These Brooklynites Are Getting Out the Vote for Bernie Sanders One Phone Call at a Time

Molly Kiick & Brett Vetterlein Feb 8, 2020

We donate to Bernie Sanders whenever we can. But when the Iowa Caucus was approaching we were trying to decide what more we could do. We figured people power is the only way to win this campaign so we got some friends together to make phone calls and turn the tide.

Phone banking is a way to be more involved, find out what other people are thinking about the election and to build some community around our movement. We’ve hosted two phone banking parties so far and we plan to hold more throughout the primary season. 

We make it fun too because phone banking can sorta suck, some parts of it anyway. The fact is that 90 percent of the calls are people who just hang up. But we serve bean dip and beer, cookies, and rice crispy treats. When we take little breaks and share how it is going, having something to nosh on makes it easier. 

Exchanging strategies helps. 

The Bernie campaign gives you a script with room for you to tell the folks you call why you support Bernie. A lot of us were initially unprepared for that. We aren’t taught to talk about our personal problems in a political way. It’s a difficult skill to learn but it’s important. When we hosted our second phone-banking session, we talked about why we were getting together and why we care about Bernie before we hit the phones. It turned out to be a very powerful exercise and it made it easier talking to voters who are unsure. 

Brett’s a middle school teacher and for him, it’s his students, their job prospects, the future of their environment and the state of the earth. For Molly, it’s healthcare. 

Brett talked to one Iowan who was interested in Bernie and said he’d probably vote for him if he got the nomination, but he didn’t know if he’d go to the caucus. This would be his first time caucusing ever and he’s like 60 years old. Brett said that he gets why he doesn’t want to be in the political process. Caucuses take a lot of time on a weeknight but the people in power win when you don’t show up. That convinced him. 

Our primary goal before the Iowa Caucus was to encourage turnout for Bernie. Near the beginning of our shift Molly got ahold of a Bernie supporter we’ll call Luna. Instead of needing our help locating her caucus site, she informed Molly that she’d be caucusing at her local mosque with her husband. This was the first time they would have this option. When the news came in that the first mosque to report results overwhelmingly supported Bernie, I couldn’t help thinking of Luna. 

We’re taught not to talk about politics. But it’s actually an easy thing to do and it makes a big impact.

But to be honest the call Molly’s been thinking about most is her call with Tyler. At the start of their conversation, he wasn’t settled on Bernie or even sure he’d be caucusing. In their 10 minute call, they discussed the many factors that have given him anxiety problems. His grandparents passed away. His mother is having trouble accessing medication for her chronic illness, the same one Molly suffers from. He lost his job, started his own business and is expected to fund his own insurance but can’t afford it. He’d prefer to manage his anxiety with marijuana rather than with pharmaceuticals, but it’s illegal where he lives. Molly came away thinking how much a Bernie presidency would benefit him. She hopes he felt the same. 

If Bernie is going to win in these primaries, a lot depends on the working-class people we’ve spoken with feeling empowered to engage in our democracy. 

The calls don’t always go smooth. A couple of people have yelled at us. One guy did a Trump impression. But who cares? We’re taught not to talk about politics. But it’s actually an easy thing to do and it makes a big impact. 

We got a message on Instagram from a friend of a friend who heard we are hosting phone banking sessions and asked to join the next one. We don’t have that much room in our apartment to host a huge phone banking operation but ultimately we’d like it to grow and have “captains” who can get five or so friends together and host phone bankings of their own.

Bernie’s campaign has a ton of resources if you decide to host a phone banking. The folks there will help you plan the gathering and use the dialing software. When we hosted our first party, we helped the campaign surpass 5 million calls. When we hosted this last one, there had already been 10 million. Maybe by this time next month we will get to 20 million. In this close and heated primary system, every vote counts. 

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