Sunday, November 11, 2012

Basking in the Afterglow: Scenes from the 2012 Campaign

(Click on photo to enlarge)

One of the many bright lights from the 2012 election was the time I spent at Obama's San Francisco phone bank. 

There was a buzz in the office that intensified as election 

day drew near, and a commonality of purpose. Though the diverse group of people under that roof had many different opinions on individual issues, we were all of the mind that Romney-Ryan represented an ugly future best avoided

From the first person I spoke with at the sign-up desk to the people at the phone bank check-in, the phone script trainers, and the folks distributing call lists, all the staff were upbeat and grateful for our time and effort.         

After coming in, phone bank volunteers were handed a script and given instructions in groups. 

The calls went to the five-ten swing states unfortunate enough to be deluged with attack ads every four years. Elections can't be won on attack ads alone, so Team Obama focused heavily on voter contact. The basic idea was that we'd dial from our geographic remove (California is not a swing state) while volunteers who lived in the targeted areas knocked on doors and interacted with voters in public.

Fresh phone bank recruits
Fortunately, the people on the call lists were mostly friendly - i.e. registered Democrats or people who had volunteered for Obama in 2008. 

The calls weren't intended to win skeptics over. We weren't arguing with anyone or trying to change their minds. 

We were simply smiling on the phone and asking likely supporters of the president to commit to vote. Our trainers said that people who talked to one of us were 2% more likely to vote, and those who committed to a time to vote were 4% more likely to make it to the polls. (A recent piece in the New Yorker went into more detail about the science behind Obama's aggressive ground game.)

Once trained, we were walked out to the call center - several rows of long tables with folding chairs - given a list, and left to do our thing. 

The script was two pages of if-thens, but I've never been a script-reader, so for me the chat boiled down to:

"Can I talk to (name of voter)?"

If they didn't hang up, I followed with "Hi, this is Dan from Barack Obama's grassroots campaign. I'm calling to see if we can count on you to support the president?"

If they said "Yes" (as opposed to "None of your business" or "No, I'm voting for Romney"), I continued with "Great. When do you plan to vote?" 

We gently encouraged people to vote early to avoid long lines, and offered a ride to the polls, if necessary. 

The closing was "Thank you for your support. Have a nice day."

When the whole call list had been dialed, you raised your hand. Someone took your list, then came back with another one. 

Sometimes the phone bank directors asked everyone to stop what they were doing, and we'd switch to a different state. The call list data came in from the main office in Chicago, and priorities shifted depending on time zones and breaking opinion polls.

The president's likenesses greeted us on the way out. Plenty of critics on the left (to say nothing of the frothing guttersnipes on the right) would scoff at the superman outfit, at the iconization of Barack Obama, but a precondition of stepping through the front doors was suspending disbelief and embracing the sober, adult assessment that the incumbent was both a good president - warts and all - and worlds better than the alternative.

And if anyone can be compared to Superman, why not the man who defied the odds to become the first black president in a majority-white country by soldiering through two years on the road and running a near-perfect campaign which stomped all over the pernicious Republican machine, in the process bringing enough Democratic senators on his coattails to pass healthcare reform (and a lot of other progressive legislation), pull the economy back from the brink of disaster, save the auto industry, and snuff out Osama bin Laden in the bargain?


In 2008, I was in a hotel ballroom with several hundred wildly enthusiastic people when Barack Obama's victory was announced. I hoped to have a similar experience this time around.

If Obama won - which wasn't a foregone conclusion on election day - I wanted to share the ecstatic moment with a big group of the like-minded.

Upstairs from the phone bank, at right,  was the expansive room where the election night volunteer party would be held. When I saw this space the Monday before the election and imagined the crowd it would host, I knew this was where I wanted to be when the 2012 election was called for Obama, if the 2012 election was called for Obama.

But circumstances intervened, and that magic moment happened across the street, in a bar with fifty or so souls. 

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Tears and smiles broke, fists pumped, and whistle cheers went out, as

once again, the liars, haters, and de-humanizers met their match in Barack Obama. 

E pluribus unum


  1. What a moving and genuine endorsement for our great 44th president. I learned from your close description of the Dems' wickedly genius AND ingenious ground game! Great going, all you dedicated volunteers, you brought our guy home!

  2. As a fellow volunteer, I will be honored to share your article on my page!

  3. Thanks for your work. I have criticisms of the current President, as I have had for all Presidents before, but the alternative offered was pretty pathetic -- even worse than in 2008. My one hope is that someday we can break out of the 2-party system and get more quality candidates to choose from, and I wouldn't mind moving toward representative democracy and eliminating the Electoral College either!