Blog, Social Justice

I Tried Phonebanking, and Here’s Why You Should, Too


With the current state of the world, it is easy to become overwhelmed with emotion, especially anger. Election day is quickly approaching, but it is still not too late to channel your frustration into action. One effective way to do this is phonebanking.

Background

Phonebanking came into use as a political tool when Wally Clinton developed the method for Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. Although technology has improved over time, and it is now possible to phonebank online without the use of your personal cell number, the basic method has not changed. Essentially, the goal of phonebanking is to engage a voter in conversation, and to ask them to get involved through encouraging them to vote, volunteer, or to donate money if they can. 

Talking to strangers is not ideal for most. There are options to send out text messages and postcard reminders to voters. Any effort made to remind people to vote is important and valued, but phone calls are one of the most effective strategies to mobilize voters to action. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the satisfaction of doing something impactful is very worth it. Also, you run the risk of making an important connection with someone. You’ll be reminded of why voting is a privilege in the first place. You might even get to convince someone on an important issue that they might have otherwise not known about. 

Keep in mind that you need not be an expert who knows every single political issue forwards and backwards, but there are materials available to brush up on your research beforehand. The most important thing is that a voter hears from a volunteer, and even better would be an actual conversation. 

Getting Started

Organizations like NextGen America have solid systems of phonebank organizing, where they provide brief training, resources, a call list, a script, and a community of volunteers to help guide you in your efforts. I tried phonebanking for the first time through this organization, thanks to the attention garnered to it by Traci Thomas, host of The Stacks Podcast. On her bookstagram page, she recently organized a call to action (using #thestackscalling) of bookstagrammers to virtually phonebank together. Every volunteer makes their own calls, but while on a live video call with others in the group, for support and encouragement. 

The idea of calling into a different place and speaking to a complete stranger is daunting, and it will feel awkward in the beginning. I was completely nervous the first time, but once I got a grip and kept in mind that I will never meet the callers in real life, each call became easier. Yes, some people did hang up (keep in mind to not take that personally), but I was able to talk with a few people in South Carolina. One woman was particularly excited to share that her daughter was all set to vote in her very first presidential election. We talked briefly, but it was uplifting to touch base with a motivated voter who had clearly instilled the importance of civic duty in her daughter. 

These kinds of connections are crucial as election day draws nearer, especially because this is a very high-stakes race. While every call may not go smoothly, at the very least, a voter was able to hear from a human making an effort to do their part. A little discomfort at trying something new bears no comparison to wishing you had done more come November Third. 

Resources to learn more:

CallHub’s Guide to Phone Banking

Effectiveness of Phonebanking from Sister District Project

Video: Indivisible National Phone Bank Training 2020

 

Nina Garcia is a reader, reviewer, and devoted coffee drinker from Texas. When she’s not reading or watching Netflix, she is working on writing projects, including a middle grade novel. Favorite genres: anti-racist and intersectional feminist non-fiction, science fiction, horror, and contemporary with elements of fantasy.

Comments:

  1. Amy

    I understand why this article could be written this way, but leaves out the actual reality of the experiences phonebankers actually have in a manner that makes me truly question if this person actually has ever phonebanked or is just writing from vague theoretical notions of what phonebanking could be. Contrary to how this article makes phonebanking sound like some leisure activity one can do when they want to have some chats with some nice folks (which can be true, and there’s nothing wrong with joining a phonebank just to enjoy the act of talking to strangers), there are many real difficulties in the phonebanking experience in a manner that is in many ways actually far more stressful than service employment jobs, except that you’re not getting paid outside of the rewards of knowing that one has made one more conversation towards promoting one’s progressive position.

    For instance, it is difficult for most new phonebankers to manage a script without sounding awkward, or make cold asks to convince people to even listen to them. To make things worse, there are many folks who can be quite hostile to people calling them. New phonebankers tend to find their first experiences mildly traumatizing, and I have met a number of folks who came out of their first phonebanks feeling rather antagonistic about the experience. It can feel like asking someone to go out with you and getting rejected hundreds to even thousands of times and at the same time experiencing what it’s like to be in a tech support hotline, which is not a in any way an entirely pleasant job; support mechanisms are in place to help deal with this. When you’ve done tens of thousands of phone calls (I’ve personally done over 150 a day in events I organized), you can easily accrue an innumerable amount of variously shocking experiences (which may be compounded for folks of color) as well as many positive ones. It takes an art and experience to be able to convince people in a conversation to sign up for one’s cause. The experience may be far more rewarding if you are calling people who are directly already related to the campaigns you are promoting, but even then there is no guarantee that every conversation you have is going to be kind and congenial. In short, there is no need to create unrealistic expectations of phonebanking.

    That being said, it is a fantastic experience, with a great community, with lots of support, skill-building assistance, and the knowledge that you are a part of one of the most effective methods of campaigning to exist as researched. Talking to someone about their political positions is one of the first steps into sharing more awareness, and getting people to be actively involved and/or at least thinking about their societal priorities. It fosters more participation in the political processes, both local and federal, that currently does not accurately represent our constituency often due to lack of interest and outreach (unfortunately, radical notions such as collectively not voting is not a viable means of political action and only ensures a dictatorial outcome that have permanently set our civil liberties back and have terrible outcomes).

    1. Nina Avila-Garcia

      While I appreciate you going into detail about your extensive phonebanking knowledge because it could be helpful for our readers, you could have done so without suggesting that I am lying about my personal experience with trying phonebanking. Your tone is condescending and reeks of gatekeeping. For someone who spends their time frequently talking to people, you may have some work to do on those interpersonal skills. Thank you for reading!

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