My hands shook as I dialed. I read over the script once more while the phone rang. The call went to voice mail, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I checked the “not home” box on the online form, and dialed the next number.
I’m phone-banking for my local Democratic candidate for Congress: a woman who, in 2018, came just shy of turning my ruby red Atlanta suburb blue by a mere 433 votes. I’m also texting voters on behalf of the Biden-Harris campaign. I’m 39, and this is my first time volunteering in politics.
These days, there’s a lot to be stressed out about. For one, I’m worried about keeping my family safe from the coronavirus, and I’m angry at our federal government’s failed response. News about the election gives me constant anxiety: I fear Donald Trump could lose the popular vote but continue to be the president, either because of the electoral college or because of his refusal to accept the results.
As a result, I’ve been irritated and haven’t been sleeping well. I also developed neck pain from continuously checking updates on my phone. I attempted to tune out the political goings-on and live in blissful ignorance, but I can’t do that in good conscience. If I want the world to change for the better, I need to know what’s happening in it.
As a working mom with four kids, all 6 and under, I didn’t think there was much I could do. Making donations to candidates was something I could swing, so I logged online, prepared to stop there. But when I was donating, the “volunteer” button on a campaign website called to me. So, for the past few weeks, I’ve managed to squeeze in time phone-banking on behalf of Democratic candidates and causes.
Reading the president’s tweets makes my heart race. But on a training webinar that showed me how to text and call voters, I was uplifted by the encouraging messages and “flexed arm” emoji posted in the comments. I’m one of hundreds of people across Georgia, I realized, who are trying to make a difference. I felt a part of this small, virtual army and slept better that night than I had in weeks.
My small actions have also dispelled myths I had about political advocacy. I used to think I needed to know the ins and outs of every possible issue. But if you’re passionate enough to even think about calling or texting voters, you probably know more than you realize. The campaigns provide a script to follow and explain that it’s okay to make mistakes. The most important thing is to be kind.
I also wasn’t sure if phone-banking could make a difference, but as Vox reported, calling voters may be just as effective as door-to-door canvassing. And according to an analysis by the advocacy group Tech for Campaigns, people who received text messages with candidate- or district-specific messages during the 2018 midterm elections were about 8 percent more likely to vote.
Perhaps my biggest revelation has been that phone-banking and texting are manageable, because political campaigns are thankful for whatever time you can give. Typical phone-banking sessions are two hours, but when I emailed to explain I could only do one hour, the field manager wrote back saying they were happy to have my help. I work from home part-time as a marketing manager around my children’s preschool and nap schedule. But once a week during lunch time, when my 22-month-old twins are napping, I make my calls. When my husband takes my older boys to their soccer practice on Friday evenings, I spend an hour texting voters from my living room while my toddlers play around me. It’s not a lot of time, but I hope that I’m making a difference by doing it consistently.
While I was making calls recently, I spoke to a man in my county.
“Can we count on your vote on November 3?” I asked.
“Hmm. I’m a conservative,” he replied.
“Well, what issue is most important to you?”
“I don’t want anyone taking my guns away.”
We were on the phone, so he didn’t see my eyes roll. As a mother of school-aged children, guns are my hot-button issue, and I proudly vote for candidates that get F ratings from the National Rifle Association. I explained that my candidate wouldn’t “take his guns away,” but did want to enact common-sense gun laws.
We ended up having a civil conversation, marveling at our county’s excellent schools, sharing what brought us each to Georgia, agreeing we want our community to remain an idyllic place for our kids to grow up. The conversation was so pleasant that he put the phone down to get a pen to write down my candidate’s name and website.
When I hung up, I thought about how that exchange could have gone on social media, as two people on opposite sides of a gun debate. He may not vote for my candidate, but having a calm discussion and finding common ground with a stranger whose views differ from my own was an experience I appreciate because it’s so rare.
My children are too young to see me firing off an attack on Facebook or donating money through an app on my phone. But they see me pulling our minivan over to put candidates’ signs on public property in our community. They shout, “There’s your sign, Mama!” every time we pass one afterward. My 6- and 4-year-olds watch me write postcards to voters from our kitchen table and put the stamps on themselves.
I don’t know what will happen in these final weeks, or which way the election will go. If my candidates lose, I’ll be defeated and disappointed. But I would’ve felt that way no matter what. At least I’ll know I won’t be wishing I had done more. And if my candidates win, I will be celebrating more wholeheartedly than ever before because, in some small way, I may have helped to make it happen.