I Often Wonder Where the Patriots Are
These are the confessions of a phonebank volunteer. Many may wonder what that even means. Who volunteers to phonebank? Phonebank for who? What am I getting out of it? Why would I do that?
I am not alone. There are many who volunteer on campaigns, for candidates who are running for elected office. Some volunteer with political or non-partisan organizations aimed at simply encouraging people to vote and participate in our democracy. That’s a big reason why I do what I do. I choose to volunteer with candidates I believe in, because to me the single greatest act of patriotism is not waving a flag, but actively participating in my democracy. I find so much joy in reminding someone to get in their ballot or helping them find an early voting location. I love introducing people to a candidate I believe in and talking about why I support them.
I get so high. There’s really nothing like it. I can’t stop smiling. I’m almost bouncing in my seat with glee. I actually got someone who wanted a conversation. And not just any conversation. They wanted to discuss the election with me, talk about the candidate I’m supporting, issues they care about, issues I care about, issues we both care about. I asked them if they want to attend an event so that they can hear the candidate that I am supporting, and so that the candidate can hear from them. They say yes! I sign them up so that they can get an email, and I tick off of mark in my mind. I just made a connection with a voter about the election and connected them with an opportunity to meet who I believe to be an excellent candidate.
I get why some people might not see this as the exciting thrill ride that I describe it to be. It’s not lost on me that I am a nerd when it comes to civic engagement. I believe with a deep passion that our country can only be by the people and for the people if all of the people are participating.
That means at the very least voting, and so many don’t do that. But it also means much more than just voting, and so few do any more than vote. It means engaging with your representatives to tell them how you want to be represented. It means tracking how they vote in comparison to the promises they make, getting to know the challengers in an election, voting in primaries if you are registered with a political party, and making all this part of your life.
From all the time I’ve spent talking with people about general apathy towards participating in this democratic process, the sentiment appears that to do all this would take a massive amount of time. You would have to be a nerd like me, watching and reading the news constantly, volunteering for candidates, and spending massive amounts of your time on politics and elections.
A fellow volunteer and I made a short YouTube series about this. It’s literally 5 short videos, and each one is about 5 minutes. We break down the 5 activities that we think all citizens should be doing to participate in their democracy. The point of the series is that we believe people can spend just five minutes a day making their democracy part of their life. I have to believe our democracy is worth five minutes a day. Hence why we called it 5 Minutes for Democracy.
The way I started this, you might get the impression that I have this amazing time phone banking and it’s so much fun and you’re all missing out. Part of that’s true because you end up on a team with volunteers who are all there working hard towards the same interest. We all want to support a candidate we believe in and talk with voters about the election.
The reality is though that phone banking is grueling and difficult work. Many of the calls we make result in people hanging up on us, swearing at us, and sometimes being incredibly inappropriate to us.
What really got me wanting to share all this is some of the common things people will say to me before they unceremoniously hang up on me.
“I’m not interested”
“I’m all set”
Those seem benign. Even nice and polite. But when they are said with annoyance and followed by a click…we’ll, it’s the opposite of the high I mentioned at the beginning of all this.
All I can think when these interactions go like this is, democracy isn’t for you? No thanks, you don’t want to take part in your country’s democracy? You’re all set without being part of the democracy that holds your country together?
People are so commonly complaining that our government doesn’t do enough. It’s all good and well to sing songs, display the flag, and call yourself a patriot, but what have you done to take part in your democracy? There is a massive amount of dark money being invested in our elected officials and they set the rules so that no one can see who’s paying them. They get away with this because they know most of the country won’t show up and vote, let alone volunteer for and support their challengers.
What they also know is that no amount of dark money can match our collective vote. That is why voter suppression laws are passed. That is why you’ll see chatter online attempting to depress the vote. This candidate is going to win, there’s no point in voting. That candidate isn’t perfect, so they’re both bad, there’s no point in voting. Just one reason not to vote, and we can all stay home. We can all sit this out.
I often wonder if I’m doing enough, and it’s not because I should be doing more. It’s because I look around and I know we need more Americans showing up.
“Decisions are made by those who show up.” ~ Aaron Sorkin
The ones showing up aren’t hearing from most of the country, and I am certain that we will only ever get out what we put into this country. I truly believe that. That’s why I keep showing up.
I hope you will too.