As the countdown to this monumental election rapidly ticks toward zero, my mind seems to be running on overdrive. It's hard not to get overwhelmed by a whirlwind of worst-case-scenarios and pessimistic voices in my head. Usually, dance and art are ways to help me process these difficult feelings, but now I feel that the universe is demanding me to take things at face value for once. To not immediately try and alleviate the discomfort that they are causing, but rather to sit with it. And things are pretty fucking uncomfortable right now. There's no way around it.
On the other hand, if I try to truly see things as they are— entire communities being denied their right to vote; a government that treats corporations and money more humanely than the actual human beings and the natural world that created this wealth; an autocratic nation poorly disguised as "democracy"— I feel frozen, like any action I try to take lacks any meaning. I'm just a young and confused artist with no real-world experience or political knowledge, trying to help topple one of the most powerful regimes in the world, all while trying to maintain some semblance of personal identity. Many of my friends who are my age, and are also artists, are in the same headspace: how the hell do we move forward into a world that feels immensely stacked against us?
I began phone banking for various Democratic campaigns in September, and it did not make me feel as righteous or satisfied as I thought it would. In an age where we are constantly urged to 'take action' by Instagram graphics (and blog posts like this), I thought phone banking was an opportunity to use my voice to turn the tides of this election. And sometimes, it is just that. But rarely. For every 50 calls you make, you might get 10 people to pick up the phone. Half of them will hang up before you finish your first sentence, or outright tell you to fuck off. A few will tell you that they have received calls like yours multiple times already, and that they were already planning to vote for your candidate. Someone might even play along with your entire pitch, seemingly enthused, and then troll you at the very end by shouting "TR*MP 2020" into the phone and then hanging up. Classic.
But then, out of these 49 disheartening interactions, you will get one undecided voter. And as nice as it feels to have finally reached someone, it's just one person. It will never feel like enough. I shut my laptop after my first phone bank and channeled my frustration into a hearty bag of kettle chips.
The more I came back to these calling sessions, however, the more I began to understand the scale of impact that WE were achieving together. The point of phone banking isn't to have uplifting, reaffirming conversations with fellow U.S. Americans. If that were the case then it wouldn't really be that necessary or impactful. One of the primary functions of phone banking is to 'clean the voter lists.' In the months leading up to an election, campaigns must sift through massive databases of voter information from the previous election to try and identify what kind of voter they are. For instance, are they a frequent voter who swings between parties and needs to be persuaded to vote blue, or are they an infrequent voter who just needs to be mobilized to vote? These distinctions are incredibly important to a campaign's political strategy. So by dialing through a series of wrong numbers and removing them from the list, you are actually helping more than you know.
Research has demonstrated that phone banking is the most effective way to influence votes right now. A study mentioned in an article by Sister District shows that "phone calls by real people can increase turnout by approximately 2–3%" which, as we have seen, is enough to flip our godforsaken electoral college (Goldstein).
If the thought of phone banking makes you feel weird or uncomfortable, I am completely with you. It is quite uncomfortable to interrupt a stranger's day in another part of the country in the hopes that they will even engage in a conversation. But that discomfort is unavoidable. There's no way around it. In fact, it's imperative to the survival of our democracy. We can't turn away from this in the hopes that more pleasurable things, like friends or family or art, can save us. I say this especially to my fellow San Franciscans, where it is alarmingly easy to forget the hateful, violent, and false ideas that thrive out in the open, beyond our liberal bubble (and might I add, implicitly within the bubble too). We have to challenge ourselves to have these tough, unnatural-feeling conversations with those who might not agree with us. It's because we've stopped having these types of conversations that we are where we are right now.
As an introvert myself, I can certify that it doesn't take an extrovert to be able to reach voters effectively over the phone. It doesn't take vast political aptitude. And as awkward and uncomfortable and inconsequential as it can feel, these feelings do eventually give way to a strange sense of empowerment; not in a way that makes you feel like a powerful individual, but in a way that reminds you that you are a microscopic voice among thousands, a drop of water within a tidal wave.
I think of the climactic scene from one of my favorite childhood movies, Finding Nemo, where a swarm of fish become caught in a fishing net, and Dory encourages every trapped fish to swim down. We have to be like Dory, by not only swimming against the net, but urging others to join us in doing so. This fight requires all of our fin-power. There's no way around it.
We have 26 days until the election. Voting has already commenced in several states. If you would like to start phone banking, take a look at these links below:
SEED THE VOTE is hosting dozens of national "deep canvassing" phone banks. Their mission is to go more in depth with the thoughts, feelings and concerns of voters in swing states. They have a remarkable success rate of moving undecided voters left! Plus, the Zoom training is super supportive and creates a much-needed sense of community among callers. It's a great phone bank to start with. Sign up here.
SUNRISE MOVEMENT is a phenomenal, youth-led organization that works to elect Green New Deal advocates into Congress and state legislatures! Register for a phone bank here.
RECLAIM OUR VOTE does a lot of great work combatting voter suppression, especially in battleground states. They have weekly trainings for new phone bank volunteers and tons of campaigns to call for! Register here.
DEMOCRATIC VOLUNTEER CENTER works on the Biden/Harris campaign as well as other Congressional campaigns. Register for their phone banks here.
For my local Bay Area Community, RISE UP TO ACTION (RUTA) is an awesome grass-roots, neighborhood-based group that invites us to take action in many ways: phone banking, text banking, post cards and more! To get involved and join their weekly digest, click here.
Thanks for reading y'all. Sending everyone the love, health and strength to take tough actions. Just keep swimming!!!