From the Field

Phone Banking: Conquering Your Fears, Making a Difference

If you had just met me in the last eight months, you would think phone banking was my thing. And it is, now. I do it (a lot). I post about it. And, as is self evident, I proselytize it. It is my mission to get more people helping out on this election, and as a San Francisco resident, selling phone banking is a great way to do that.

But it is a tough sell. I’ve not met a person who likes phone banking, at first. I know I didn’t.

I think that’s in part due to a divergence between the sales pitch and the reality. There’s a harmful tag-line that circulates about phone banking, “it’s easy.” In some ways, that’s true: you can do it from home; they give you the script, the list; you just need a phone, a laptop, and a speaking voice. The reality, though, is that in many ways, it’s hard. You have to try to sound natural but work off a script. You have to handle voters who may be unkind. You have to think on your feet, field questions you don’t know the answer to, and sometime, you mess up. Hard.

So what I’ve found is that many people do it once or twice, and then decide that it’s not for them. That was me, until it wasn’t. This article is about finding motivation, building skills, and making all the difference you can in the last few weeks before the most important election in all of our lifetimes.

My first time.
Until 14, I was too shy to order pizza over the phone (remember when that’s how we did that?!). But politics and college drew me out of my shell. Eventually, I learned to talk to strangers without turning beet red. I first phone banked for a state legislative candidate in the Bay Area when I was 18 years old. I hated it. I didn’t know a lot about the candidate (or what state legislators did). The system used an auto-dialer, so people treated me like a telemarketer (that is, unkindly). I didn’t feel like I was doing any good. After an hour and a half, I was done.

It was an inauspicious start, and one which put me off this type of volunteering for well over a decade.

My political interests drew me to phone banking a handful of other times in the dozen or so years between my first try and 2016. In the meantime, I also volunteered a full summer doing door-to-door fundraising for the DNC, I ran two Democratic clubs, did Election Day GOTV and poll watching, organized rallies, and registered voters (among other activities). Phone banking was my least favorite political activity.

The 2016 election crushed me. Like many of us, with Obama at the helm, I had taking politics for granted. Frankly, after finishing school, I didn’t know how to fit politics into my life, other than a few stray days every four years helping out on Election Day.

But in 2017, I knew that this complacency was a luxury that we couldn’t afford. I needed to do more, and needed to figure out what (and fast).

Linking in with Sister District gave me the perfect pathway back into activism. I had a community-based group to engage with, and was provided carefully selected races to offer my assistance to. But besides attending parties (which only does so much, besides take the edge off), there are only a handful of things that one can do remotely to make a difference. And one thing that is proven to be the most effective.

Phone banking.