I’m in Colorado and I tried Texas and Pennsylvania but in very small doses. In summary, the things I was aiming to say in those calls were: Please vote; please vote Democratic and please tell us how we can help you make up your minds so you might at least consider doing so. And at the very least talk to someone about your doubts and fears related to having Trump reign again for another four years.
In this very short round, first there was Texas: I got to listen to and see Beto O’Rourke, whom I very much like and respect. He was speaking with Christian Cooper, comics and science editor and writer. Cooper is also a birdwatcher and he is the same birdwatcher who was reported to the police by a white woman in Central Park as threatening her (falsely that is) on May 25th of this year. And then there was Sarah Silverman, who was loving, real, and the best was how often she quoted Mr. Rogers, a favorite of mine and everyone I know. The speakers were inspiring about the role we could have regarding getting out the vote and getting out the vote for positive change.
But then the actual calls. The calls unhinged me, or at least they made me cringe. And I just couldn’t get past it. I felt I was ready to talk to undecided voters but instead I was there to encourage Democrats to put in their votes. It’s not that this is not a respectable idea or action, it’s that I ultimately and pretty quickly had to realize it was just awkward enough for me to give up.
Two interesting things happened. One woman was not the woman I was trying to call but she wanted to talk. She actually decided to cross the border from Mexico where she was vacationing to Texas where she lives and can vote. Although I didn’t ask her whom she was voting for (oops!) she was friendly and I had identified myself as a Democrat. She spoke to me about having had Covid 19 and getting over it, and it was a human interaction that felt authentic.
Second, I got the right person on the phone who told me she really couldn’t talk because she was in the midst of writing a song. The songwriter went on to say it was “amazing” I had called in that moment, because it meant she needed to sing me what she had written. I think I was meant (official policy that would be) to thank her for her time and hang up, but I felt compelled. So, I listened to her very beautiful voice as she sang about her lover having diarrhea. She pondered a possible rhyme for the word “embarrassment”, and I said I should go and that she had a lovely voice.
Pennsylvania came the next day. As it turned out the bulk of calls were either answering machines or disconnected numbers. It was Monday afternoon and most people would have been at work. When a woman answered saying she couldn’t talk and was teaching but had voted I thanked her without asking her who she had voted for and if she would ask other people to vote or if she wanted to volunteer. She didn’t have time, and I couldn’t interrupt her obligations.
Actually, though it wasn’t part of the instructions I took the chance to ask people who picked up if they would feel comfortable talking about the Election. I felt it was the least I could do but I was also protecting myself; instead of launching into an uninvited set of questions and risking being hung up on immediately I could at least venture cautiously.
As a therapist, I am usually not considered meek or afraid to ask difficult questions. As a New York psychotherapist I’m prone to use bits of profanity here and there, and humor is never that far away either, as long as the aura of tragedy and pain is not overwhelming. But this — this cold calling — seems so different. And that’s probably because it is. For me it’s so different from talking to a patient/client who at least has ostensibly agreed to have me put in my two cents and ask probing questions.
I’ve often found that feelings of my own that have embarrassed me or made me feel like an outsider, turn out to be felt by many more people than I had at first imagined. I’m considering here that it may well be unnatural to stop a person in the middle of their day with an unsolicited set of questions that can seem intrusive.
I know that getting emails and texts ongoingly asking not only for votes but for money, is an unhealthy way to proceed in any kind of democratic atmosphere. It feels assaultive and abrasive. Getting emails and texts that are filled with stark predictions of what any of us fear most, has left many of us in constant anxiety bordering on terror. And when this is interrupted by suggestions for how to rest one’s mind, count to 10, and not let any of it bother us, this gets beyond frustrating to downright ludicrous. As if a dictatorship or QAnon rising into the millions should be a casual affair.
My passion is to write about politics and emotions. So maybe I’ll stay, for now, with trying to understand the connections involved. Election reform may just be mandatory so we don’t keep becoming more and more habituated to the current viciousness of collisions and manipulations — and phone calls — that elections involve.
So perhaps I need to come out of the shame at not being so good at these kind of phone calls, thank those who are, and move on to different aspects of change that may be just as important. Even though I may not know what they are yet.
And yes, I do realize that tomorrow is Election Day. Honestly, I wish Mr. Rogers were here right now.