I punch in the number. I look at the voter info one more time: Janet, 58-year-old female, registered with no political party. I don’t want to call Janet. I’m scared. I can feel my heart beating a little bit faster, and my breath a bit shallower and tighter. I silently rehearse the simple beginning of my script: “Hi, this is Lloyd. Have I reached Janet?” I gather my courage and take the plunge by pressing the call button on the screen of my phone. “The person you are calling is not available. Please leave a message.”
On to the next voter: Jose, 28-year-old male, no party affiliation. The courage I found for Janet is already gone. I need to start all over. I punch in the number. I rehearse the beginning of my script. I pause to find the courage and hit the call button. Jose does not answer either.
I’m in California, calling voters in Arizona to try to flip the Arizona house or senate — or both — to Democratic control, elect democrat Mark Kelly to the U.S. Senate, and send Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House. It’s my 4th time phone banking this electoral season and my 5th time ever.
I phone banked for Barack Obama in 2008. Once. I found that experience so uncomfortable I decided I’d never do it again. I still remember being told, “I’m making dinner right now,” and being horrified that I was the unsolicited caller, making exactly the calls I hate receiving myself.
So no, not for me. The worst was, “No. Deborah is not here. And she’s a Republican,” in a hostile voice followed immediately by a click. I’d pay other people to do it, by giving to campaigns or MoveOn.org, but it was not for me.
Why am I at it again? A lot of the credit goes to my friend Kari. Kari is one of many women volunteering with our local chapters of Sister District and Indivisible, two grassroots groups that sprung up in the aftermath of the 2016 election. I called her in August to talk about how I could do more than just give money. She told me that direct contact, conversations with voters, calms her anxiety about the election. I decided to give phone banking another shot. I committed to doing it once a week until November 3rd.
It is different this time. Somehow I’m no longer worried about annoying people. I know for myself it’s easy to ignore a call from a strange number. They can do that too! They’ve made the choice to pick up the phone.
My fear of calling does not come exactly from concern about disturbing other people. If I could press a button and it magically resulted in 20 people getting unwanted phone calls, while influencing at least one of them to vote the way I want, and I did not have to talk to anyone, I’d be pushing that button all day long.
If I’m honest with myself, it’s the contact I’m afraid of, not the possibility my call might annoy somebody. I’m safe in my home, separated from the people I’m calling by hundreds or thousands of miles. But my heart and lungs let me know I’m scared.
Am I glad I’m doing it? Yes. I do not want to live in fear. I want to be courageous and fully alive. I want to restore sanity to our politics. I want food for hungry children, access to quality education and health care, jobs, the rule of law, good governance, racial justice, and respect for the Constitution. I want us to elect people to work against climate-change-driven environmental catastrophe. I want to lend my voice to the triumph of truth and connection, over lies and division. I do not want to see that voice silenced by tiny fears.
I join a weekly Zoom call with twenty to forty others led by a local volunteer. I don’t think I could do this were it not for the others who are also on the Zoom call. Those who need training get it. When we’re ready to call, we turn off the Zoom sound and get to work. We can still see each other on the screen while making calls. Halfway through, we take a break to check in with one another. We meet at the end to debrief. This generates a sense of community that lets me keep going despite the fear. I don’t want to let them down. I am grateful to all of them, not just for the work they are doing, but for the courage they give me — the courage I need to respond to what my heart calls me to do — to reach out and continue the building of a more perfect union.