This summer was an interesting one to say the least. I had the opportunity to drive several hours from home to a desert town, where I knew nobody, and had no resources. As a volunteer campaign organizer, I learned how to subsist on donated carbohydrates, how to surrender control and how to stay cool and hot while registering voters.
My experience with the campaign was a character building one. Quite frankly, I thought I had enough character, but I guess I needed more. In addition to developing a healthier sense of entitlement as evidenced by asking strangers to work with me and give me things, I am also quite sure I came close to getting scurvy. Scurvy, an infection resulting in Vitamin C deficiency, was at one time common among people who worked at sea because of limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Enter vitamin “enriched” packaged foods that give us carbs, fat, and even folic acid, which is great for pregnant women on the campaign trail. Luckily I was not one of them or I might have scavenged for health food bars that also included something a bit bolder.
Campaign work is very much like sales, except I didn’t get paid on commission. Or paid at all for that matter. But when you think about it, it’s all sales. I thought the product was good. And since I was expected to sell more of it than humanly possible, I was prepared to give my pitch not only over the phone and in person, but at some point also considered auctioning my candidate on eBay. To maintain sanity and increase call volume, I learned to delegate to campaign volunteers. Most of these folks were excellent on the phone, but there’s always that person who goes off message a bit. Let’s take Ed. Ed volunteered to make calls to registered voters whose presidential preference was unknown to the campaign. Instead of following the script, Ed just came right out and asked if the person on the other end of the line would like to come in and volunteer. Ed said he figured he would just cut to the chase, resulting in an average call time of about thirty seconds.
What I enjoyed most about speaking with registered voters is what I came to identify as courteous disdain. One man I reached on the phone told me he wouldn’t vote for my candidate if the candidate gave him “seven bazillion (a lot of zeros!) dollars” and then he said “thank you for calling” as he hung up. This sort of made me feel like I did growing up when my mother would say: “I don’t hate you, I hate your behavior.”
While it’s true that some of the folks I encountered sent me to Hell (I didn’t go), a few people actually thanked me for facilitating democracy. There was the guy outside the DMV who used my cell phone to call the county clerk, an elderly lady who had questions I could actually answer, and that mother of four whose car broke down just after our conversation about her voting rights. Finally, there was a nice young man who said he was a felon just so I would leave his doorstep. Hey, you can’t win them all.
But you can sure look cute trying. It all comes back to the question of what would my mother say? When I was a teenager, mom seemed to think I could keep my sexuality hidden indefinitely. At her urging, I used to wear my school uniform skirt over my gym shorts when I took public transportation home after volleyball practice. But this summer, when I was trying to hit my voter registration numbers in the middle of the day, I had to put mom out of my mind. The desert summer calls for shorter hems, exposed shoulders, and cleavage.
For better or worse sex does sell, and I intentionally wore short shorts while walking around an outdoor concert holding a small sign that read “Voter Registration.” One gentleman jokingly asked whether my mother had actually named me that. Mom would have told him to “just register to vote, but keep your hands off of her. She’s only sixteen,” to which I would add that I am actually thirty one with job-related nutritional deficiency.
And stockpiles of character.