Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Audacity Of Help: AB Volunteers For Obama

We Got Your Back, Playa!!

[Editor's Note: This post is pretty lengthy, so if you're one to complain about such things, print this one out and save it for after lunch. It's also not really a "post" in the traditional sense of how I usually get down around here. Instead, it's really just my recollection of my experience volunteering for the Obama campaign this weekend. Maybe it'll remove some of the mystique of the whole process and encourage you to assist with your favorite candidate's campaign. Maybe it'll just be a colossal waste of 15 mins. I hope you read it either way.]

Anyone following this site clearly knows who endorses for President. I'm decidedly pro-Obama, and unapologetically anti-Clinton. Part (but definitely not most) of the allure of voting for Obama is tied to his promise of a "new type of politics". If that's true, and I believe it is, then this "new type of politics" also calls for a new type of voter. To me, this means I not only need to get behind the campaign I endorse with my vote, I also need to support it in more tangible ways.

Politricks to Translation: Get off your behind. And write a check while you're at it.

I gave money to the campaign many, months ago. While my massive $5 $500 pledge obviously helped the campaign financially, that was just the start. Yes, campaigns thrive off monetary contributions, but an equally necessary, though far less publicized component of a successful campaign is volunteering. In short, how much free labor can you get to fill in the gaps that your campaign funding can't cover.

So, in the interest of being a grown man fully engaged voter, this weekend I decided to put my free time where my mouth is, and spend a few hours volunteering with the Obama campaign in advance of Tuesday's Potomac Primary (which sounds so much better than Chesapeake Primary. Seriously, What doofus came up with that name?).

Anyways, after registering online a few weeks ago, I reported to my closest Obama campaign regional office not really knowing what to expect. When I arrived at the nondescipt downtown office building, I headed to the information desk in the lobby, which was manned by a youthful white dude named (what else?) Chad. And I immediately smelled a setup.

"Do you have a car?" Chad asked, without even bothering to ask me anything about what sort of activity I desired to help with.

"Uhh, Yeah." I replied without really thinking first.

"Ok, just stand to the side here and we'll get back with you in a moment." said Chad, motioning as if herding cattle.

"Don't I need to follow those guys to training?"

"Uhhh, no, just wait right there." He said, again pointing me to a seat beside an elderly white guy.

This felt hella suspect, because just moments before I walked up, I saw a large group of other volunteers whisked from the info desk down a hallway marked with a handwritten sign that said "Training". Why I was being asked to stand to the side made my Negro Antenna go up. Again, this being my first time, I only really had a vague idea of what garden variety volunteers like we are usually asked to do. Neither sounded particularly appealing from the jump.

Door-to-Door canvassing involves taking the campaign's message to the streets. You're given a list of registered Dems in a certain area and a basic "script" for how to engage voters and inform them about the campaign if needed. This is considered the most effective form of campaigning, since it's been proven that people are more apt to accept information when delivered in person. But while I'm obviously down with the cause and all, it was low 30's and very windy outdoors in the DC Urreah. And as I'm prone to so as a Southerner, I underdressed. The prospect of spending a weekend afternoon knocking on doors who knows where suddenly seemed less than favorable.

On the other hand, manning the phone bank has it's own drawbacks. I worked in telemarketing while a student at my Negro College HBCU, and it's by far one of the more demeaning jobs you could ever imagine that doesn't involve a pole and singles. Not that I'd know firsthand or anything, but I'm just sayin', it wasn't fun. Then again, it's essentially the same function as canvassing: contacting voters and asking for their support.

So, at this point, the old white guy and I are waiting for Chad and weighing the pros and cons of which activity we want to choose, although Chad, by virtue of asking us if we have transpo, has clearly made that decision for us.

A 20 something white woman walks up a few moments later and signs in. As opposed to sending her in for the training, Chad points to the two of us (well, actually just the old guy) and tells the young lady she can ride with one of us. She looks at me like I'm Willie Horton or some sh*t, and starts talking with the old guy about what area he's going to canvas. At this point, I'm 100% sure what I want to do, and it doesn't involve being outdoors in frigid temps with a bunch of folks who don't wanna be with me.

I nicely inform Chad that I'd rather do the phone bank. He looks at me, not quite like I'm Willie Horton, but definitely with some level of visible disdain. Tough sh*t, Chad! He dismisses me, giving me instructions to head up to the 7th floor and ask for someone named Lily.

When I arrive upstairs, I quickly locate Obama headquarters. It's an unleased suite on what appears to be a largely unleased floor, in the building, which I'm finally deducing isn't nearly as occupied as it appears from outside. There's a flurry of activity, offices packed to the gills with people making phone calls from cell phones and land lines. Lily, a thin and waifish college student who can be no older than 19, timidly gives orders to me, and the 4-5 other phone bankers who have also just arrived. I feel like a grown man working at McDonalds to feed his family, being ordered around by a high school McManager. I quickly remind myself something my mom always told me when I started complaining about this or that: "It's not about you".

Humility is restored.

Each person is given a script and 3 pages of phone numbers of registered Democrats in the immediate vicinity. We are to call the home, ask for the voter listed, go through our spiel from the script, deviating if we get the urge. But generally, your goal is to ask whom they're voting for. If they're for Obama, ask them to volunteer for canvassing Monday and Tuesday. If they're undecided, you're given a list of bullet points to go over and convince them to change sides. If they're for Clinton, or God forbid, still think Edwards is in the race, wish them a great weekend and keep it moving.

Once this "training" is over, Lily takes each volunteer and tries to locate a phone and desk for them in the winding office suite. As I follow her in search of my phone, I survey each room. There are lots of college students, mostly white, but some Asians assisting. No black kids. There are lots of black women, mostly middle aged, but not a single black man to be found. And there are a surprising number of elderly whites, especially Jews (I'm not stereotyping here, they are actually sporting the yarmulkes). While it's very likely that this demographic makeup had lots to do with the area I live in, I thought it still said something about the typical Obama supporter.

That is to say, there is no typical Obama supporter. And when you think about it, that explains a lot.

After much runaround, Lily finally finds me a desk and phone in a room with about 10 others, mostly middle aged black women and white men. The others look up briefly from their phone lists to acknowledge my presence, then quickly go heads down. I am having a deja vu moment from my days as a telemarketer, and it's not a good omen.

I finally settle in and review my list of 30 or so names across the 3 pages. In telemarketing, you could call 100's of numbers each 8 hour shift, and getting 3 "completes" would be considered a success. Knowing those odds, I'm well aware that on a somewhat nice day like this, my odds of getting folks to just pickup the phone, let alone respond to my urge for support are shaky at best. Sunny optimist that I am, I hope for this best as I pick up the phone and dial my first number.

Surprisingly, the person picks up, responds favorably to my introduction ("My name is AverageBro, I am a volunteer leader for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and I..."), and not only pledges her support for Senator Obama, but goes the whole nine and even signs up to volunteer the next day! I hang up the phone, elated, even raising my hands in a mocking fist pump, you know, like that thing Tiger Woods does. A leadoff homer in the top of the 1st! I am killin' em' already! The two black women sharing my table look at me quizzically.

"Beginner's Luck", one of them says, grinning a bit. She's clearly not in hater mode, just telling me in a polite way to temper my expectations.

Turns out she was right. Over the next few hours, I call a total of 60 homes, and my results are mixed at best. 2/3 of those called were either not home, disconnected phones, or didn't have voicemail at all. And of those who did, I got hung up on a few times (most disparagingly by what appeared to be a preteen), cursed out a few ("it's the afternoon, why are you calling me? I'm sleeping!" "we're eating, goodbye!" "please don't ever call here again!") and generally disrespected ("get a #&@^*% life!") some more.

On the other hand, when I did finally get people on the phone, the results were encouraging. Of the 12 who agreed to talk, 6 were solidly behind Obama, 2 were undecided (seriously, it's two days before the primary. WTF?), 1 was "torn", and only a couple were definitively for Clinton. Of course, these people then proceeded to quickly hang up on me, which I guess either says everything, or absolutely nothing about the character of the average Clinton supporter).

So, by my math, that all adds up to an Obama sweep in the Potomac Primary Tuesday. You heard it here first.

Leaving the office, I felt like I'd actually taken the next step in becoming engaged in our electoral process. Sure, it was just a few hours on a lazy weekend afternoon, and I didn't technically get anyone to "switch" to Obama, but at the very least, I can walk away feeling more invested and knowing I did something to help other than just voting (which is obviously important) for a change.

It's not hard, folks. Just like the other civic minded stuff I try and encourage folks to do, campaign volunteering is easy, you can find an activity and time that fits your schedule, and who knows, you just might convince someone to take part in the electoral process while you're at it.

If you're interested in helping with any campaign, I'd strongly encourage you to do so. I'm so serious about this, I'm taking the unprecedented step of providing links for every campaign's volunteer site.

Join Team Obama
Join Team Clinton
Join Team McCain
Join Team Huckabee
Join Team Paul
Join Team Alan Keyes (hurry, before his domain name expires)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.