Obama Phonebanking Website Interface.
I reached an out of breath man at home around 4 pm Indiana time. When he heard I was a volunteer with the Obama campaign, he let out a derisive snort. He told me that "that man doesn't have enough intelligence to be president. Not yet. Not for many many years." He sort of slurred his words as he said this. I asked him if he knew whom he was voting for (I said "who", not "whom"). "No!," he said. "I don't like any of them. None of the three. McCain -- he's sleeping with, in bed with the Kennedys, which is about as low as you can go, in my book. And Hillary . . . ha! She's a joke." I said something like, "Okay," and he snorted again and said "Yeah, bye." I clicked the "not interested" button.
Many people seemed to be sick of the campaign and the calls from idealistic volunteers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston, all urging them how to think and vote. A couple people yelled at me and asked why "you people keep calling here. I've told you I'm not interested. You keep calling. Eight or nine times a day! Why, I wouldn't vote for that man if he were the only one running!" When this kind of thing happened, as it did a few times, I would say "Okay," and click the "Not Interested" button. Getting yelled at made me feel a little bad, but I tried to rally myself by thinking (1) the person doesn't know who I am, so how can I take it personally?, and (2) I don't even know whoever it is that's mad at me, and they're really far away in Indiana and I will never meet them, so why should I care? I imagine these are some of the mental health tactics call-center employees in India use after absorbing abuse from angry home computer users in Hoboken.
A few times, I got choked up when I got a real, live, undecided voter willing to talk and I departed from the script and started speaking from the heart about why I was for Obama: how he was right about the war, how he was inspiring all sorts of people like my college-age brother to get involved with the political process, how he is the Democrats' best chance to take back the White House and change the direction of our country, etc. Actually choked up. One of the guys I was talking to was sort of silenced and shocked, I think, hearing my voice break. I couldn't believe it as it was happening. I don't know what it was. My fervent hope that Obama can win and we can put our country back on the right path? My fear that Clinton and her politics of expediency, her blithe willingness to go along with an agenda of military aggression for political points, her Muslim and race-baiting might win? The raw emotional content of making a call on your own time, one private citizen to another, and telling them what you think?
The script that the Obama campaign provides gives the transaction some structure, allows callers to hide their fear and anxiety and awkwardness behind the rigid structures of an automated script on the web with prompts, but every now and then, like me, callers probably have to leave that script, and at that point, they are just speaking their own minds, giving their own reasons, one stranger to another, one citizen to another. At one point, I choked up while departing from the script while leaving a message. I couldn't believe that either. I don't know what is wrong with me.
One woman whom I spoke to around dinner time was really really upset with me, because she had received too many calls from the Obama campaign. Apparently, the surge in youthful enthusiasm for the Obama campaign, as expressed through unsolicited phone calls from out of state to her home phone, did not strike her as a remarkable example of democracy in action. She said she was "sick of it and, you know what, we're voting for Robin Williams. We're just going to write it in. We're voting for Robin Williams." See, Hollywood? This is your fucking fault. That's how it plays in Peoria. And, to stave off the comments from my faithful readers, I know Peoria is not in Indiana.