Thursday, August 27, 2020

When Advocacy & Voting Aren't Enough: Election Campaign Volunteering

I spend most of my time telling people that building relationships with members of Congress is an empowering way to change the world between elections. There are a few weeks of the year when I "get out the vote." But there comes a time when advocacy isn’t enough and an individual vote isn’t enough either to get the change we need. This is that time! If you truly care about the outcome of an election (and everybody should this year more than most), you should be turning your vote into 20, 50, or 100 votes.

In 2020, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that our candidates are going to win because "somebody else" is going to do the work. It's time to get personal. It's up to all of us.

When I speak to people about campaign volunteering - even those who are very vocal about out against the President of the US or the general state of the world - I get this pushback:

  • I just feel so overwhelmed with all this political negativity and COVID

  • I’m super busy and don’t have time

  • I’m not good at talking to strangers and wouldn’t know what to say

If you feel overwhelmed, I get it. I hear you. Yet consider that we may feel even more overwhelmed in December if gun sense candidates lose, reproductive rights are reduced, and we have four more years of a president inspiring racist acts of murder as happened in Kenosha recently. Helping get new people in office and ousting people not living up to their jobs can ease anxious feelings. It may not seem like it, but campaign volunteering can sometimes be self care.

If you are busy, I get that, too. But most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have an hour here or there.

As far as talking to strangers, I’ve got splendid news for you! Read on about ways to volunteer that either give you help in talking about candidates or don’t require you to talk to anyone AT ALL!

Making sure like-minded friends/family have a voting plan 

Usually, we’d be doing this kind of work 2-3 weeks before an election, but in the context of COVID-19 people need to request mail-in or absentee ballots early. In Missouri, that means explaining to people the difference between mail-in and absentee ballots and ensuring people make solid plans to do one of those options very early or vote in person. 

Here’s an infographic about Missouri, but make sure you find up-to-date info about your own state. Voting rules differ from state to state!

No-Contact Canvassing 

Canvassing doesn't mean knocking on doors to talk to voters anymore. COVID-19 has brought on the "No Contact Literature Drop." You get a map and a stack of door hangers with campaign info on it. You walk around a neighborhood wearing a mask and hang the info on doorknobs. That's it!

The closest I ever got to anyone while doing literature drops for Helena Webb (running for Missouri State Rep for District 100) was calling out to people doing yardwork from a distance to ask them, "May I hang this on your door?" They always just gave me a thumbs up or waved me toward their door.

Phone Banking 

Phone banking used to happen at campaign offices with stale coffee & donuts. But like everything else in 2020, it’s now done from home. Because of COVID-19, this is now the ONLY way many campaigns can have interactive conversations with voters.

Most campaigns invite you to a zoom call to receive training on how to use an on-line tool. The tool provides a script to read from a screen with info about the candidate. Sometimes, it even gives you the voters' polling places to help voters make a voting plan. Some especially cool campaigns (like Sunrise Movement) use an online dialer. A dialer automatically calls voters for you while concealing your own phone number. Those are helpful because it reduces the number of times you get an answering machine.

Cori Bush speaks to phonebook volunteers via ZoomYou’re always encouraged to customize the script with your own reasons you support a candidate, but you can just stick to the script if you prefer! Heck, you can even use a fake first name if you’re that worried about exposing yourself.

Is this effective? You bet. Your experience will contain a lot of hang-ups and people who won’t want to talk to you. But when you get someone who is undecided, those conversations are golden! When I was calling for Cori Bush’s primary, I got a voter who went from a very skeptical “I heard she started a fake church” to an enthusiastic “I’m going to get my whole family to vote for her. There are five of us here and we’re all going together. We’re all voting for Cori Bush!” It shocked me that a phone call from me, a stranger, had that much impact on that woman. I don’t even live in her district, but my voting power soared from zero votes to five in that one conversation. That night, when Cori won by a VERY narrow margin, I was glad I made the effort.

For more detailed info on phone banking with the Sunrise Movement, here is my daughter’s blog about it at “Thrill Seeking for Nerds (who want to change the world)”

Text banking

Text banking is similar to phone banking except it uses only texting. The concept is the same in that you’ll probably be asked to download an app to help you text voters. You won’t see their contact info and they won’t see yours. I don’t have a lot of experience with this except as a text banking recipient. I’ll admit that my failing eyesight doesn’t make me a fan of texting, but my 14-year-old likes this method. Maybe you will, too!


Postcards are one of my favorite ways to help because I don’t interact with anyone and I can do it while I’m watching Dr. Who or Umbrella Academy and still feel like I’m helping our democracy! You get a stack of postcards along with a list of voter addresses and a short sample message to write. Fill them out, put your own postcard stamps on them, and drop them in the mailbox. Easy! I like to use colored sharpies to make them pretty. My kids sometimes draw little pictures on them. Anything that makes them more eye-catching and personal is great!

Recruiting Friends to Volunteer

Did you read through those options and still can’t bring yourself to do any of them? Try making a handful of calls to ask friends if they would do volunteer for a campaign. You probably know someone of your own political mindset who has some time. Recruitment of even two active volunteers still multiplies your own influence!

What are your favorite ways to volunteer for campaigns?