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Students form political phone-banking group

After Donald Trump was elected president, a variety of student groups stepped up to respond with increased vigilant citizenry. Hoping to leverage social media networks, Sam Kindler’17 formed the Facebook group Beloit Political Phone Banking to provide a platform to organize collective action last semester.

Before the end of the semester became too chaotic, the group met “several times,” Kindler said. At the first few meetings, people brainstormed possible focuses and strategies for the group, such as prioritizing local and state-wide legislature, breaking up into specific research sub-groups and even making Beloit College a sanctuary campus, or the city of Beloit a sanctuary city, to protect immigrants and refugees. Phone scripts were provided at meetings to streamline the process of contacting legislators.

This semester, the group hasn’t had formal meetings but members continue to post resources such as phone scripts, phone numbers, actions or guides. Kindler wouldn’t call it an official organization, but she says “If something more organized comes out of this group, that would be cool too.” Still, she finds the format helpful. “When I see these posts, I make the calls. I believe others are too,” she said, adding, “It has helped me personally feel more motivated and accountable for calling my representatives. I hope it is helping others too.”

When legislators threatened to repeal the Affordable Care Act, health care legislation enacted under former-President Barack Obama, Macy Tran’17 organized a phone banking event to call legislators urging them not to repeal it. A former president of Amnesty International Club, she had experience with letter writing for social justice causes, but hadn’t done phone banking. She takes it seriously as a way to speak out. “For me, the goal of this group is to make sure that our voices are heard as constituents with multifaceted identities and interests through taking direct, tangible actions against the injustices happening in our state, our country, and in the world,” she said. “The group functions as an organized way to support each other as folks who want to partake in this mission, to show that it is possible to DO something and that we have collective rights and power.”

Kindler and Tran both encourage people to try it out. “It is an easy thing to ask of people with busy schedules, and it may be less intimidating than other forms of action,” Kindler said.

Tran acknowledges talking on the phone can be “super intimidating, especially if you have social anxiety or any anxiety about talking to people you don’t know over the phone.” But, she says, every call matters, and “Just like anything else, it takes practice.”

Tran thinks phone banking tends to be forgotten or labeled as ineffective — but she wants people to know each call matters. While legislators have no legal obligation to listen to each constituent, it is in their political interest to do so.

“As constituents, this is our right. Our legislators should be making policies WITH us not TO us, and I think people forget or are skeptical about how much collective power we have in shaping political outcomes. We vote these people in — they aren’t just going to ignore us. They very much keep track of who is calling for what,” she said.

This semester, Tran is a policy intern at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, so she gets to interact with policy from many sides.

“Something that my supervisor says is that ‘If you’re not in the kitchen, you’re on the menu.’ Phone banking is a very direct and tangible way to be ‘in the kitchen’. Other forms of citizen/political engagement are important as well, but all mobilization and advocacy, in order to be effective, needs to be holistic and comprehensive,” she added.

“I’ve accepted that change never comes from the top down,” Tran said. “This is why I call my reps — it has to start with me, my community, and the lives that are immediately effected within my city and my state.”

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