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For the next two days, I'm going to be posting action diaries on the need to phonebank NY-20.  You'll find my efforts from last week here, here, here, and (please first activate your snark detector), here.

I'd call them a limited success -- but enough of a success to be worth the continued effort.

We need to decide, as a site, what we are about.  I think that we should be about winning elections -- especially special elections where, if we choose, we can concentrate activism from the entire nation onto a single, flaming hot point.  We demoralize Republicans and envigorate Democrats.

In other words, we do in fact what we spend most of our time here just talking about.  Republicans don't care much about whether we talk smack about them.  They hate it when we beat them.


You can check those links above if you'd like more exhortation to take part.  My question to you is: why not?  For many of you, the answer might be fear of the unknown, fear of speaking to strangers, fear of saying the wrong thing and hurting the cause you want to help.  This is, basically, extremely unlikely, especially in this election.  The game at hand here is simply getting Scott Murphy's name better known, so he can compete with his more famous opponent, and identifying people for GOTV.  That's it.  It's hard to mess it up unless you're abusive -- so don't be abusive.

I posted on one diary an example of a great call I had that shows what -- by being polite, relaxed, and friendly -- you are trying to do as a phonebanker.  I'll quote it in full (and slightly copy edited) here:

OK, folks, here's why this calling stuff matters (8+ / 0-)

Recommended by:AlanF, RonV, Team Slacker, JVolvo, soms, allep10, scarlet slipper, dakinishir

I just had a call that I think might be worth a vote or two.  If you're wondering why we do this (and how), think of this example.

I called for a voter with a name that could belong to either gender.  A woman answered; I said I was calling for Scott Murphy for Congress and asked to speak to this person.  She said it was her husband, who wasn't there.  She knew about the race but clearly wasn't keen to talk to me.

I asked her whether I should mark her down as "undecided" (meaning we'd call her back, though I didn't say this) or "not interested."  She said she didn't care.  I said that that meant she was really undecided.  She laughed, and we had some rapport.

I then said that I was sorry for taking her time, but that I hoped she realized that this was an important election because we want someone in office who will help President Obama fix the economy rather than obstructing him.

That, right there, is my "takeaway."  Murphy will help Obama fix the economy; Tedisco will obstruct him.  That's pretty much all I want them to remember.

She asked me if I had tried to call her a few minutes before; I said "no," and added apologetically that she would probably be getting a lot of calls over the next while, but that was because the election is important.  She agreed.  She also said that she would probably vote for Murphy.  (I marked her as a "leaner.")

She then said that she was glad that I was not a robocall.  I said that I was glad that I was not a robot.  She laughed and we said goodbye.

That woman has a nice impression of Murphy's supporters and a frame for viewing the election.  I was polite, engaged, relaxed, and even mildly funny.  She may tell her husband about this; saying that she had a nice interaction with a caller for Scott Murphy.  That positive impression may carry them into the polling booth.

It's not that hard.  Be positive, friendly, considerate and polite.  It really works.

The thing that I think keeps a lot of people from jumping into the phonebanking waters is that they feel unprepared.  If that seems like you, read through this nice exchange I had with AlanF last week on "being prepared."  The part I'd like to emphasize as generally true advice is now in bold:

My preparation before starting (4+ / 0-)

Recommended by:bumblebums, faithnomore, Team Slacker, Seneca Doane

I wanted to have something to say before making calls. Gillibrand's ad was not very full of content (Murphy created 1000 jobs -- what kind, and how?). Went to Scott Murphy's site and watched his ads. Okay, I get it. Murphy has created jobs in green energy and the internet (how, I don't know -- can anyone clue me in?), and he supports Obama's stimulus plan. Tedisco refuses to say whether he supports the plan, and he's been called on that refusal by, among others, his hometown newspaper. Murphy supports SCHIP and stem cell research. Okay, I still don't know a ton about him, but enough to try some calls.

If you can tell us why Murphy is good and Tedisco is bad, you will add a lot of value to this diary. And I think you are right on target in identifying how DK readers can be useful. You stop short of saying "Stop chatting and start doing something!" but the message is clear. I would argue that, sadly, DK is, fundamentally, a debate society rather than an action site, but fortunately, there are people like you who make worthwhile exceptions.

Okay, I'll try making some calls. Let's see whether I can make it to the #2 spot!

Thanks, Seneca.

by AlanF on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 09:40:21 AM PDT

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Alan (4+ / 0-)

Recommended by:bumblebums, faithnomore, Team Slacker, obscuresportsquarterly

I appreciate your coming out and helping.  But your post did provoke a thought: we should keep an eye on what we're doing when calling, and what we're doing on the phone may be much less, much simpler, much more routinized, then what we're capable of doing.

I've enjoyed, at times, debating with people I call -- for example, here -- and occasionally, as here, spending insane amounts of time with a single voter.  But generally, doing that is neither necessary nor advisable.  We're involved in a wholesale business here.

The message we have to get out is simple:

There is an election on March 31.  Scott Murphy is the Democrat.  Vote for Scott Murphy.  He will support Obama.  We need your vote.

That's enough to win a vote.  If there's an undecided voter out there, it may take more time to win them over, but in that case they can be sent to the website or called back later (once one is armed) for a longer discussion.  If someone asks me "what jobs?", I'm likely to refer him or her (with feigned excitement at their interest) to the website; the website is there for the more detailed retail push.  Here, given that even at our best we will probably make it through only a small portion of the DCCC's list, the idea is to identify supporters for GOTV, get them aware of the election and (ideally) notifying their friends about it, and move on to the next call.  It's a brutal economy, but that's how it works best.

There are some brilliant people here and it's hard to think of ourselves, as excellent debaters, as mere cogs in a "reaching voters" machine, but that is what we become.  It should be enough: like Woody Guthrie's guitar, "this machine kills fascists" (or, in this case, at least "radical conservatives.")

by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 10:06:28 AM PDT

You're right for the most part (4+ / 0-)

Recommended by:bumblebums, faithnomore, Team Slacker, Seneca Doane

but without those 10 minutes of prep on my time, I felt like a fraud, even if no one called me on it. Now I feel like I have (slightly) more information behind me than I'm relaying to callers, which is how I want to feel.

by AlanF on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 10:10:39 AM PDT

[ Parent | Reply to This ]

Fair enough (3+ / 0-)

Recommended by:AlanF, bumblebums, Team Slacker

I just want people to know that they don't have to be that prepared to make calls.  By far most of the conversations you have are simple; the rest can be passed along to someone with more relevant knowledge.

When I got a call from an elderly Prop 8 supporter here in California this past election cycle, I was able to keep him on the phone for more than a half-hour, asking a slurry of disingenuous questions, before I finally told him at the end that I wasn't convinced.  It was great fun.  But we shouldn't let that happen to us!

by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 10:23:04 AM PDT

One thing I'd add for this week -- a slight amendment to the above.  If you call, expect to hear people talk loudly about the AIG bonuses.  I found the feedback I got from talking to real people -- and I made a thousand calls in the precincts where I was captain and I think another couple thousand over the course of the year -- during the Obama campaign to be invaluable.  You will have more, and more interesting, things to say here if you call.

Due to this, I'd amend some of the advice I gave last week: I think it's worth reading Scott Murphy's web site to see what he thinks about the bonuses, because people will ask.  (Unfortunately, I don't see any update on his website; hopefully someone from NY-20 may be able to report in on how he would have voted.  This is a big issue for him because some in NY-20 may be bonus recipients who just lost big money.  It's fair to say that you're just a volunteer and you haven't heard his position on this yet, but give them the website address for them to check for updates.)

If you're a beginner, you may want to read this exchange I had with dakinishir, who took a deep breath and jumped in:

Ok, I went over there (2+ / 0-)

Recommended by:Team Slacker, Seneca Doane

signed in, made 5 calls.

two answering machines (I didn't know I was supposed to leave a message), one "she doesn't live here anymore", one "he's dead" (though the woman I spoke to is a supporter), and one undecided.

I felt like I was screwing stuff up so I stopped and came back here.

May try again now that I'm armed with a little more information.

Wish there was a beginner's guide to phone banking I could read before doing this.  Hate to think I might do more harm than good.

by dakinishir on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 01:03:57 PM PDT

Don't worry: if you don't call people (1+ / 0-)

Recommended by:dakinishir

insulting names then it is very unlikely that you will ever do more harm than good.

I was hoping to get people to help compile a "beginner's guide" in yesterday's diary -- there are lots of good comments strewn all over the place from the primary and general campaigns -- but I didn't get any takers.  It's a good long-term project for us to do through DKosopedia.

The horrible truth is that for the most part, you are being a cheerful automaton repeating what the campaign has to say -- and that's OK.  In fact, more than OK, it's good!  The fact that you are a real human being demonstrating that you care enough to call makes you more important than a robocall, and it's the rare person who will give you crap.  If they want to debate policy, you just cheerfully refer them to the web page or the campaign for more information.

As to running in to problems like "the person you called for is dead" -- which I guess would be coded as "wrong number" -- my bet is that your reaction was something like "Oh!  I'm so sorry.  I didn't know."  That honest response is, in my opinion, perfect.  You don't need to plan it, but you also don't need to suppress it or feel bad about it.  Unless it's very soon after the death, the person you spoke to has practice in giving the news.  As a well socialized results, you can trust in most of your honest reactions.

Don't worry about not having left a message in those previous; that omission will not decide the election.  Just do it looking forward; knowing that you are making someone at DCCC who is monitoring phone calling happier about the prospect of victory.

And, seriously, thanks for having the guts to do something you are hesitant to do!

by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 04:04:43 PM PDT

If anyone would like to week through old diaries from last year (with tags like "phonebanking" or "phone banking" or something), please do.  This is an opportunity to make a real and lasting contribution to our site.

Finally, some thoughts about phonebanking generally.  Here's a comment I left last week:

A note to the DCCC (7+ / 0-)

Recommended by:AlanF, Andrew C White, Team Slacker, obscuresportsquarterly, COwoman, Pizzapotamus, dakinishir

if anyone from there ends up monitoring this diary.

The page is pretty well set up, but it's easy for people to miss the voicemail text.  I would consider moving it to the right side of the page, perhaps in a box with a blue background, underneath the "failed to reach" text in the red background.

More importantly, you have no button for people to click indicating that they have left a voice mail.  Maybe you don't need one, but it's confusing for callers to figure out what to do when they're done.  I clicked the "Not Home" button, but it seemed odd to be clicking that both for people who did and who did not receive answering machine messages.  If you want people to do so anyway, please add an instruction "[CLICK 'NOT HOME' BUTTON WHEN DONE]" at the end of the suggested text.

I'd also consider adding "Thank you for your time; we hope that you'll come out on March 31 to support Scott Murphy and that you'll tell your friends to do the same; goodbye." at the end of the answering machine text.  I think it makes a nicer sign-off.

Thanks for doing your part, DCCC; now I hope we'll do our part.

The more I've thought about this, the biggest the problem I think it is.  People do not want to screw things up for the Democrat.  They will sit on their hands rather than risking it.  So people who create this software have to make them feel that they are not screwing up -- even when there's really no likelihood that they are screwing up.

For that reason, I think that the DCCC (and others) should definitely add a "Left Message" button on their site.  I don't even care if the button sends information directly to the trash; that's their concern.  For me, the sense that I'm calling and calling and leaving message after message and it still shows up on the summary of my activity as if I'm not doing a damn thing other than reaching people that aren't home is really alienating!  I know that I'm working hard; I want to be able to push a button that says that I am leaving messages and reaching voters.  I don't want to be wondering "do they think that I'm a slacker because I keep clicking 'nobody home'?"

That's not a lot of indulgence to ask from the DCCC in exchange for my volunteering; I hope that -- someday, even if not in NY-20 this year -- they will comply.  I think it will make it easier to recruit callers.

Happy phonebanking this weekend, everyone!

Originally posted to Doane Spills on Fri Mar 20, 2009 at 08:53 PM PDT.


Why DON'T you volunteer to phonebank?

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