Calling for reform

Volunteers across the nation sent a strong message in support of American health care reform this week. Motivated by distaste for a broken system, thousands of friends, neighbors, and strangers gathered in living rooms and community centers to call other voters and encourage them to back reform. The callers, collected through President Obama's Organizing for America (OFA) - the updated version of his community-based campaign organization, Obama for America - aimed to place 100,000 calls by the end of the day on Wednesday 10/21. They reached that number by 2:30pm. By midnight volunteers not only phoned over 300,000 voters, they also reached a wider audience because their efforts grabbed the attention of CBS News, the Huffington Post, and other news outlets. On Thursday night, I joined this good work. Below is my not-so-live blog of the event.

7:11pm - The event started at 7 but I'm stuck in parking lot-style traffic on the 405. I'm still learning how to navigate the freeway system in L.A., but I'm pretty sure that rush hour lasts until 10pm every night.

7:30 - Finally arrive and meet my host. Four other volunteers sit in her living room. They discuss strategy and peruse OFA-provided briefing materials. Only two have ever called other voters in support of a political issue.

7:31 - Skipped dinner, so I grab a cookie from the impressive snack spread in the dining room before joining the rest of the group.

7:35 - Along with a page describing common misperceptions about health reform, another detailing the broken health system, and two listing voter names and numbers, OFA provides a script for callers. The script suggests asking recipient to call their senator and solicit their support for the President's reform proposals. Callers are also directed to ask for a letter sent to Congress on behalf of the President, a volunteer obligation, and attendance at a future OFA calling event. One volunteer, overwhelmed with all the requests, announces plans to make up his conversations on the fly. He doesn't want to memorize the script nor bore callers with a canned speech. The OFA regional organizer suggests he stick to the script.

7:40 - Volunteers spread throughout the house to place their calls. Some head for the porch, another sits in the stairway. I remain in the living room and call the first number on my list. A woman answers and tells me to call back later - not an inauspicious start.

8:00 - After realizing that politely questioning if recipients, "have a few moments" before starting my pitch only results in a flat "no," I stop asking permission and jump right to the request for their support of health reform.

8:25 - Most of the people on my list so far are busy (or are screening my calls). None have been rude. Two of the first 30 agree to call Senator Feinstein. I give them her number and feel like my efforts aren't in vain.

8:30 - First really excited recipient.

8:40 - First rude recipient.

8:45 - Time for another cookie.

9:01 - After a string of no-answers, the OFA organizer calls time. Most callers are only ¾ through their list of names. He says that phone solicitations become increasingly irritating after 9pm. Is there ever a good time for phone solicitations?

9:13 - Staying late for a few moments to help clean gives the organizer a chance to coerce me into attending the next event. OFA volunteers will continue calling voters throughout the week and regional groups will hold a second round of national health reform phone gatherings next Wednesday.

9:15 - I called 46 phone numbers, left 14 messages, and spoke to 5 people. Three promised to call their senator the following day. Supposing I follow my own advice, staffers on Capitol Hill can expect at least 4 calls tomorrow. Every little bit helps.

9:20 - I must have done some good work since karma intervenes and there's no traffic on my way home.