Dialing for Democracy

I’ve had over 700 conversations with voters over the last month while phone banking for Progressive Project Turnout. That’s about 699 more than I thought I would have when my team was pulled out of the field in early August because of COVID-19 and transitioned from door knocking to phone calling. I mean who answers a number they don’t recognize these days? Well, as it turns out, a pandemic is a damn good time to call people. They’re at home and a lot of them are bored silly and talking to a friendly stranger like me is a nice diversion.

Now, not to paint too rosy of a picture, I’ve probably had twice that number of hang-ups, but I expected that. And then there are the Trumpers, but I’ll save that for later. For the most part, I’ve been deeply moved, honored – and often amused – listening to voters’ thoughts about this election. And best of all, I am very hopeful about November 3rd. No, really, I am. Joe Biden might not have been a lot of folks first choice, but today he is a LOT of folks only choice. Whatever gets us there.

Joe Biden. I say his name a hundred times of day – think Rain Man and substitute Joe Biden for Judge Wapner – that’s me. I recite parts of the script in my dreams sometimes. My dear wife can even do an amusing impersonation of me since she’s heard me on duty from my home office. Besides politely thanking the Trump voters for their time (grr), making the script sound fresh each time is the most challenging aspect of the gig. By the end of my shift, I’m exhausted from the sound of my own voice, but I go to bed hopeful that our democracy will prevail.

We follow a brief script – I identify myself and who I am representing and slide into the main question – “Do you plan on voting for Joe Biden on November 3rd?” And that’s when things get interesting. The good – yes – the bad – no – and the ugly – Trumpers who yell at me. There’s a half a second of suspense after the question exits my mouth and hangs there as I wait for the answer. I can almost predict the answer by the sound of someone’s voice, but that’s not foolproof. One of my early calls was to crusty old woman in rural Pennsylvania. I popped the question and there was an awkward pause and she said in a very bold voice, “I…most…certainly… (here it comes, I thought) AM!” She proceeded to tell me that the only monument that Trump’s head should be on is a statue of Larry, Curly and Moe. Lesson learned – you can’t always judge a voter by their address. See 2016.

Our call list is weighted to registered Democrats, but no data is perfect. Almost all the Dems are happy to speak with me – like hearing from an old friend. Here are just a few of my favorite answers to the first question.

  1. I would crawl over broken glass to vote for Joe Biden.
  2. FUCK YEAH! Like my very life depends on it. (I really liked that woman.)
  3. I would vote for a bag of rotten vegetables over Donald Trump.

We then ask if people plan on voting by mail or in person and this has been a disgusting indictment (there will be many more) of Donald Trump’s assault on mail-in voting. People don’t trust the United States Postal System. I spoke to a woman in Warren, MI who told me, “I work for the post office and no way am I mailing my ballot in.” And I talked to a 36-year retiree of the post office in Raleigh who lamented that she can’t trust the mail because of Trump. She said, “I’ve got a mask, a shield and some gloves – I’m voting in person.”

That said – a LOT of people are voting by mail – and many are delivering their ballots in person to a drop-box or their local Board of Elections. But the most encouraging takeaway from this question is that so many people have a plan for voting – they’ve thought it through in advance because they want to protect themselves and their vote. Americans are afraid their vote will not be counted. So much winning.

The last question I ask folks is the one that has evoked answers that have sometimes moved me to tears. What would you say is the primary issue that concerns you the most in the upcoming election? The number one answer by far is getting rid of Donald Trump. Here are just a few of the most memorable responses.

  • Donald Trump is a doofus and a danger to the whole world.
  • You don’t let someone in your house who will hurt you. He’s in our house.
  • Stopping the descent into Fascism.
  • He’s not even human. (Fascinating new birther conspiracy!)

This is where I often find myself in surprisingly deep conversations with some voters as they share their despair for the state of our union and their hopes for the future. A woman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania said, “Oh, now you’re going to make me cry. I pray for the welfare of our nation and the heart of our country. My husband and I are voting by mail and going fishing on election day. We’ll fish and pray all day that we’ll get our country back.” Gulp. Many people tell me that they fear for the future of our democracy if Biden is not elected. One man called the last four years “the vandalism of our democracy.” These people aren’t all yellow dog Democrats like me. Some of them tell me that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, but they will vote for Biden. A few even confess that they are Republicans, but they can’t support Trump. It is no small thing to hear a stranger tell you how much they love our country.

We’ve been calling into battleground states except for two days of calling into Kentucky. Wow. I can’t imagine anything lonelier than being a Democrat in Kentucky. Our time calling there was as a longshot that Mitch McConnell might be defeated. Not to be a buzzkill, but we can call that race right now. The Kentucky Dems were so happy to hear from a kindred soul that it was sometimes hard to get them off the phone. It was a little heartbreaking. I felt like I was leaving behind those sweet residents of The Island of Misfit Toys. I promised them that Joe Biden would come back for them.

The other primary concern on most voters’ minds is COVID-19. I spoke with an essential worker in PA who just returned to work after being out for almost four months recovering from COVID. She is what we call a highly motivated voter. People know that this pandemic is far from over and they want to put an adult in charge. I’ve heard touching stories from older people who haven’t seen their grandchildren in six months. I can hear the weariness in their voices. I probably stay on those calls longer than I should.

I learned quickly that each state has its own personality. Maine and New Hampshire don’t suffer fools or unknown callers gladly. I got a lot of, “It’s none of your damn business who I’m voting for.” Yep. Live free or die. Both of those states are looking good for Joe, but Susan Collins’ karma ticket is about to be punched. I imagine she is deeply troubled. On the bright side, she’ll have more time for brewskies with Brett Kavanaugh. What? I LIKE BEER.

And now for the Trumpers. I’ll give them this – they are faithful parrots of their fearful leader. I’ve heard things like Joe Biden is a pedophile and Kamala Harris is a Muslim. That’s when my superpower of lip biting comes in handy. My absolute favorite response/insult from a Trump voter came from a young, white man (surprise!) in rural North Carolina. He said/yelled at me, “I DON’T VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS. CNN IS BULLSHIT. FUCK YOUR FEELINGS.” I desperately wanted to respond, “So, that’s a hard no on Joe?” Honestly, the Trumpers inspire me because they are a visceral reminder of how toxic Trump’s presidency has been for our country.

Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep after my shift. There are always a few conversations that I replay and can’t quite let go of – like the young black woman in Detroit. When I asked her what her primary concern was in this election she sighed – a heavy sigh much older than her years – as I waited for her answer. She said in a flat emotionless voice, “I’m a black person, so who I vote for doesn’t really matter because nothing ever changes for us. I hope things will get better this time, but we’ll see.” Damn. I doubt I’ll ever let go of that conversation.

I’ve been surprised and deeply touched by the voters who have thanked me for what I am doing. Hearing a “Take care, girl” at the end of a call can really lift your spirits. The truth is that I love my job. Every day feels important – like when I talked a 93-year-old disabled woman through the process of requesting an absentee ballot. Dear Lord, I hope she mails it in early.

The bad news is that I’ll get the pink slip on November 3rd. The good news is that Donald Trump will, too.

Go to VotingMatters.org/NC to update your registration, request a mail-in ballot, or find your voting location.

10 thoughts on “Dialing for Democracy

  1. Jeff Prince says:

    I would say you always deliver “like the United States Postal Service,” but I’m just gonna say you always deliver! Love it! And you!

    Like

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