A Georgia senate race phonebanker’s most important call
I called Emily a week ago. All I knew about her was that she was 29 years old. She answered the phone in a delightful Southern accent. I asked if she was planning to vote for the Democratic candidates, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
“No, sir,” she said, “I’m voting for Perdue.”
Bingo, I thought. In the world of phone banking, I’d hit the jackpot: a persuasion call. She wasn’t undecided, she wasn’t registered-but-not-voting — she was voting Republican, and my job was to change her mind.
Up until three months ago, I didn’t know Emily, or anyone who was born in Georgia. I’ve only been to Atlanta once in my life. But for the past several weeks, I’ve spent hours on the dialer — as we phone-bankers call it — talking to Georgians.
Yes, I’m one of those people who has interrupted dinners, called just as the doorbell’s ringing and the baby’s crying.
The call group I joined, the Misfits, was founded by Siobhan O’Loughlin, a Brooklyn-based artist and activist, in August of 2020 in the run-up to the November presidential election. It’s grown to about 30 people, mostly creative-types — I’m a playwright currently studying for a Master of Arts in Dramatic Writing at USC.
“I was depressed about a Joe Biden presidency, but I also couldn’t sleep thinking about Trump’s looming second term,” O’Loughlin told me when I asked how the Misfits were born. “I knew there just had to be other Bernie and Warren mourners who might feel the same.”
The Misfits come from all over the country — but primarily New York, Chicago and L.A.— and, like other such groups, focused their efforts on swing states. The group Pennsylvania Stands Up said the Misfits made more than 40,000 calls to that state in three months.
When Georgia’s Senate runoffs were announced, the Misfits kept calling.
That meant I sat at my desk in Venice, California, clicking at names on my laptop screen. Meanwhile, I imagine, somewhere in Georgia, the unwitting target was just trying to get on with their day.
Indeed, with the Senate majority at stake and no other elections going on, the whole political universe has been focused on Georgia, The state’s voters were deluged with phone calls and postcards from people like me. Quite a few times, I had someone say to me, “Take me off your [expletive] list!” Or, “If you call me one more time… “
With some calls, I’d only get a couple of lines in — “Hi, how are you? I’m calling about the upcoming Senate race…” — and then the person would hang up, leaving me with seething frustration.
And about that, I’d like to say to them: Sorry, not sorry.
First, I am sorry to bother them, really.
And I’m sorry that when they hung up on me, someone likely just called them again. That’s because if a Georgian ended the call without saying to take them off my list, they go right back into the system.
That’s what I’m sorry for, really.
What I’m not sorry for: being a part of a small group trying to make a difference. The Misfits met three times a week via Zoom. At the start of each call, every person was given a few seconds to introduce themselves. Then we were thrown into the “hot tub,” which is Misfit slang for calling voters.
Volunteers who hadn’t made calls before went into the “kiddie pool,” a break-out room for training. These workshops were often hilarious and insightful –the organizers came from a theater background, so watching them act as disgruntled voters was a real treat during my quarantine.
And I’m not sorry for the calls we all lived for: the persuasion calls. That meant I reached someone like Emily.
I asked Emily why she was voting Republican. She gave me a common-enough answer: fear that the Democrats were going to take away her guns. “I’m a hunter,” she said, “I hunt and grind up the meat right at my table.”
I plunged ahead. “Are you better off than you were six years ago when Republicans took control of the Senate?” I asked.
She said she was. She’s an Emergency Medical Technician, and work has never been so steady. And she said she has excellent healthcare, and so does her mother, who works as a nurse at a prison.
When I told Emily that both of Georgia’s Republican senators have faced scrutiny for insider trading, she hit back that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t approve larger pandemic relief checks (she did), and that Hillary Clinton “accepted foreign money,” so wasn’t everyone corrupt?
I told her she had to focus on the present and not think about 2016. She told me that we have to learn from history.
Emily was not going to be easy to persuade. But she also didn’t hang up on me right away. She didn’t sound upset or annoyed. If it wasn’t for a pandemic, I’d be interested to meet her in person one day. During the pandemic, I’ve had calls on dating apps that were far less interesting.
Then, just as I promised her that the Democrats wouldn’t take her guns away, Emily hung up on me.
Maybe I pressed her too hard, or not enough. But of all my calls, it was the one with Emily that stayed with me. It’s a truism these days that we are all separated in our media and political bubbles. I don’t know if I was able to break into Emily’s, but for a while, she broke into mine.
And for that, I’m not sorry.
Adi Eshman is a playwright and screenwriter in Los Angeles.