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Opinion

Confessions of a Dem dialer

The computer-based dialing operation. Photo: Garey De Martini

In 2016, like millions of other people in America, I was sure there was no way that Donald Trump could possibly win the presidential election. I voted. And that was that. Nothing to do but sit back and wait for an easy transition to the next administration. 

Except that’s not what happened. Donald Trump won. And America hasn’t been the same since.

On that election night, shocked and distraught over the outcome, I vowed to do more in 2020. That’s why, since September 1 of this year, I have been calling swing states across the country pretty much every day on behalf of the Democratic Party.

I’ve talked with Democrats and Republicans in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Minnesota, New York, and Georgia. Many have had interesting stories to tell, and I’ll share some of them with you in a moment.

There’s nothing glamorous about any of this. I myself am not at all happy when I receive these kinds of calls. And I’m definitely not someone who likes talking on the phone. But in my mind, these times necessitated stepping out of my comfort zone.

REACHING OUT

Calling swing states is relatively easy. All you need is a computer and a phone, and you can do it at your convenience in the comfort of your home. One hour of virtual training, and then you’re good to go, logging into the party’s “Dem Dialer” technology platform. It’s anonymous and safe. 

You follow a script that displays on your computer screen, moving from one section to another based on the answers you get from the person you’ve contacted. Calls are dished up to you automatically, and you start talking as soon as you hear a tone generated by the system, indicating that someone has answered his or her phone. That person’s name appears in the first line of your script.

The vast majority of people of course hang up as soon as you introduce yourself. Completely understandable, and I have never taken offense at that. You also get a bunch of wrong numbers. I’ve been connected to a funeral parlor and to different Papa John’s Pizza outlets across the country. 

What has been remarkable to me, is how surprisingly civil people have been, whether Democrat or Republican. 

Sure, there have been the exceptions. These are politically polarized times, after all. On an early call to Florida, one Republican said in a very heavy Southern accent, “I wouldn’t vote for no slime-ball Democrats who done stole the presidency from Donald Trump.” Another in Pennsylvania said, “Good luck pushing your socialist agenda!” The worst was a guy in North Carolina who said, “Joe Biden is a frickin child molester” — only he didn’t use the word “frickin.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, so I asked him to repeat it. He did, word for word.

But really, most of the Republicans I talked with have been pleasant — mostly amused that somehow I had gotten their numbers. One lady in a charming Southern accent said, “Oh honey, I’m a Republican.” Another from that party told me with a laugh that I was simply “barking up the wrong tree.”

LEANING IN

Of course I had much longer conversations with Democrats. My job has been to encourage them to vote as early as possible, guide them through that process — it varies from state to state — and ask at the end if they’d like to join our community of volunteers.

One woman I spoke with wanted to volunteer to make calls, but at that time there was a person with Covid in her family on life support, and she couldn’t participate. She holds Trump personally responsible for her loved one’s condition — especially in light of what was revealed in Bob Woodward’s book, Rage.

One older lady who lives on an island in Tampa Bay told me she just loved Barack Obama, and “didn’t want to say anything too harsh about the current occupant,” but ultimately she couldn’t help herself.

Another lady in New York was nearly 100 years old, and all she wanted was to live long enough to “pull that lever and vote Trump out of office.” She said she knew the president when he was growing up, and even then she wasn’t a fan.

A voter in North Carolina said she would have voted on the day I called, but it was raining, so she postponed going to the polls. She said in order to get to her voting place, she needed to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning. That same day, I reached another person who had just moved to New York, and wished he was still back in North Carolina, where his Biden vote would matter more, because it is a swing state.

Every story has been unique. Every conversation has seemed genuine. I have been able to connect with complete strangers all over the country in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible — especially given our current political climate. It has been an uplifting experience really, when so much else has been so unsettling. 

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