How 20,000 Strangers Changed My Life, And My Friday Night

Friday, September 26th, 2008

I’m going to do something tonight that scares the hell out of me.

Tonight, instead of a happy hour after work or a movie night with the family, I will be packing up a store bought pot luck offering and heading to the home of a complete stranger. I will sit with other strangers and pick up the phone to call even more strangers.

And I will ask them who they are voting for.

I will remind them that there is as of this moment at least a presidential debate on TV tonight.

I will sit in a room full of strangers and encourage other strangers to get registered to vote.

And then I will eat potluck food and watch two presidential candidates in a televised debate, all the while sitting on a stranger’s couch in a stranger’s home.

And everyone I know thinks I’m nuts.

My friend told me to “have fun with that! Ha!” My husband made sure that “you didn’t sign me up for that crap, did you?!” And I’m already hearing stories about how everyone “hangs up the phone as soon as I hear them on the line”.

I’m terrified.

I’ve done telemarketing before. I know enough to be anxious about what I’m in for. I know how hard it is not to take it personally when someone hangs up on you. I know how awkward it is to make yourself on inconvenience in someone else’s life. I know how much I hate, hate, hate making cold calls.

But I’m doing it anyway.

Last weekend I stood outside for 4 hours to hear Barack Obama speak for 20 minutes. What I saw in those 4 hours changed me more than anything anyone could have said at a podium.

It’s been estimated that 20,000 people stood with me in that park in downtown Jacksonville. Another 8,000 stood outside the gates after the sheriff determined the venue was at capacity. We stood, first in the wind and then in the hot sun, and we waited.

And we talked. We talked about why we were there and what we hoped for. We talked to each other about what we wanted to see for our country. We talked to the strangers around us about our own bitterness with the current administration.

I was in awe.

As I stood amidst 20,000 people, I was overcome with the tangible energy in the air – a current of hope I could actually feel running up and down my arms. Hours before Obama’s motorcade even entered the city, the reason I was there was solidified.

I was there because I cared. And more importantly, I was there because other people cared.

They cared and they got up off their asses and out of their houses and invested their own precious time to be there.

And that is what changes nations. That, my friend, is what changes an entire world.

Not a politician or a government or an emergency meeting in Washington. But people, citizens, deciding in droves to pay attention. To care. To do something.

To see that kind of passion first hand was life changing for me. As a 28 year old woman, I have lived my entire life in a country defined by it’s apathy. The idea that people could make a real difference in their lives was nothing more than an old idealistic notion passed on to us through old news reels and empty rhetoric.

I am not naive enough to believe that rallies alone will solve any of the nation’s major problems. Or any of our small ones. But I do know that apathy produces ignorance and inaction, while organized passion can create one hell of a Tea Party.

Nothing about last weekend was empty. Not only did those people care, they were informed. They made a point of being informed. And they weren’t elitists or economists or politicians. They were poor and middle class and working class and upper class people. (No, really, I swear. There was a rich white couple standing beside me. Not all Obama supporters are broke.) They were white and black and brown and sunburned. They were old and young.

They were just… people. People who I never in a million years would expect to see get excited about politics. And they cared.

Anyone who tells me that hope is empty rhetoric has never been enveloped by it.

Anyone who still believes that inspiration doesn’t make a difference has never seen a crowd of 20,000 people stand calmly in the hot Florida sun for hours.

Anyone who says that a politician who makes you believe in yourself, believe that Yes, We Can is meaningless in creating a real impact in policies… is not familiar with American History.

It’s ironic, really, that it is the Democratic nominee that keeps reminding voters that the government cannot fix your life, that it can only be a support system for people who take responsibility for their failure and success. And it is sad, truly, that more people have not been able to hear that message clearly.

But some have. Some have not only heard, but answered the call.

And for the first time in my life, I have a chance to be part of it. And more than the chance, I have the hope I need to believe that my contribution might matter – might mean something on a bigger scale.

And so… I’m doing something tonight I’ve never done.

Something that terrifies me.

Something that I could easily sit back and let someone else do.

Because what I want more than anything right now is for someone else – even just one other person – to experience the same thing I was given last Saturday. For someone else to know that other people care.

7 Daily Happiness Affirmations

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  1. Dawn says:

    Don’t call me. I’m not a US citizen yet so I can’t vote. But you can call my husband… he LOVES unsolicited phonecalls. Really, he does. And if he says (yells) otherwise, just keep talking. He’ll love it! Really.

    Have fun tonight, and have a great weekend.

  2. Jennyjinx says:

    I felt the same way after I saw him speak (without a teleprompter or a note card). Before that I was a “hold my nose and vote against McCain” person. Not now.

    You’ll have fun and you’ll feel productive and part of something huge. Just use your passion on the phone and everything will go swimmingly. :)

  3. B.E. Earl says:

    Very commendable.

    It’s sad that telephone calls are needed. I wish we lived in a country where everyone took the time to inform themselves of the issues (the real issues, not the made up shit) without needing any prompting. And one in which everyone were eager to vote. But this is what we have, and every little bit helps.

    When you ask them who they are voting for, will you then try to convince them to vote for Obama or is this just a survey thing?

  4. Marinka says:

    Good for you! I made calls for Hillary and we all know how well that turned out!

    (Omg, those bouncing smiley faces are giving me seizures)

  5. Peggy says:

    Even though many others do not understand or think you are nuts I think on your way home tonight you will feel so proud of yourself. If your words encourage ONE person to register or vote then Britt, you’ve done SOMETHING. And something very important!

  6. Amanda says:

    Good for you. You’re much braver than me

  7. avitable says:

    Wait. Barack who?

  8. I’m glad you care. I’m glad you want to help other people get out and vote for what they believe in. Voter apathy is at an all time high and we need to be a people involved in our own destiny…….

    ….but if you call me and ask me who I am voting for……. I’m going to politely tell you it is none of your business. A week or two ago I wrote that I was undecided, and I was, but I have since done major research both on the internet and by watching various news agencies and have made my decision. That’s it though…my decision. Not HHH’s, not my neighbor’s, mine. My private decision for who I think should run the free world and get us out of the shithole we seem to find ourselves in now. I do hope you get lots of people who will register, though. We need to get out the vote, people need to care about who is making the decisions, because when we stop caring, we stop being a “Free Country”.

    Good luck tonight! I hope someone brings Baklava. I love it when someone brings baklava to a potluck!

  9. wow Britt….good luck with it. I think it’s great you are getting involved in helping to support the US’s democratic system. I am proud to know you!

    And keep that hope tonight while you are making calls. Keep the the hope that even if you don’t convince people to vote for your candidate, you are encouraging them to vote. Which is our right and our power, and most importantly, our responsibility as citizen of this nation.

    I still don’t know who I will vote for, but I know I am voting this election.

  10. Lisa says:

    Good on ya! I hope you call me and we can discuss our mutual love for Barack. But then I work at the same university where he and his lovely wife have been on staff so I have known how amazing they are for a long time.

  11. Erin says:

    I’ve never been able to see him in person, but I felt that same feeling you described when I watched him accept the nomination. I am glad that you are so inspired :) Isn’t it great to be a part of history?

  12. NYCWD says:

    Poppy added us to the “do not call list”. I wonder if that list is good for politicians?

    I think things like that are a good time… you know… good food, people with a common goal, the team mentality, etc.

    Individually we are one.

    Together we are legion.

    Together with food we are a party.

  13. Melizzard says:

    I wish I had known you were coming I would have loved to have met you while you were up here at the rally.

    God wasn’t it great!!

    It was so kind of overwhelming that I haven’t been able to really write about it yet just post a few pictures. I know if I write something it will just sound lame and I will hate it.

    Good luck tonight!

  14. I think it’s wonderful that you have so much passion about this.
    I was involved in a mayoral campaign once, and those people on the phones were rock stars!
    xoxoxo

  15. sizzle says:

    I’ve done that kind of calling before and it’s scary but SO REWARDING. You’re doing a great thing and the people running those phone banks are grateful for your presence (I was once one of those phone bank coordinators). Good for you!

  16. Jed says:

    If someone in today’s economic and political climate needs a phone call from a stranger to remind them to register to vote, then I am not sure I want them to vote.

  17. Sybil Law says:

    :clap:
    I think you’re doing a great thing. I also think you’ll get trapped on the phone with some lonely, older folks, but if they’re in Florida, that’s a good thing, right, Sarah Silverman?! :lmao:
    No – honestly – it’s awesome that you’re doing it. I hope you get a few calls where people are actually decent and kind. Can’t wait to hear about it!

  18. RW says:

    Oh I agree. Pot luck always makes me nervous.

  19. cliff says:

    Hi, I’ve worked with the Barack campaign since June. Registering voters and housing Barack Fellows. First time I ever cared about politics.This could be out last time. I mean that honestly. If Gramps and Gidget get in were in deep DoDO.Its a great feeling when we do what is right. Peace.

  20. Howard says:

    First the Democrats blindly follow Obama … now, they are willing to blindly follow Reid, Bush and Paulson … in a decision which could dramatically affect every American for decades. Well, thank God, Senator John McCain, Senator Shelby, and hundreds of economists don’t just want to take a few people’s word for it. Already, Reid has tried to tack additional pork, like Acorn, to this bailout. I didn’t think I could dislike inept Harry Reid, with his 15% approval rating, any more than I already did, but this isn’t about Reid being left alone to decide America’s future. It will be interesting to look back at this in retrospect, to see if we really did have to RUSH this 750 Billion dollar decision … and, who really benefitted from pushing it through so quickly. ALSO … WHAT’S ALAN GRENSPAN’S OPINION ON THE BAILOUT???

  21. Faiqa says:

    Britt, whether it’s the way you are always painfully and beautifully honest with us and yourself in your blog or through something like this…you really embody the word “inspiration.” Thanks for this.

  22. petra says:

    you are great i dont now wery wel speak english bat i sey you are prefect.nastavi tako greating from kroesha

  23. georgeh says:

    Beware ‘Rock Star’ politicians.
    I saw the same crowd reactions for George Wallace in ’72, Hunter S. Thompson described them as electric as a Janis Joplin concert.
    Look at some films of Fidel speaking in Havana in the ’60s.

    Rent Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”.

    Those people were welded together to get something done too.

  24. SIMPLE says:

    Interesting reading your blog. Regarding the candidates, I have to wonder about the sanity of BOTH of them. I mean, who in their right mind would actually WANT to inherit this mess? Not to mention what will come to fruition 2 years down the road!
    The next pres will definitely be a one-termer and be remebered as a failure. Some things just can’t be fixed in 4 years.

  25. Hold tight … McCain still has time to back out to tend to, I don’t know, the oil crisis? Samonella-taited veggie crisis? Lack of anything to say crisis?

  26. Hilly says:

    It’s like a double edged sword. I was just about to say “well at least your paycheck doesn’t depend on the amount of people that don’t hang up on you so it’s not that bad”. I then realized that we’re talking about something much bigger though…

    Um, not a helper.

    Still, I admire you a lot for doing this!

  27. RW says:

    Lotta tinfoil from the gallery in this here thread.

  28. Ashleigh says:

    I was with you out there with those 20,000 people in my hometown.
    It was worth the sun poisoning to hear him speak.

  29. shiny says:

    You will get many hang-ups.

    You will likely get people yelling obscenities at you.

    You may even get some arguments.

    But if this is something you believe in (and seeing the passion in your writing it appears that it is), then even just one phone call to someone who is receptive to turn on the debates and participate in the democratic process may very well be worth it.

    Best of luck, and I hope you come away from this feeling successful.

  30. Mr Farty says:

    Keeping my fingers crossed that it’s worth it in the end. x

  31. Kimberly says:

    I love you!! Thanks for making a difference. It really isn’t that bad. In fact, sometimes it is pretty damn funny.

    I, too, was able to see him in Milwaukee and had the exact feelings that you experienced. How wonderful that he has this amazing ability!

    And, those kinda shitty comments, ignore them…they are just kidding.

  32. Jennifer A says:

    I am registered to vote and will, you can count on me, but don’t call any numbers with a 630 area code. You may get my dad, who loves to argue.
    As for me, I will be spending quality time this evening with my hubby and kids grocery shopping and maybe reading highlights(and lowlights) of the debate.

  33. Turnbaby says:

    I admire your gumption and I hope you have a good time with it.

    Are you calling all over or just Florida?

  34. Rachael says:

    What an amazing experience. I hope everything went well!

  35. Fumanchudad says:

    Congratulations Britt for getting out and doing something for a cause bigger than yourself. It’s a great feeling and very rewarding to the soul to contribute to something in an attempt to do better for others. The right to vote is one of the greatest freedoms afforded by our nation and more people should avail themselves of this privelege.
    Of course you’re wrong…but good for you for gettting out there for what you believe.

    FMD

  36. looking forward to reading about how your friday on phone duty went.
    i love that you did this.

  37. Poppy says:

    We are waiting with bated breath to hear how it went.

    Really. Dawg made me come check to make sure our feed reader wasn’t broken.

  38. I’m with Narf and Poppy – how did it go?
    xo

  39. Good for you. You only need three words in these conversations: “Imagine President Palin.”

  40. Dawn says:

    OMG, will you stop calling me already??? It’s 3.18pm on Saturday — when are you going to call it quits? I already told you that I can’t vote yet. SHEESH!

    :angel:

  41. Selma says:

    Good on you. Your passion is infectious!

  42. Amity says:

    I was at the rally in Tallahassee on Saturday that Michelle Obama and Jill Biden held. I got a taste of it as well. :)

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