Annoyed By All Those Political Texts?

Here’s why you shouldn’t be

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Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash

. . . when your phone burbles. You like to think you’re good at focusing, but text alerts are designed to hook your attention like a trout hitting a hand-tied fly. Maybe it’s your client, or your relative who’s in the hospital, or even that alluring someone you recently met and were wondering if you should text first.

But no. “Hi, Jan (or whatever your first name is, and that’s the dead giveaway: who calls you by name in a text?), this is Sarah (or whoever), a volunteer with the _______ Party; or, Americans for Measure ___; or, the _______ campaign.” There’s a phrase or two of info, followed by a cheery, hopeful call to action. This is typically framed as a question, amounting to, “Can we count on your vote?”

If you text back NO, you might get a follow-up question. If you text back YES, you’re likely to get a further suggestion about volunteering or asking your friends to vote. Either way, you’re in for at least one more text exchange in this round. Meanwhile your work goes undone, your pasta carbonara grows gelatinous, and your social life is no better off than it was a minute ago.

You’re in a battleground state, or maybe you’re in a state with a lot of propositions on the ballot, so this is at least the third political text you’ve gotten in the past two days. You don’t know this person; you don’t even know if this IS a person and not just some bot that somehow got your number and is hellbent on hijacking your meeting, meal, or momentum.

After seven months of COVID-caused cabin fever and every human interaction outside your own home requiring the logistics of a commando raid, your nerves are as frazzled as The Current Occupant’s coif. Your temper is shorter than a hamster’s attention span. Isn’t it enough you have to navigate a daily media minefield that threatens to frighten you to death, if it doesn’t give you a rage-fueled aneurysm first? Do you really need some stranger hounding you on your own phone?

Maybe you should just tell Sarah-or-whoever to go do something untoward with herself. Who could blame you?

First of all, Sarah-or-whoever is almost certainly not a bot, but a human being — an honest-to-gosh volunteer, who could be doing other things with her time but who thinks the campaign or cause is important enough to interrupt you for the space of a minute.

As a fellow human, Sarah knows what it’s like to get unsolicited texts exhorting her to vote or contribute. She knows you’re not thrilled to be hearing from her. She, like you, has work to do or meals to eat or friends she’d rather be talking to. But she cares enough about the upcoming election to walk her talk. She can’t control the outcome, but she’s doing what she can.

I know this because I, too, volunteer for text-banking. So I can tell you what’s going on, while you’re fuming at your phone, on Sarah’s end of the text-versation:

Having signed up for text banking with either a campaign or an advocacy orgnization, Sarah is perched in front of her laptop where she’s logged in to a Zoom meeting with an organizer. The organizer is an intern, perhaps a bright, ambitious poly sci student sitting in a dorm room somewhere. The attendees, judging by their Zoom thumbnails, look to be more like Sarah: generally middle-aged or older, most of them women, all of them earnest.

Like many of the others, this is the first time Sarah has done text-banking, or participated in any election beyond voting. But the critical nature of the contest coming up in November has prompted her to get involved in a way she hasn’t previously. She’s a little shaky about it — Sarah’s normally a reserved person, even rather shy — but she’s committed.

She’s been instructed to download and create an account on a texting app. As the session begins, she’s given a quick training in how the app works, and on the strategy behind this particular effort. She’ll be given an initial list of 200 numbers derived from voter rolls, with automated messages that plug in her name and the recipient’s. The organizer keeps the Zoom open and answers questions in the chat while the volunteers, including Sarah, open the chute on their apps and start texting.

This whole operation moves at bewildering speed, but it doesn’t take Sarah long to figure out that for now, she’s simply sending out the same personalized message to her list, one by one, as fast as she can hit the button. She switches fingers every so often to avoid repetitive strain, picking up speed as she goes, a little amazed that it’s this easy.

Much sooner than she’d expected, she’s gotten through all 200 texts. But now she sees that she has a number of responses! She goes through each one, and replies with another automated message based on the kind of reply she’s gotten. The app has thought of nearly everything a text recipient can come up with, from questions about the candidate’s stance on a particular issue to “F____ off”, to which her canned response might be, “I’m simply a volunteer trying to encourage people to vote. Thanks for your time.” If she wants to, she can personalize her replies to your replies, within guidelines. She will not tell you to eff yourself back.

Because if you go there, Sarah will mark your file as Rude/Profanity, which will escalate your account so that other volunteers aren’t subject to the same abuse. Which means that the next time that campaign or organization contacts you, it will be a trained staffer on the other end, someone way harder to scare off than a volunteer.

There are other reasons not to be a jerk. One is that it’s a chickenshit thing to do, especially because it would be so easy. After all, it’s a fairly anonymous transaction: you and Sarah can’t see each other. Which is too bad, really, because if Sarah had come to your door in the early evening, brochure in hand — as she might have done, pre-COVID —you might still be irked at the interruption, but you would see that she’s just a nice lady of a certain age, probably somebody’s mom or grandma, trying to do what she sees as the right thing.

Another reason is that you might just learn something — for example, about a down-ballot candidate, for whom your vote counts far more than you might suspect, or about a ballot proposition you haven’t had the bandwidth to think about, but now that you do, you can see why it matters to your town/county/state, and therefore to you. Maybe Sarah reaching out to you is what cuts through the fog of distraction we all face, long enough for you to have a chance to make an informed decision.

It’s possible that Sarah, through no fault of her own, has reached you in error. You’re from the other party, or you support the other candidate, or you no longer live in the state or even the country. In that case, you can politely say so and ask to be opted out of the list. You still don’t have to snark at her.

Not so much, anyway. Consider what’s at stake in November, both on the state and national level. Then take into account the fraught nature of the entire election process, thanks to the Projector in Chief and his minions doing all they can to sow unfounded doubt and confusion. Think about how difficult the party in charge of the White House and Senate are trying to make it for you to vote.

Think about those who will stand in line for hours to cast their ballots, in the midst of a pandemic, even if they have to endure intimidation from self-styled “poll monitors” who are really there to harass and, if possible, prevent people (that is to say, people of color, or anybody they assume to be in support of their opposition) from voting, or from having their ballot confirmed and counted.

Think about the fact that for the first time in this nation’s history, we are facing a presidential election whose results we can no longer be confident will manifest in a peaceful transition of power. Think about the collective agony this country endures on a daily basis right now.

We don’t know if there’s light at the end of the tunnel, or even how long the tunnel is. But this is the time we were born to face, and upon this election rides so much of what our future will hold. It’s not too much to expect all of us to accept some additional discomfort.

So when you get a text from Sarah, be civil. It’ll only take a minute. And, for the love of country, vote.

Written by

Writer & educator. The Startup, Writing Cooperative, P.S. I Love You, The Ascent, more. Award-winning short fiction. Visit me at www.JanMFlynn.net.

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