The Edinburgh group have run three phone banking sessions so far. We’ve probably only made a hundred or so outgoing calls and most of those have not been answered. When I was down in Bristol visiting family a few weekends ago I called into their phone bank to say Hi, put some faces to some names and check out how they ran their operation. It’s pretty slick. The offices are smart. There are white boards. There is a concierge. You need to pass a finger print scanner to get in. There is even a small kitchen. I was given tea.
They appear to have dozens of people making phone calls. Not for the first time I have campaign envy.
I was talking to my co-convenor after one phone banking session. After the shock revelation that the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign had had money donated by organisations that favour electoral reform we were talking about what it means to be a grassroots campaign. She said, “I don’t know what a grassroots campaign should feel like. I’ve never been in one before.”
I think Yes to Fairer Votes, particularly my experience trying to run some phone banking sessions in Edinburgh, is what a grassroots campaign is and what a grassroots campaign feels like.
On the one hand it’s made up of people who haven’t done this before. It’s short of resources. Everyone is rushed. It feels a little chaotic. Some things don’t work. Don’t tell the No campaign, but sometimes, things do not always go as planned.
On the other hand the campaign is full of enthusiasm. It’s full of people who want to make a difference. Folk who are prepared to give their time and their energy in what the local suffragettes called the Guid Cause. If it feels scrappy that’s because it’s made up thousands of people all trying to do their bit.
I’m one of them. I didn’t ask to be a convenor of the Edinburgh group. I’m certainly not doing it for the money. I fell into it because somebody has to and a Yes vote is too important for it not to be me. However, I’ll admit, I’m often terrified, frequently unsure of myself, usually feeling out of my depth. I don’t want to ask anyone to do something I’m not prepared to do. So we’ll do phone banking at my home and I’ll make the first call. I just hope I can learn how to do it slightly quicker than everyone else.
We met for our first session at my co-convenor’s home. I’d printed off some numbers from the Phone From Home System and the small group of us had a long talk about how we were going to tackle the task ahead of us. At the back of my mind I had the target we’d set ourselves of making 50,000 calls before the referendum. We also talked about some of the experiences we’d heard of from other phone banks. The person who was convinced they were being called from Rastafarian Votes and was surprised that Jamaicans didn’t already have the vote. The person who was delighted to be offered A Turn on A Boat. People surprised to discover that you could balladeer with Yes to Hairier Goats.
Phone banking is nerve wracking when you start and it’s easy to rush and mumble your way through what you want to say to people. Especially when what you want to say to people is so important.
When what you want to say is “You never been asked this question before, how do you want to elect your public servants?”
We’ve now started meeting round at my flat. Our experience so far is that things are still a little chaotic and uncertain but we’ve started.
There are some difficulties.
It’s often not easy to talk to strangers. Some of them are busy, some think politics is very distant from their day to day lives. Some just put the phone down you. It’s disheartening when you make 20 calls and get any No answers and a couple too busy to talk. But we’ve started making calls for Fairer Votes.
We’ve started on our own. We’ve grabbed what resources and bodies we could and started. No one from head office came and held our hand. We’re using our own phones at the moment because the phone bank kit from head office hasn’t arrived yet. I’ve never run a phone bank before and most of the callers have never been in one before so we’re more or less making this up as we go. I’ve got a house full of relative strangers and we have to make it work. I have a house full of relative strangers who are becoming friends and valued and trusted colleagues.
After the latest session we shared a bottle of wine and talked. We talked a little about how the phone banking has been going and how we’ll make it work better. We talked about the campaign generally. We talked about politics and not politics. About a long running desire to parachute, nephews playing American football, about growing up in Australia. We talked about what a grassroots campaign feels like.
It feels disorganised, fragmented and clunky. It feels full of good people. It feels full of excitement, optimism and enthusiasm. It feels like it is full of people who are full of good ideas and ready to what they have to do to ensure a Yes vote in May. It feels like it will be what we make it. How a grassroots campaign feels like is however we want it to feel like. It feels like we can do it.
As for phone banking, phone banking feels daunting…
but we’ve started.
and we’ve collected half a dozen email addresses so far.
and we’ve got more volunteers coming to each session.
and, well read this…
and if you’d like to join us, sign up here