in Community Engagement

Phone Volunteering for Obama: Racism + Hope

Ever since I read The Amazing Money Machine article in the Atlantic I was intrigued about how his campaign is using social software functionality to create that machine. This machine has the potential to stay engaged after the election and bring real democracy to America. How cool would that be?

As a Community Guy I am of course fascinated by all that. I got invited for a neighborhood party to do some phone volunteering. You bring a computer and your cell phone, a short introduction and off you phone. I thought it would be at 4pm, but the party started without me already at 1pm :-( It was after three when I realized my error and Nina had just fallen asleep.

I thought I missed out, but if the Obama folks are so clever, I should be able to do it on my own. Volunteering phone I went to Obama’s website and there was the phone, a little sign up no more than you do for your typical web 2.0 site and you can select which swing state you want to put your full weight behind.

New Mexico didn’t have any phone numbers at the moment, so I selected the battleground (talking about framing) state Ohio. They assigned me 25 numbers and with one click I had a popup with name, number and a little script of what to say in front of me and off I went. From selecting Obama’s website to calling the first number in less than 5 minutes without any human involvement. Smooth and super scalable.

From the neighbor I know that the main goal is to find undecided voters. You don’t try to change their minds, that is much more effectively done via a face to face visit of volunteers on the ground in Ohio. My slightly British accent is similar to the Dean volunteers with the orange hats four years ago, just not convincing ;-)

Oh the experiances of a Telemarketer: Hi … this is Mark Finnern a volunteer from the Obama Campaign <click>

O.K. next one. All you have is Name, Age and City they live in. So I get Ruth (not her real name) on the phone. The call was apparently for her husband:

Ruth: He is not here and he is a Republican. I am a Democrat. But I am not going to vote democrat this election.

Me: May I ask why?

Ruth: Well, I didn’t vote for him in the primaries and I am white and I am not voting for a black man this time around.

> I was stunned, quickly checked my calendar, yes it is 2008 not 1958. Arrg.

Me: (almost mumbling) So you want another 4 years of failed politics, same old … > I realized that it is a lost cause. Thanked her and hung up.

Wow, I guess I am living a sheltered life here in the Bay Area. It was my first experiance of open racism. I was saved by Nina waking up and we took off to the community pool. It left me feeling really sad.

Thank God I saw the picture of the 100.000 at the Obama rally in Missouri. I will call more when I find the time. The whole process seems to be implemented flawless. The potential is there to tab into all of these volunteers once Obama has won, to really make a change. Let’s work towards that.

Update: Today I got an email from the campaign with a little video of Joe Biden’s wife Jill Biden talking about the importance of phone volunteering and how easy it is. She comes across as very likable. I didn’t know her before and it is a great way to introduce her.

So go out and – no wait, stay at home and make some phone calls.

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