Saturday, March 12, 2016

What it's like to phonebank for Bernie Sanders

I spent the afternoon phonebanking for Bernie.

I have to tell you, the tools the Bernie Sanders campaign are using are much more sophisticated than what the Obama campaign had. Then, we were still working off of paper lists which volunteers had to type into computers.

Bernie's team has built an incredible app you can do from a phone alone or from a phone and computer. This was the most high-tech operation I’ve ever seen, and from what I read, Hillary’s campaign has nothing anywhere near this sophisticated! They’re IBM. We’re Apple.

There’s a website where you can see how many calls are being made into states. Today, in this one application alone, about 66,000 calls were made. There’s a live map that shows calls originating in one state and arcing into the target state like the fountain inside the Bellagio Arboreteum. Little red arcs fly from one state to another, ending in a dot of red. It’s just amazing and inspiring.

You get a new account daily. You dial into a central number with your phone and connect to a site with the computer. The two work together. Logging into the website and dialing the central number connects you to a central dialer that dials the number and pings you when the call has connected. It's a little jarring at first because people answer sometimes before you see the name appear. But soon you're chatting.

The purpose of phonebanking is very simple. You want to find Bernie Sanders supporters and make sure they have a plan to get to their polling place. But a lot of phonebanking is just clearing lists. Lists are usually purchased for varying fees from various aggregators. In my experience over a few campaigns, about 80% of the people either don't answer, have moved, or it's a wrong number. Out of the ones left, people often won't tell you who they are voting for unless of course, it’s your candidate. I called one woman who was a strong Bernie supporter but who rushed me off the phone explaining her dog was trapped in a car and the fireman were trying to break the dog out. Yikes! “But call back,” she said. Someone will, no doubt.

Many people think phonebanking is about trying to talk voters into voting for Bernie - but that's not the goal. The goal is simply to find Bernie Supporters or to move quickly on. That said, I did get one undecided woman and talked to her a bit, but that's really not of value to the campaign. In the time it takes to educate one voter you could have called five others and whittled the list down further. At the end of each call, you mark who they are voting for (Bernie, Hillary, Other Republican, or Other, or mark no answer, moved, deceased, etc.). One guy took five minutes to explain to me why he didn’t vote (he was disabled) but how he enjoyed following the news o the process. I told him he could probably provisionally vote and register at the polling place, if, for the first time in his life, he did decide to vote.

And that's the goal. By Monday night, the phone banking is all about calling those commmited voters and making sure they have a plan to vote. Many people who want to vote don't because they didn't stop to think it through, plan the route, decide on a time, and they run out of time at the end of the day. So we had scripts to help them find their voting place, ask them when they plan to vote, etc. Most of the time, you don't get that far into the script.

No one was outright rude to me, although a few laughed and said they were Republicans. I was always very good natured with them, thanked them for participating in the democratic process (which really surprised a few of them who assumed I'd see them as the enemy. I don't.) In one case, the guy at the other end said, "I'm not a Socialist so I don't care what you have to say. I managed to get in an "I'm not a Socialist either!" before he hung up. But most people we called were polite, at least in Ohio. ;-)

But the real secret of phonebanking is that isn't just about reaching voters. Phonebanking is about getting to know the other politically aware and active people in your neighborhood. After the Nevada caucus loss I was upset, and I channeled it by going to a nearby park where a volunteer introductory event for Bernie was being held. There, they asked for people to host phone banks, people with homes big enough and with wireless networks and lots of outlets so 20 or more people could show up there. I met a very nice man and he set today as our first event.

At his house, I met his awesome wife from Iran, who has never been so excited about a presidential candidate in her entire life. I met a bunch of young people and a couple of middle-aged people. There were a few black people and one one white girl from Russia who had, amazingly, dual citizenship.

I was a big hit for my shirt. I was wearing the Bernie basketball one you’ve seen in my profile picture recently and several of the women wanted to know where to get one. I explained I’d had it custom made.

Our host had sandwiches for us, as well as wine, punch, guacamole, etc. Some of the food had been brought by volunteers, others the host had provided.

When you’re between calls, you hear snippets of other people’s conversations. When people had a good, bad or funny call, they’d talk to the nearest person about it after. So you have constant support from the other volunteers. Seriously, if you’ve never done it before, you should do it. It’s one of the great experiences in democracy we have these days. You and the country will be better for it!

After a few hours, all our computer batteries were dying and we gravitated to the living room where we finally hung up our phones and just chatted about the campaign, recent events, the future, “what if” scenarios, and so forth. I learned there are debate-watching parties happening in my neighborhood. Never even thought to search for that. There are primary watch parties. Might go for that. We’ll see how I feel come Tuesday night.

I wish I had more energy. I’m still struggling with what I hope are the after-effects by this point of a very serious bout with bronchitis. I’m going to sleep well tonight and probably for half the day tomorrow. But it was worth it, regardless of what happens. Doing the right thing is always its own reward. The frosting was making new friends in the process.