Citizenship Etiquette

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“No good deed goes unpunished.” ~ Clare Booth Luce

The scene is last Tuesday, November 5th, which was Election Day in the U.S. The location is a local campaign office of a candidate for public office. The time is mid-Afternoon. A volunteer is placing “Get Out The Vote!” calls to local residents who are members of her political party and who are likely to vote for her candidate. She is upbeat and motivated, and there is warmth and a smile in her voice.

Volunteer: “Hello, my name is Vickie Volunteer and I’m calling to speak with Jane Voter on behalf of Suzy Candidate, who is running for County Legislator. This is just a reminder that today is Election Day and we are counting on your support to elect Suzy to the County Legislature.”

Voter (extremely annoyed): “I know it’s Election Day! I’ve gotten 15 calls today from people telling me it’s Election Day! I also have a calendar. You people are over the top with your calls! You’ve got to stop! Stop calling me! [Sound of call being disconnected.]

Volunteer: Hello, my name is Val Volunteer and I’m calling to speak with Joe Voter on behalf of the Suzy Candidate Campaign, just as a reminder that today is Election Day…”

Voter (outraged): “Not a chance!” [disconnect]

Volunteer: “Hello, my name is Vince Volunteer and I’m calling to speak with Vera Voter on behalf of Suzy Candidate…”

Voter (agitated): “Someone has already called me! Why don’t you people talk to each other? If I get one more call I won’t vote at all! [disconnect]

Be Patient With Fellow Citizens Who Volunteer

This type of scenario is played out during every campaign season, and the majority of voters tend to be gracious, patient or at least coolly polite. But, across the country volunteers often encounter voters who are rude and unkind to callers. This can be extremely disheartening and demoralizing to volunteers, especially those who are working on grassroots campaigns. Even when the callers are members of their own political party, some who are called feel put out, disturbed or inconvenienced by such phone calls. And, to a great extent they are. But, those phone calls during campaign season are part and parcel of the American political system that protects the liberty of all citizens. They are part of the cost of freedom.

It’s important to be reminded that the volunteers on the other end of the phone lines are also experiencing disruptions in their lives as they take the time to make such calls, deliver lawn signs, canvass door-to-door, hand out literature at train stations, stuff envelopes, attend rallies, drive campaign staff and volunteers to various locations, answer phones, petition for signatures, provide food, run endless errands, conduct online research and repeatedly utter the four-letter word, “Vote!” And in the view of many, the freedom to vote for their own government assembly is the most fundamental freedom we have.

It stands to reason then that those who are willing to devote their valuable time and skills to volunteering on political campaigns — whether they are local grassroots efforts or well-funded and established organizations — should be acknowledged with gratitude and appreciation rather than complaints, discourtesy and threats.

Consider that when the phone rings at a voter’s house, the caller might be a student who is performing an internship with a grassroots political campaign for college credit. That student might be a political science major who could be President someday, or a history major who is garnering experience in the American process to pass on to his students when he becomes a teacher, or a journalism major who will someday write about her campaign experiences and cover important stories for a major publication or network news program. Or perhaps the caller is a wounded war veteran, the parent of a schoolmate or a potential employer or client.

Such volunteers also perform bipartisan services, such as reminding voters to vote, advising them where their polling places are located, making arrangements to drive people to the polls and arranging for babysitting services.

Volunteers who place calls and canvass homes often spend hours, days, weeks and months of their time performing such tasks, placing hundreds of cals and traipsing around neighborhoods in all kinds of weather. Some are dedicated to a candidate; others just want to do their civic duty to provide information about one or more candidates and help get people to the polls. In addition, they also receive numerous live and robo calls at their homes from other campaigns.

It is understandable that being deluged with political calls can be unsettling, especially at the end of a long day, or in the midst of a dozen other things one might be juggling. And it’s true that voter records and lists are often unwieldy, and because so much of a campaign’s work is performed by volunteers efficiency can sometimes be a bit choppy. Perhaps in time there will be a more efficient system for maintaining lists and managing phone calls. Or maybe not. Maintaining freedom and liberty takes work and is not always neat and organized. But, yelling at the individual calling about the voting lists and repeated calls and hanging up on him orher will not resolve the problem, and is a unreasonable and very unkind way to treat the caller, who is likely a hardworking volunteer acting in good faith.

Every American who enjoys the the privileges that the freedoms his or her country offer has certain responsibilities. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to British Minister George Hammond in 1792, “A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.”

So, the next time you answer your phone and it’s a volunteer on the other end calling on behalf of a political candidate or reminding you to vote, try to listen courteously or interrupt politely if you cannot listen to the entire message. And, if you’re the volunteer or intern who is doing the calling, be upbeat, courteous, considerate and brief. That way, both citizens – the caller and the called – will be acting in a responsibly way for their society.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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