Phone Banking Stories

“Hello.  My name is Anaea and I’m a union volunteer calling union households about the upcoming recall election…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

I’ve been running around doing all sorts of things – yesterday I got fried crispy canvassing in Barabo – but the most interesting, I think, is the phone banking.  Perhaps its because the autodialer makes actually getting a hold of people much more efficient than going door to door, or because I don’t really like being out in sunshine and warm weather, but it feels much more productive.

“Hi.  I’m Anaea and I’m a union volunteer calling union households.  Are you familiar with the upcoming recall election in your district?”

“Yeah.  We already voted once, and now we have to go do it again.  I’m not at all happy about that.”

The software the phone banks at the Labor Temple are using is pretty neat.  This could just be a reaction to having a netbook that makes the calls for me, and a web-based interface I can update in real time when I’m used to print outs and using my own phone, but the interface makes me happy.  I click the “next” button, and it dials until it get somebody to pick up.  Then it gives me the name of the person I’m looking for with whatever demographic information is available about them.  If there are other people in the database under the same number, they show up and I can click on them to mark their responses, if needed.  I’m not sure if it was a feature of the district or what, but the majority of the people I’ve called were over 60.  A substantial number of them were over 70.

“I’m 87 years old.  I don’t pay any attention anymore.”

I wish they’d hire somebody who had any kind of competence in script writing.  What they hand the volunteers looks like the very worst of sales training scripts.  The script for banking the 14th, Luther Olsen’s district, is too stilted even for an evil computer in a 1960’s B movie.  The unions have endorsed Fred Clark “Because he will stand up and fight for working families in the state senate.”  The next line of the script says, “His opponent and current Senator, Luther Olsen, voted to repeal worker’s rights to collectively bargain.”  You can print that on a flier; you can’t say it on the phone.

“I just found out I have cancer, so I’m not really interested.” Click.

There must be a cancer epidemic in the 14th district – I had three people say this in one evening.

The bad scripts do lead to fascinating social observations, if you look for them.  New volunteers come in, and they start off faithfully reading the script, and getting hung up on.  As they sit there, during the down time while the autodialer looks for a real person, they can hear what the other people are actually saying.  Put somebody with a particularly loud, dynamic voice in the room, and within half an hour, their version of the script gets repeated by everybody.

Concise phrasing, engaging shifts in tone quality, emphatic pauses, they all spread through the callers like a virus.  Then the source leaves, volunteers change over, and it happens again, but with a new script.  The volunteers think they’re just getting comfortable with the process, warming up to the political equivalent of telemarketing, but they’re stealing performance.  I don’t think the people getting copied even realize it – they’re busy listening for somebody more comfortable, more dynamic, looking for something they can use to improve.

“Which union are you from?”

“I’m not in a union, I’m a Realtor.  I’m volunteering at the Labor Temple because I want to help them fix the government.”

“Yeah, I’m a Clark supporter.  I just had to check.  There’re so many shenanigans going on with this recall stuff.  You never know who’s really calling you.”

My biggest complaint about the phone banking is the information they give the volunteers.  They orient you to the technology quickly and efficiently, hand you the clunky script, then move on.  But these volunteers are from Madison.  Fred Clark is the Assemblyman for the 14th, but your average citizen doesn’t know their own assemblyman, let alone somebody else’s.  But come on, he’s the guy who climbed out of his office window to meet with constituents on the lawn, during winter, in Wisconsin.  He’s one of the badasses rising in a time of Democrats being unexpectedly badass.  The phone bank organizers should, perhaps, tell people that.

“I’m not going to vote.”

“Why not?”

“Listen, back when I was in school, a long, long time ago, they taught you that you can go ahead and vote for the best candidate all you want, but once they’re in office they’re in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“In Wisconsin that’s not true.  That’s the point of a recall – if the candidate turns into a bad politician, you can remove him.  And  the next guy will know better.”

“That’s just not how it works.”

“It is working that way right now.  All you have to do to make it happen is vote.”  This is the only time I’ve gotten into an actual argument with somebody.  I have no idea whether she was pissed at Olsen, or the recall.  I just couldn’t let her go on being wrong.

Sometimes the software is a little slow, and it’ll populate information at the top of the screen – the phone number you’ve dialed, the name of the person you’re looking for – but won’t have updated the rest.  That means you might call for one person, find out they aren’t home, and get on to the next call before you see that there are three other people in that house you can ask for, because their names haven’t loaded yet.  I think it’s a consequence of the network at the Labor Temple rather than a bug in the software, but it was annoying.

“Is this Kathy?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, my name is Anaea.  I’m a union volunteer calling union households…”

“This is not a union household.”

The database has four names in that house listed.

I hear people talking about getting discouraged when they run into staunch Olsen supporters, when people hang up, when people are angry.  They want to call forty people in an hour and have all of them be adamant that they’re going to go vote, and they’re voting for Clark.  This is dumb.  There’s no point in calling those people.  We want to talk to the undecideds, the unenthusiastic, the wafflers.  We have to find the people who don’t know what’s going on and explain it to them.  Anything else is a waste of time, and we have precious little of it.

“Yeah, I’ve been getting a hard time of it at work.  For years I was the hold-out Republican, but now?  Walker and the Fitzgerald’s, they’re Nazis.  I can’t put up with that.”

“I understand how you feel.”

“I have to vote for Clark.  I just…what happened?  And the guys at work are ragging on me.”

“They don’t get to do that.  This is rough for a lot of people.  You’re doing the right thing, and we need you.  Thank you.”

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