The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Ask What You Can Do for Your Country

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I decided to volunteer for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. After all, she has a very good rating with the League of Conservation Voters and she’s running against a climate denier. Although I’ve been involved in electoral politics before, that was mostly local, working with activists I already knew. I’d never signed up to help out with a major campaign run by strangers. It was kind of intimidating.

In case you’ve been confused or intimidated, too, I’ll walk you through my experience with it.

I had thought that signing up would be simple—that there would be a button on the campaign website or something similar. And indeed there is. I also got unsolicited emails from the campaign begging me to sign up via a convenient link. Unfortunately, neither of those routes worked. I’ll spare you the soap opera of website failure, except to say that the whole mess would make a great basis for a comedy routine. There was no option to email or call a human being anywhere.

I have no idea why I encountered so much trouble. Eventually, I gave up on the website and walked into the campaign office in Easton, Maryland. Why Easton? Because my in-laws happened to know where it was and they wanted yard signs anyway. So we all stopped in.

I found the staff inside friendly and enthusiastic, but mysteriously unable to sign me up for work from home. Seriously, if I’m going to be working from home anyway, why does it matter which office gives me the work? But, apparently it does, because they sent me to Salisbury, which is nearer my home. The Salisbury office (also friendly and enthusiastic) finally handed me a couple of packets of names and phone numbers and a script to follow when making calls.

No, none of these people would email me anything. Apparently the Clinton campaign really doesn’t like emails these days.

Eventually I learned that the Clinton campaign itself does not have staff in Maryland, since we aren’t a battleground state. In Easton and in Salisbury I’d been dealing with the staff of the Senate campaign of Chris Van Hollen, which is supporting the Clinton campaign as well in the spirit of party unity. Perhaps some of the difficulty I had signing up (including the oddness of being transferred between offices) is simply due to the fact that I live in Maryland. The advantage is that I don’t see a lot of political adds.

Anyway, I got my packet for making phone calls and, after several days of procrastinating, jumped into them yesterday. I got a lot of answering machines (I’ll call back), but the people I talked with were pleasant, even when they didn’t support my candidates. I was pleasant as well. To be clear, my job was not to talk anyone into anything. I’m not very persuasive, especially not when speaking (I’m much more comfortable writing) and I’d told the campaign organizer so. She gave me an assignment that involves only asking people if they will vote for the candidate—apparently studies have shown that just asking the question increases the likelihood that a supporter will actually get themselves to the polls come election day.

I have more calls to make later this week, and while I find the prospect of cold-calling strangers at home more than a little frightening, I’m happy to report that nothing whatever actually went wrong the first day. I did my job, and everyone was nice to me about it. Even if someone had not been, that’s less scary than a climate denier in office.

What I’ve Learned

  • Signing up to volunteer may take a while. Start early.
  • Find a human being to talk to, not an online sign-up form.
  • Don’t be afraid to make suggestions (I asked if I could mail my completed packets, rather than dropping them off, and they said yes). You may have options the organizer didn’t think to tell you about.
  • Don’t be disturbed if what you see doesn’t look like a Presidential campaign. If you’re not in a battle-ground state, it might not be.
  • Be assertive—if you have to push through obstacles to volunteer, do it.
  • Don’t worry; most people are actually pretty nice, especially if you’re nice, too.
  • If you have an idea of the kind of work you want, say so. The organizers don’t know what you’re good at until you tell them. You can ask for more work if they don’t give you enough, too.

Remember that how you make phones calls, if that’s the kind of work you get, is just as important as the fact that you’re calling. Years ago, I received a call from a campaign I would have supported anyway, because of party affiliation, but the candidate won my personal loyalty because the volunteer on the phone sounded like a human being. I assumed that volunteer was a reflection of how the campaign was being run and, by extension, how the candidate would run things if elected. Talk to people the way you’d want to be treated.

Volunteering is not lethal, honest. Unrestricted climate change is.

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Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

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