Posing last night with a cardboard cutout of the candidate
My wife and I became part of Hillary?s ground game last night.
We took our iPhones to a phone bank here in Cambridge. I?m guessing there were a hundred volunteers in the crowded warren of offices. A counter of snacks offered carrots, donuts, chips, and mini Snickers bars left over from Halloween. A sign said the bottled water was reserved for volunteers going door to door. We phone bankers were asked to take plastic cups and draw some Cambridge tap water.
A calm, friendly woman of about 60 walked us through the call sheets we would be using and gave us clipboards. We found space in the front room, where another woman was already making calls on her iPhone, tethered to a power outlet. All three of us used earbuds with built-in microphones.
I worked from two double-sided sheets of names and phone numbers in Elyria, Ohio. The suggested script included a hint on how to pronounce el-EER-ee-ah. Our goal was to confirm that each person on the list still supports Hillary and if so to sign him or her up for volunteer work in Elyria during the last four days of the campaign.
By far the code that we checked most often was labeled ?NH.? That stands for Not Home. You check that box if the ringing turns into a request to leave a message. We don?t leave messages. We move on to the next name.
It?s scary to dial the number of a total stranger, especially when you know what a pain in the neck it is to receive a call from a stranger at your own home at night during an election. Note to self: Answer all calls to my phone for the next five days and be polite to whoever is on the other end.
I will admit to a feeling of relief whenever the phone of an Elryia resident rang about eight times or bounced over to a recorded message. I?d make a nice, clear check mark in the NH box and try again. When I?d finished both sides of the first sheet, I took a break for a Snickers and some carrots.
I made about 150 calls last night and talked with just three people.
One was a girl too young to vote, but she wrote down the name and phone number that I gave her for the local organizer. She said she might go door to door this weekend. She thanked me for calling. I wrote ?too young to vote, supports Hillary? on the call sheet.
When I asked one man if he still supports Hillary he said brusquely, ?We?ve never supported her.? I thanked him for his time and wished him a good day. ?Supporting Trump,? I wrote on the call sheet.
The third person I spoke with is the one that haunts me this morning.
I was still on my first page of names when he surprised me by answering the phone on the second ring. When I asked if he is supporting Hillary, he said, ?I?m not sure. It changes every day. There?s always something in the news.?
?I know,? I said, my mind racing, trying to choose the next thing to say. Is there anything I can share with this man ? he sounded young, maybe African-American ? to confirm him as a vote for Hillary?
I decided that he was probably aware of everything I have seen and read lately, so my best shot was to avoid a debate and affirm the importance of his decision. ?There?s a lot to consider,? I said. ?I appreciate your struggling with it.? We wished each other a good day. I wrote ?undecided? on the call sheet.
If I had known that guy was the one person I would talk to who was undecided, I would have kept him on the line a little longer. I would have asked ?On the days you are for Hillary, what are our thoughts?? Same for Trump ? what do those days look like?
My wife and I left the phone bank a little after 9 p.m. feeling much better about this nightmarish campaign.
We feel so helpless following the media coverage every day. The candidates loom as mythic representations of good and evil, and the chorus of pundits speaks with precision, persuasiveness, and passion. Normally we sit in the audience, high up in the cheap seats, wringing our hands.
Last night we took the stage ourselves. I tapped a number with a 440 area code into my iPhone and listened to it ring.
I will admit that I have not felt the level of passion for Hillary that drove my wife and me to volunteer many hours for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
That changed the first time I said these words to a real person in Ohio: ?Hi, my name is Len. I?m a volunteer for the Hillary Clinton campaign. How are you tonight??