How to Resist: Phone Banking

Hello hello hello fellow resistor. Thanks for coming back. Last week, we worked through some ideas on how we can step up to the plate and resist. It’s intimidating at first, but most of it can be pretty fun if you want it to be. This week, we are going to tackle phone banking, because if you’re looking at volunteer opportunities, you are going to run into this.

Phone banking is the act of cold calling people and asking them to take action. This sort of action comes in many different forms. For example, you might be asking someone to pledge to vote for so-and-so candidate or such-and-such proposition. Or, you may request that the receiving party leaves a voicemail with their state representative.

What Is Phone Banking?

It sounds very intimidating, but phone banking is a really solid gateway into activism. Most groups working on government-driven policy work will likely use phone banking campaigns.

Phone banking is through — well — phones, so you don’t actually have to stand in front of someone and look them in the eye. You can sit down, make yourself comfortable, and read something that’s already been prepared.

What To Expect

When you attend a phone banking event, here are some things to expect:

  • A script. You’ll never need to study up for a phone bank; the organizers will come prepared with a script that they probably worked really hard on. The script will be thorough, and will cover a lot of different questions you might be asked when you call. When in doubt, remember what Mario said in the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie: “Trust the Fungus” — except pretend he said “Script” instead of “Fungus.”
  • Practice time. I’ve never been at a phone bank that didn’t make time for volunteers to practice. Generally, you’ll roleplay with other volunteers or staff members to workshop the script and get used to the flow of things.
  • Either a burner phone, or a fake number to call from. The phone banks I’ve worked on usually used HubDialer or CallHub, an app that replaces your phone number with a fake one so that the people you call can’t call you back or anything. If you’re worried about security stuff, don’t. Most groups and orgs have already anticipated the security risks, and are generally pretty thankful for your time, and will go out of their way so you don’t have to worry. It’ll be OK.

Tips for Phone Banking

Now this all sounds very serious, because Phone Banking is all about working to change the status quo, which is indeed — serious business. But in actuality, when you get into the swing of it, phone banking can be really fun. 

  • You can be silly! The person you’re calling can’t see you, so it’s easier to talk in a funny voice, or say things you would never say to someone’s face. Generally, the sillier you are, the more successful you’ll be because silliness is super endearing. People usually think they’re getting a call from a robot, but nah, you’re a person — so maybe threw in an ironic beep boop every now and then. 
  • You get to talk to a lot of people very rapidly, and because these are pretty anonymous conversations, people tend to open up a bit more than they might for even people that they know. 
  • You don’t have to read the script word for word. The script will usually be overwritten to account for answering every possible question. But, if you read the whole thing to someone, they will probably space out. Feel free to take a pen to your script and cross out things you don’t want to say, or swap out words to make it sound more like you. You want the conversation to be personal and authentic. Your tone will naturally sound more relaxed, and your soul will follow. 
  • Don’t get discouraged by rude assholes. It’s honestly kind of rare for someone to go off on you, and after you do this work for a long time, you do build an endurance to it. I have seen a lot of phone bankers get discouraged by one person, and then run all their calls expecting someone else to go off on them, too. Try to stay positive! People on the other end of the line can tell if you’re in a bad mood, and they won’t want to talk to you — leading to a self-perpetuating cycle. Get excited! Be thankful someone picked up! Have fun! Giggle!
  • Don’t worry about not being well-versed on the issues you’re calling about. I’ve noticed that many new phone bankers tend to lean in towards educating themselves on the full policy.That can work, but you will have much better luck going for the emotional appeal. For example, you don’t need to know everything about the USA’s  immigration policy before calling voters about DACA.
  • You don’t want to argue with people. Debates will 99% of the time end with both parties being upset, neither conceding an inch. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I was with a group calling on Lisa Murkowski, a Senator from Alaska, to take a stand against him. (She didn’t. It happens.) Our script was mostly focused on the idea that we need to trust women and not allow these terrible men to keep getting away with things. Folks were trying to convince Kavanaugh supporters to call Murkowski and leave a voicemail asking her to stand up against him. However, even if our phone bankers “won” the debate, the person on the other end probably wouldn’t leave a very good voicemail. 

The upsetting part about phone banking is that you aren’t there to change minds; you’re there to find whoever is already with you and get them to do something productive. If you’re a person who wants to change minds, you might be more inclined towards canvassing or lobbying — but phone banking is about numbers. It’s not a question of “can we get these constituents to say yes on this vote?”; it’s “how many constituents can we get to tell an elected official that this vote can not be taken lightly?”

And it does work. It’s one of the primary methods towards holding elected officials accountable. If you can fill their voicemail box with a bunch of people saying, Hey Bernie! What gives?, Bernie will need to dab his already sweaty forehead (Bernie reads to me as a very sweaty but inspiring man) and wipe away more sweat because hoo wee, he wants to make sure his Hey Bernie! boys vote for him, so he better do them right.

How To Get Started

If you are super interested in phone banking, there are a lot of ways to get involved!

For a first timer, I’d suggest joining something in person so you can at least learn a bit and get more practice time in. In that case, I’d suggest checking out what’s on your ballot. Candidates and propositions all need phone banking campaigns to win!

If you have Slack, you should join Represent Us’ server! (You can learn more about this in Part One of this series.) They run weekly phone banks that are super straightforward, and will connect you with some great, passionate people. Additionally, you can participate through your laptop — so if you don’t have a phone/cell service, you’re still in luck.

(To sign up, go to the RepresentUs volunteer page and scroll down to “Join the Action Brigade!”) 

Any candidate you can think of will at least be running volunteer phone banks. Go on their websites and find out how to volunteer!

Most advocacy groups, like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, also run phone banks so if you’re in a city that has one of their offices, check them out!

Phone banking is an excellent way to start your advocacy journey: it’s accessible, it’s fun, and it lets you talk to a lot of people. Because it’s mostly about finding people who are already on your side, instead of focusing on converting folks from the other side of the aisle, the conversations are a bit more light.

Try to give it a go; you’d be surprised at how good at it you will be.  And guess what? It gets easier and more fun as you go. Moving forward, next week, we’ll cover the in-person version of phone banking: the dreaded canvassing. Fill up your water bottle, pack away some snack bars, and put on some comfortable pants because we’re going to talk about what it’s like to stomp on pavement and pound on doors.

Katrina Jagelski

Katrina Jagelski

Katrina Jagelski is an environmental justice and anti-corruption organizer. They have collected all 900 Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild for some reason.
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