I finally did phone banking. I'd been avoiding it the whole campaign, telling myself I would hate it. But I noticed in the trainings for talking to people you know that, consistently, the folks who had done phone banking were more skilled at the conversations. So I wanted to go see what they knew, if only to help me as a trainer.
I dreaded it so much that I knew I'd never go alone. I talked two old friends into going with me. These are girls I came out with back in the late '70s. We go way back. We spent the Reagan years together. One of them roped in another person, and suddenly we were a phoning bloc, having made a group commitment to do this every week until the election. Things get out of hand sometimes!
So we went down to Loring Park for the training and phoning. Even though I lived on the East Coast for 15 years, I am a big baby when it comes to downtown parking in Minneapolis. Or maybe it's because I lived out east. Anyway, I was such a baby about it that the organizers agreed to slip me a parking pass for the night.
Predictably enough, the four of us were late. After we received our special treatment for coming in, I noticed immediately that most of the people in the large circle of 40 or 50 people who were being trained for phoning seemed to be quite young, as was the leader of the training, an energetic, African-American fellow who appeared, if I am not mistaken, to levitate off the floor when he got very excited during the training.
At one point the leader said, "Now let's do a cheer! Since it is our first night of phoning, especially for young people here, I was going to say, 'Who are we?' and you'd say, 'Young people!' But let's just say "united!" instead. At this point he looked meaningfully at our old bloc, probably noticing that we were laughing fairly hysterically with each other about the party we had unwittingly crashed.
What was supposed to come up in the fancy database we were using to do our calls was a list of young voters who had voted in 2008 but not in 2010 who would like to talk with other young people about the amendment. Instead, what we all got was Outstate Minnesota. I spent the evening calling East Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, and a bunch of towns I'd never heard of. All around me people were doing the same. Talk about trial by fire! These are probably the most conservative voters in the state!
The training was excellent, and I can see exactly why it can help to talk with people you do know, as well. When the conversations work, they can last 10 or even 20 minutes and get pretty deep. Unfortunately, with my list, that really only happened once, with a woman who had never thought about the amendment. Most of the folks I talked with had plenty to say about Adam and Steve, loving the sinner but not the sin, and how they were not interested in talking about this.
At some point I said to the coach, who was walking around, helping my little area with computer problems, mostly, that I wondered if straight allies might not be better suited for these really rough conversations. It feels a lot more righteous to be sent to hell over and over because you are a righteous advocate for justice and equality than because people just generally think you deserve to be there for being who you are.
I came home tired and reflective and talked to my 16-year-old, full-time, up-and-at-'em, organizer kid, who was just coming in from a night in the St. Paul office. The response there surprised me. "But when you change the minds of one of those people, it's the best feeling in the universe," this teenager said. "I did that just yesterday. One of those calls is worth being sent to hell 50 times."
As I stared in wonder, this kid, my new hero, said, "Al Franken just won by 312 votes, you know. The calls I make, just me myself, could decide this election!"
OK, OK. I'll be phoning weekly now! Hope to see you there!
Follow Rev. Meg Riley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MegARiley