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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Empty Canvas

After hearing that George McGovern, my second political hero, had died this week, Other Bill and I decided that we would, in honor of McGovern, go down to Obama HQ and do some phone canvassing, just as I had done in 1972 for the democratic nominee who ended up carrying only Massachusetts and DC. Nixon slaughtered him, but we all know where he ended up, now, don’t we?

Phone canvassing in 1972 was really a kind of a kick in the pants. I’d walk over after school to a large commercial building set up with rows and rows of telephones (and they may have even been rotary phones) manned by volunteers from people my age (15) to octogenarians. Each caller had a portion of a huge printout of all registered Democrats in the 813 area code.

Because there were no answering machines or Caller ID software back then, the number you called was either busy, or no one answered, or someone picked up. Mostly, they picked up.

“Hello, this is Bill Wiley calling from Democratic headquarters here in Tampa. I’d like to ask you three short questions about the election if you’ll allow me.”

The three questions were:
1.      How do you feel about the Democratic candidate this year? (This was kind of a trick question to make sure they were paying attention; also to make sure they knew who the candidate was without saying his satanic name in the first question.)
2.      Can Senator McGovern count on your vote this year?
3.      Do you need a ride to the polls?

Most of the time, you didn’t get past the first question, because you would get hung up on, cursed at like a drill sergeant, or they’d say “I wouldn’t vote for that bastard if he wuz running for…" And in the blank space there would be one of several candidate positions that do not ever appear on any ballot.

Most often it was “dog catcher.” I wouldn’t let that rat’s ass clean my septic tank. I wouldn’t allow that n-lovin’ boy to shine my shoes. I wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire. That man’s not worthy to wipe my ass. That was Tampa in 1972, and I suspect that little has changed since then. I can’t go back there without Demerol and clean needles.

After an hour or two of abuse, volunteers would go to the break table and have a cup of coffee or a cup of ice water and compare some of the sillier responses we got from Democrats, people who were supposed to be on our side. McGovern promised to end the Vietnam War the day he took office, for God’s sake. Who could not vote for someone who would do that? There was a great sense of hope and camaraderie at that table, even though we all knew we were fighting a losing battle.

There were a few inspiring calls. The one I remember most was an old woman who said she was blind and would like to volunteer to help with the campaign. “I can’t do much,” she said, “but I can stuff envelopes and lick stamps.” After I finished the call I went outside, sat on the curb and wept  relentlessly. Then I composed myself, went back in and gave the blind woman’s phone number to the volunteer coordinator, who called her back immediately.

Phone canvassing in 2012 is entirely different. First of all, there is no commercial building. It’s just someone’s house. There are no rows of tables filled up with phones. The register of callees is not just Democrats in our area. It’s data pulled from a website where people have bought Obama “stuff”; in other words, people who have been pre-determined to be Obama leaners or supporters. This eliminates the, “I wouldn’t let that sumbitch pick fleas off my dawg” comments. We were calling them basically to remind them to vote and let them know the early voting locations.

The lack of a phone bank indicates the technology change. The Obama assumption is that its volunteers have cell phones with unlimited minutes. This created a problem. Other Bill cannot use his employer-issued phone for personal use, especially for political causes. My cell phone, which I have used 5 times in a little over a year, is a Jitterbug. If I were to walk down the beach and pick up an undivided scallop shell, it would make calls better than the Jitterbug. They should call it the D&D: Distort and Drop.

So we both were given permission to work from home. Other Bill used our land line, and I tried to use the D&D, but after it dropped the second call that most people consider to be telemarketing anyway, I gave up on it, and we tag-teamed our landline instead.

Another technology change: Due to Caller ID, which most everyone has, excluding the Bills, no one answers their phone, so 90% of the time, you get voicemail. We had been instructed not to leave messages. We made over 200 calls and actually talked to 19 humans, most of whom pledged to support Obama for re-election. Big surprise, since they had all bought yard signs or t-shirts or pinbacks. We also got called back by people who now own our home phone number.

So it was a big waste of time.

We’re not giving up, though. We promised to go back next weekend, because they said they will have better tasks for us to do other than phone canvassing. Early election will be in full swing, so maybe we can take an old blind lady to the polls.

Since then I have canceled my Jitterbug service and finally bought a smart phone, which is pretty much useless when it is paired with a user who’s not smart. Flip Wilson as Geraldine used to say, “The devil made me buy this dress.” For me, Obama made me buy this phone.

Meanwhile, twice a week I am receiving robocalls from the RNC. If I’m there, I make sure I listen until the end of the message so I’m not databased as a “hang-up.”

I like giving them a sense of false hope, something I was filled with back when I was 15.

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