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Cristina Chang Headshot

Dialing For Last Minute Votes

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I attend an Obama rally at the University of California, Los Angeles, and receive a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) flyer with 77 names, addresses, and phone numbers of registered Democrats and undecided voters. *MAKING CALLS WINS ELECTIONS* blared the cheery title. I knew this was true, a political junkie reading about Karl Rove's 72 hour plan and studying Moveon.org's midterm election push. Reading the happily worded article, I could just feel how it was "time to get fired up and ready" and "take ownership of this historic movement of change." Just one problem: I have a deathly fear of talking to strangers on the phone. Did I say deathly? I tremble at its ring, the promise that I would have the answer it. As much as I longed for an Obama administration, calling a total stranger was now placed top of mind.

Furthermore, the area codes of the voters ensured a hefty February phone bill. Yet on Election Night eve, I thought about Hillary's inelectablity and the free "I Am An Obama Precinct Captain" pin, sighed, and took out the phone cards, provided by my kind, Clinton-supporting mother. After all, I had taken a GOTV packet that took time and money to assemble and was in charge of reaching voters who probably weren't going to get the call unless I dialed their number.

The front, green sheet was my security blanket. Like the novels where you choose your own fate, I was given every possible commentary and response available (except for the registered Republican, but we'll talk about that later).

Hello, is (blank) there? Hi, my name is Cristina Chang and I'm a local volunteer...and so on. Well, here goes.

The first person on the list, Erica (not her real name), responded that she "was totally for Obama," was pleased to have gotten a call from the campaign (sharing the news with those around her), and raised my morale. Would she have voted if I didn't call?

The next person's line was busy, as was the next. I was shocked at the state of phone service in the state of California, or rather, the rate at which people were changing their numbers. Some on the list only had their address shown. "I'm not running for office someday," I thought, as the next voter I called gave me an earful to stop calling her, even though I had never called her before.

Some voters', most really, had names so difficult to pronounce that reading the ingredients of a Twinkie was easier. There were first names like Aramazd, Hampartzoum, Phoung, and Lyudmila. I started studying their last names, so I could call Mister or Missus, but the surnames weren't much simpler.

My favorite call was with James (not his real name).

"Hello, is James there?"

"No. May I ask whose calling and take a message?"

"I'm Cristina Chang and I'm a local volunteer for Senator Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign..."

"Yeah, I'm James. I was kidding earlier. Yeah, I'm for Obama." Ah, the joy of promoting a candidate with positive name recognition.

"Thanks for your support," I read, in a combination of two paragraphs on the green sheet. "One more thing, help spread the word," I said enthusiastically, a mood reflex developed when my confidence falters. "We are asking all supporters to call 5 friends and tell them why you're supporting Obama. Can we count on you to do that right now? Thanks."

James agreed, leaving me with a smile. If Obama wins California by four votes, the senator should know who to thank.

Low points of the effort came when a Republican informed me of her status (despite the D placed next to her name on the list) and that she was trying to sleep (hint hint, local volunteer) Answering machines came now and then, and for that, I cheated a little, because I recorded my "answering machine" message and replayed it after the beep.

The last person I called said he'd already made up his mind, made every effort to appear cordial, and hung up. "Hillary supporter," I surmised.

So I've made my mark on history from the comfort of home, or so the green sheet would assure me. But next time, I'll probably drive over to a campaign office to make my calls- and be a little nicer to telephone salesmen.