I spent the evening of the final presidential debate making calls on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I’m a pretty vocal fan of our former Secretary of State. A Hillary sticker adorns my laptop, and I drink my morning coffee out of a “Hillary Clinton 2016” mug. I’ve got a “Woman Card” tucked into my wallet and the Hillary 2016 app installed on my phone. (The app lets you deck out a fictitious campaign headquarters with #ImWithHer swag, and it sends me daily notifications reminding me to “water” my HQ’s digital “plants.”)
Being a woman in my 20s, I’ve shared my views on social media and engaged in online debates with some of my more tech-savvy and right-leaning relatives. But until the night I spent with dozens of other women volunteering at The Wing, a multi-purpose space and social club for women in New York, I hadn’t yet picked up the phone to speak to voters across the country about why I hope they’ll join me in voting for our nation’s first female president.
My assignment was to talk to voters in Iowa who’d requested Vote By Mail applications, which really shed light on how complicated the voting process can seem. A script provided by the phone banking software we were using prompted me to ask these voters if they’d received their applications, if they needed any help filling it out, whether they planned to vote by mail — a somewhat redundant question — and finally, whether we could count on them to support Hillary Clinton.
After a couple of stilted conversations and more than a few hang-ups, I took a cue from a vivacious lady sitting near me. Her strategy was simply to engage voters in conversation, and to ask them if there was anything she could do to make their voting experience easier. I marveled as she Googled Vote By Mail deadlines and advised Hillary supporters that they could purchase campaign signs on Amazon for cheap.
Taking her lead, I started introducing myself and asking voters how their night was going before diving into politics. Amidst all the election fatigue, I learned that most people just wanted to talk about why the choice they were making mattered to them.
I spoke to a 90-year-old woman named Audrey, who’d lived in Iowa most of her life, running a large-scale farming operation with her late husband. His name popped up on my computer screen at first, and when I inquired whether he was available, Audrey told me he’d passed away just a month earlier. As I gushed sympathies, she told me she was sad, sure, but they shared 69 years together — an entire lifetime for some people, she said.
She told me about her numerous grandchildren, a few of whom were young women in their 20s, like me. She asked what I did for a living and whether I was married, which I’m not. Neither were her granddaughters, and she sounded excited that all of us were pursuing careers and didn’t feel pressured to get married young. When I asked Audrey if she was voting for Hillary this fall, she was enthusiastic. She shared her frustration that so many people seemed to hold President Bill Clinton’s indiscretions against his partner, a feeling I share and one that felt really validating to hear echoed by a woman from an older generation.
I talked to a man who’d just gotten home from work and was trying to squeeze in dinner before the debate. He lived outside Des Moines and owned a vape shop. Feeling bad about catching him when he’d probably prefer to cook instead of talk politics, I barreled through my tele-campaigning script. But the man surprised me, telling me, unprompted, that he was a Hillary supporter and couldn’t wait to vote for her. He talked my ear off about how he was trying to convince a lot of his Trump-supporter friends to vote Democratic.
In the end, more people hung up on me than indulged in conversations, but talking to Iowans advocating for Hillary Clinton — despite Trump signs dotting their neighbors’ lawns — schooled me on how crucial it is that more of us pick up a phone or knock on some doors before Tuesday. It’s not too late, and I hope you’ll join me in taking action now to ensure we’ll be inaugurating the first female president come January.
Kara Weisenstein is a writer and editor for The Creators Project at VICE @wwweisenstein.
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