In my last post, I talked about the anger and occasional despair I’ve been feeling about recent national and world events. I’ve determined that it’s time to stop handwringing and take whatever direct actions I can. Posting articles on Facebook, signing petitions, and sending a small donation here and there are no longer enough for me.
A few weeks ago, after a particularly tough week in the news, I knew I had to do something concrete and active or I would scream or puke or both. I heard about a flyering event for Bernie Sanders, the candidate I believe will do the most to address the underlying issues ailing our country, and mobilize a self-sustaining, politically engaged progressive base.
I showed up at the event with my 9-year-old son. I’m not sure what I was expecting—I guess I thought “flyering” meant we’d be posting flyers in different places. Much to my horror, the deal was that we were to go up to strangers all over downtown, hand them the flyers and pamphlets, and talk about Sanders’s positions on the issues with whomever we could get to listen.
This was way out of my comfort zone. And I had my kid with me, so I couldn’t just bail and run back to my car—what message would that send? I told him honestly, “I didn’t realize we would be going up to strangers and talking to them. I feel a bit shy about that, but I’ll give it a try.” He was gung ho, confidently going right up to people, saying, “Can I give you some information about Bernie Sanders?” I was proud of him. It was me who felt so awkward doing this. We handed out about a dozen flyers, had a couple of very brief conversations, then ran out of steam and went to the park.
I used the opportunity to talk to my son about what we do when we find ourselves outside our comfort zones—do we continue and push past those edges and stretch ourselves, or do we retreat in favor of doing something else more in line with our established strengths? We had a good conversation about how both approaches can be valid in different situations.
So my first attempt at volunteering for this campaign was a flop. But I was determined to try again and find something I’m better at—those actions that give the most bang for the buck, if you will.
A few weeks later, I had another opportunity—a friend hosted a Bernie Sanders phone bank party to call voters in Iowa. This was more like it. In high school, I had a part-time job phone canvassing for a nonprofit organization called the Coalition for Consumer Justice. (For those in Rhode Island, they are the ones who got the law passed making it illegal to shut off people’s heat in the dead of winter, and they secured public shore access to Black Point in Narragansett when developers wanted to build condos there). That job was a great experience for me as a young person, and the community organizers there who became friends introduced me to the world of social justice and activism. Between that and the several years of telemarketing I did after high school, making phone calls felt like a much better fit for me. I don’t want to go up to you on the street, but I can interrupt your dinner like nobody’s business!
It was fun, and it felt good to participate in the critical upcoming Iowa caucus. I got a couple of people who were very unhappy to receive my call, but for the most part, people were very nice. (I was all prepared to be cussed out, and was even a little disappointed that I wasn’t.) Two people even thanked me for volunteering. The beauty of it is, now that I’ve done it and am set up with the computer/phone system, I can make calls from home anytime the system is up. And I met some lovely people.
One of the people I met is organizing signature-gathering volunteers to get Bernie on the ballot in our state, which will be my next volunteer activity. This, of course, also involves approaching strangers and is less comfortable for me than making phone calls, but it beats “flyering” because there is a concrete action involved. Somehow, “Can I get your signature to put Bernie Sanders on the ballot?” feels a lot more doable than, in effect, “Hey there, stranger, can I talk to you about politics?”
It feels good to be involved, and it’s not as big a deal as I thought—there are many ways to contribute that don’t take big time commitments. I love that Bernie Sanders’s campaign is truly a grass roots one powered by the people via small individual donations and volunteering. Click here to learn more about Bernie’s positions on the issues. If you like what you’re learning about him, click here to find out about volunteer opportunities.
I would love to hear about others’ experiences with campaigning and other volunteer activities. Please share in the comments!
P.S. One of my heroes, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, spoke to anger, love, and political activism in beautiful FB post in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s worth a read. Click here.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016