A Phonebanker’s Guide to Cynicism, Self Care, and the Apathy Needed to Make it Through an Election

After serving my time as a phone banker during the Biden/Trump campaigns, AKA “the most important election of our lifetime,” as I was told in the many, many, many trainings I went to, I can confidently say that I am afraid of no man, given the absolutely batshit crazy conversations I had with people, all the way from Silicon Valley to America’s heartland (the swing states we so desperately needed to pretend to care about for the month leading up to November 4).

A lot was left out of trainings that I really wish would’ve been covered, because I often found myself in situations I was not at all equipped to handle, much like all of my poops, pre-IBS self diagnosis. To successfully phone bank, you need to be prepared for a lot more than a simple phone conversation if you want to leave your shifts sans crows-feet and eye-twitch. Here’s what you should expect if you want to take care of yourself as a foot soldier of establishment democracy:

To start:

Pick up the device you will be making calls on — look at it lovingly. Maybe make a list of all of the things you like about this electronic device. By the end of your shift, you won’t be able to look at it without reflexively remembering the soul-crushing feeling of being virtually spat on by the people of our great country, simply because you were foolish enough to believe in a political cause.

#1: Vocal tone

Sound hot. Maybe even throw a breathy “Hey big boy…” into your introduction. Nobody is excited to get calls from phone bankers; however, if you take some of the scripted drudge out of your voice, and replace it with a sensual tone that the receiver would imagine to be a sexy surprise instead of an unwelcome varmint eating through their minutes. The call will turn from routine canvassing to surprise phone sex! That’s something they’ll stay on the line for.

#2: You CAN successfully multitask

While I was phone banking for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, the video of his son getting a footjob while smoking crack leaked on the internet. So as anyone else would, I pulled it up on my iPhone so I could watch it while I was making calls on my computer; this is a helpful way of periodically jolting your brain awake by exposing it to something that gives it such an intense rush of dopamine, if you feel yourself losing focus with the monotony of constantly having your calls declined.

#3: Build community and agreement when you can

At a time when politics were so exhausting and polarized, I knew it was important for me to find common ground with people who thought differently than me. For example, when I called one woman from Florida, she picked up and immediately said “Is this an election call? I’m tired of political calls!” And I agreed with her, so I hung up without saying anything.

#4: You are not a grief counselor

If you call asking for someone who is dead but still on a voter roll and the call is picked up by a close friend or family member, they will act like you were the one that killed that person. The first ever call my friend Trevor made was answered by a friend of the deceased. After several agonizing minutes of being berated for calling at such an insensitive time, for not knowing that she had recently passed and respecting it, he was ready to quit making calls. Do not let people like this scare you away! They just need to see a therapist.

#5: Compromise on your morals

Undecided voters are spooked very easily by language they could imagine being used in too Marx-ian of a way. When I worked on both a presidential phone bank and a local campaign, we were told very specifically what we could and could not say for fear of scaring the poor, un-corralled undecided voters.

NO’s: universal healthcare, green energy, defund the police

INSTEAD: Free Klonopin! Lower death rates from black lung! Just hang up before it can become a heated argument

Get this through your head right now. Nobody cares about why you got into phone banking in the first place, and they certainly aren’t going to want to pick your brain about your well researched ideas for social change. They think you’re a robot and you’ll probably get told to kill yourself.


#6: People are nasty and that is a fact of life

A phenomenon I find fascinating is that regardless of political party affiliation, most people you call will use you as a vessel to take out all of their harbored anger that they could not otherwise scream into a pillow. With the amount of times I was told to kill myself, it was impossible for me to be sad about it because of how little meaning the words after a certain point. Therapeutic, in a way. Now any suicidal ideations I get have been merely reduced to a white noise machine in my own little brain.

#7: You don’t actually need to keep them on the line

The first thing I was told was to use something called “social pressure language” to keep the people you call on the line in order to get the all important oral agreement that they will vote for your candidate. The social pressure language briefing I got was like being on the opposite side of the talk I got when I entered high school about the “very real” danger of being peer pressured into doing hard drugs. However, as every who has had the drug talk knows, it’s simply not something that happens. “Social pressure language” is another way of saying that political theatre has fallen so far that the sides must now rely on a tactic from the movie Mean Girls to get what they want. That was not a thrilling realization for me to have. So put down the phone. You are not a hostage negotiator, you are an unpaid volunteer.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Obnoxious. Writer at The Hard Times