Arif Michael Vega, Staff Writer
The Forum, Feb. 2016.
Around 150 people gathered at Charlottesville’s City Space to coordinate the volunteer efforts centering on the Bernie Sanders campaign. On Jan. 9, a room full of supporters sorted themselves by their location and availability to staff call centers.
Leadership was called for, and around 20 people from around Virginia answered. Call centers were announced for Luray, Staunton and Nelson County, among other places. The mood was light, with the host in Luray even promising the inclusion of beer and wine in his effort to win supporters for Sanders.
Volunteers were encouraged to bring a laptop to the call center of their choice, though the program allowed for two callers per computer. Politeness with opposing views was stressed. “We do not want to disparage other candidates,” said Dan Epstein, the Virginia coordinator. Another difference with this campaign is that Virginians were calling Virginians, a practice Epstein labelled as “unconventional.”
Nic McCarthy, an area director for the campaign, hosted one call center held at the downtown library’s McIntire Room Jan. 18. Seven people chatted with citizens about the campaign. A script was provided, though not generally adhered to. The calling list was provided by the democratic party and included supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. In addition to providing volunteers with the contact information of potential supporters, the program also allowed volunteers to collect demographic information for future campaigns. A list of descriptions was attached to each phone number, with the operator prompted to enter information such as “Did not answer,” “Do not call,” “Strongly Clinton” and “Undecided”.
Operators grew tired during long bouts of unanswered calls or brusque answers. Energy was revitalized, however, every time a caller had a good conversation, or secured the promise of another volunteer. One operator’s voice grew excited, animating the others, and the pitch grew to a cacophony of one-line greetings: “I am calling with the Bernie Sanders campaign” and “I am a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign.” A phone dropped, an announcement of the latest success is yelled out, and the cacophony ended with a cheer.
After two hours, McCarthy left to pick up pizza. After two and a half, he returned. Operators broke and took ten minutes to eat and promptly returned to calling.
The demographic was varied. Some called were volunteers for other campaigns. Some were staunch supporters. One woman insisted the operator not call her boyfriend any more. Many of the calls were made at the traditional dinner-time, and the timing was a complaint.
According to McCarthy, over 10,000 calls had been made in the first week of the phone banking drive alone.
The Sanders campaign also hosted voter registration drives at UVA and elsewhere, registering around 20 new Virginia voters per hour.
One follow-up phone banking campaign was organized by Ariana and Allen, at PVCC. Six volunteers agreed to host for 3 hours a week, using the data obtained in the first round to target a refined audience.