Hi George —
What a grand and valuable message from you. There is much in it I agree with, but I am also so taken by the fact you responded in depth and at length — you really want answers and have drawn from the article salient issues I also grapple with now.
I hope these comments of mine assist a bit. Before I did phone banking, I did door-to-door, going to almost a hundred homes over the course of three weekends way back in June to encourage voters for the candidate I supported, Antonio Delgado of NY19, in the Primary (he won the Primary and November elections against serious odds). I believed in his message and especially in his refusal to take corporate funding. The door-to-door involved visiting registered Democrats only and was in stark contrast to what I later encountered in phone banking — door-to-door was a series of civil encounters, though many people were not home, so all I could do was leave leaflets. But I did not feel I was wasting my time, and I was very earnest, a trait I have in doing things. The days were very hot, so much so one woman who had early stages of Alzheimer’s yet still able to communicate well, and her husband, brought me indoors for a glass of water and gave me a cool cloth — I looked like I needed both, she said!
But phone banking for the November election — which I began in August — was very different. It was the experience I wrote about. And I was totally unprepared. We got no training (I think sales training in cold calling would help!), just given the lists to call, 25 people at a time, and everyone on it was Republican or Independent or Conservative. I asked why we were calling them and got the answers I have already described in that article. But I have said since to others and to myself that it was the most senseless work I have ever done. I am essentially a peaceful person, a bit of a Pollyanna, and I never expected the anger that was sent to me. I was prepared to talk about our different values. I had no idea what would actually happen. The group managing the phone banking felt it was necessary. Some of them seemed to enjoy the work. They said if they got just three people to change their mind out of several thousand called, it was a victory. I rather agree with you — too small a return for a massive effort. Very limited reward. And a serious emotional toll.
If I had been calling Democrats — which the team began to do exclusively mid-October, it might have been a truly better experience. It wouldn’t have been a surprise. It wouldn’t have been the experience of having hate delivered to me whenever I connected with someone. That hate and vitriol changed me and the Pollyanna disappeared. I realized a lot of people who were not in my party did not even want to talk. I am a former professor and talking is what I did, and do… :-) It was a shock. It shouldn’t have been. Not in this day and age. But experiencing it firsthand is very different from reading about political division.
I do not applaud division. I am more aware than I was how violent the refusal to see the other side can be, and what it promotes. I do applaud resistance to the behavior that divides, which is why I eventually in the article spoke of trying to fathom the other side and failing (“Trumpkins”). I’ve written several articles since about Trump supporters, none favorable, because I still cannot fathom where they are coming from. But maybe my article on the reaction of Trump’s female supporters to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford speaks to that in a more measured way.
As to the value of phone banking to people outside one’s party — I see no value in it. Calling Democrats and encouraging them to get off their duff and go out to the polls — that I can understand — we can be an apathetic group. But calling people who have to my mind entered a belief system totally not open to the subject — it seems useless. The phone is not the way to do that with people outside one’s party. There are huge lists of voter profiles and party affiliations for the other side. I see no value in those, either.
I left the team after a few more weeks of phone banking, before October. It will probably remain one of the least valuable life experiences I have had or will have — except, I suppose, I got three things out of it — awareness I had no real prior understanding of the depth of the political divide, awareness I am not by nature inclined or skilled at arguing with absolutism, and an awareness I had best use far greater discernment in choosing how to volunteer for causes I care about.
I see nothing wrong with Trump’s supporters as people, as individuals. I think I know why they refuse to compromise. I see their fear controlling a lot of the way they think. I have Republican friends who praise Trump to the skies — so we talk about music instead. But to me, having a dialogue on anything matters. And this refusal of Trump supporters to have such a dialogue bewilders me even though I understand some of the reasons.
Stats recorded that teams doing phone banking dialed the numbers of thousands of people, over fifty thousand. It doesn’t give a breakdown of how many calls went through, or were ever answered (almost no one answered at night, for the same reasons you give), or were rejected. As always, stats can be deceiving.
But my take on it when I was doing the phone banking was not the same as the team’s. Some of them have made calls to opponents for years without feeling the emotional reactions I had. It really is a matter of choosing to do what one is good at. I am certainly not good at phone banking. Nor, I must admit, do I want to be…not now… :-)
Thank you for your long and considered response. I cannot express how much I appreciated reading it.