I admit it. 2008 was a whole lot more fun. We were riding a wave of change. We had the political momentum. We reached into states and districts we thought we could win and turned them with our energy and commitment. If felt like we just might be launching a period like that of FDR or the peak of the Great Society and Civil Rights movement, when America really would move forward, when hope and history, in the words of Seamus Heaney, would finally rhyme.
Now our hopes are chastened or worse, and we’re struggling to hold back a Republican tide. Yet if we could just bring all the likely non-voters to the polls we’d actually win, which means the volunteering that we do today can matter as much or more as that of two years ago. Here are ten reasons why I’m going to spend my entire day on the phones today, from when the polls open in Pennsylvania and Illinois to when they close in Washington and Alaska. I’ve listed how to act below, and I hope you’ll join me with whatever time you have:
1. Today’s races are incredibly close, with a half dozen toss-ups in the Senate and 30 in the House. They’re going to be decided by turnout.
2. Our volunteer efforts matter. I got at least three people to vote in a 2004 Washington State governor’s race where my candidate, Christine Gregoire, defeated a dangerous right winger by 133 votes. With 50 fewer volunteers, Gregoire would have lost. If a few more Democratic volunteers had stayed home, Minnesota would have Norm Coleman instead of Al Franken as its Senator. I want to make sure we’re on the right side of those kinds of margins this round.
3. Our phone calls and door-knocking do matter. Studies suggest that if you talk to a dozen voters face to face you’ll get another vote for your side. The same with 20 phone calls. If enough of us participate, this can tip today’s elections again and again.
4. I’m angry that the most predatory corporations in America are trying to buy what’s left of our democracy. I’m angry that a Bush Supreme Court made this possible and that not one Republican voted for the bill, the DISCLOSE Act, that would at least have required them to put their names on their ads. When I get angry I act. Getting on the phones is the best way I can.
5. Change is a long haul process, sometimes a battle of inches. Unless we’re giving up forever, the results of today will open up or close off possibilities for the next six years, or more, and set the tone for the next Presidential election. Even if the landscape going forward is going to be less hospitable than it’s been, the more we can do today, the better our prospects for long-term change.
6. I have my own mixed feelings about how the Democrats played their hand. But compared to the Republicans it’s not even close. And I value the victories we’ve won, like covering 32 million people in the health care bill and preventing insurance companies from dropping you when you have cancer because of childhood acne. Or taking money away from the banks to fund the best student financial aid bill since the Pell Grants. Or putting more money into alternative energy than any administration in history. Or having Elizabeth Warren oversee a new consumer financial protection agency, and being able to appoint two decent Supreme Court Justices. I want to see these victories extended, and not rolled back. Whatever we do today will help.
7. There are Democrats running who I really admire, like Russ Feingold, Joe Sestak, Alexi Giannoulias, Patty Murray, and the no longer so long-shot candidacy of Scott McAdams, plus dozens of good at-risk House candidates. I don’t want to see them needlessly go down because I was too timid or too demoralized to make a few phone calls.
8. The Republicans running in this election are frightening in the degree they want to turn our country over to the most destructive corporations on the planet. They’re also running on a fundamental denial of reality, from their winking and nodding as their base is energized by “birther” and “secret Muslim” lies to denying the human role in global climate change. I don’t want to give them a single extra seat to exercise their destructive power.
9. “Send the Democrats a message” by staying home or voting third party has time and again moved the country to the right. It’s particularly dangerous when the alternative is turning your country over to candidates funded and selected by Exxon, the coal companies and the Koch brothers. I want to be on the phones to help those considering walking into this trap to avoid it.
10. It’s tempting to spend every spare moment watching the projected results, but that changes nothing. Whatever the results, at the end of the day, I want to be able to say I did what I could. That doesn’t happen by passively watching and hoping. It happens by doing the best we can, in circumstances that aren’t always ideal. That’s what I’m trying to do today and I hope you’ll join me.
You can call through Obama’s Organizing for America, through MoveOn, or through Democracy in America. For local races, progressive groups have developed powerful tailored ballot guides. Even if you just have a few hours calling the West Coast at the end of the day, you owe it to yourself and to the country to do what you can, knowing that you can never predict the difference it could make.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times (St Martin’s Press, April 2010), and The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See www.paulloeb.org