Every Thursday night, I sit down armed with my phone, facts, and desire for change. I call people all over the country, many of whom wish I — well, everyone — was armed with guns instead.
I do this as just one of the many volunteers phone canvassing for Everytown and Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement working to implement common-sense gun laws and elect candidates who will enact these laws. Each week, we select a district and upcoming gun-related bill or vote, study up, and begin spreading the word. Using an automated dialing system, our goal is to inform voters of their representatives’ dangerous stances on guns and patch those voters through to their officials’ offices to voice their opinions and hold their politicians accountable.
Like the majority of us, I’m beyond sick and tired of the senseless gun violence plaguing our country, which is a uniquely American problem. From mass shootings in schools and police brutality to domestic abuse, suicides, and accidents, America has basically become one big gun range. This isn’t the world I want to live in, so that’s why I’ve chosen to take action. I phone canvass for just one hour per week, and it really makes a difference.
I’ve also learned a lot. Though I’ve been informed about the culture, legislation, and conversation surrounding guns in our country for years, phone canvassing has helped me cross the aisle in new ways, understand how we can grow this movement, and become a better activist.
You need to meet people where they are.
I grew up in rural, gun-loving Trump country and personally know people who strongly believe they have the right to own whatever guns they wish with little to no regulation. I’ve talked gun reform with some of them, each conversation with its unique type of discourse and end result.
But there’s something different about being randomly connected with stranger after stranger to have this conversation. Void of personal connection and even a face, you’re left with only a voice. And when that voice strongly opposes you, breaking through is daunting in a very different way. You don’t know anything about the person, their experiences, or their wider beliefs, so the only information you have about them is what you just gathered in the seconds (or maybe minutes) you’ve been on the phone. There’s a script, but at times you need to play quarterback and call an audible.
After only introducing myself on a recent call, for example, the older man on the other end said he wasn’t interested in listening because he gave up on politicians and voting many years ago. “They don’t listen and will do what they want,” he said. This gave me a sense of his pain point, so I veered from my gun talk, mentioned why voting is important, and zeroed in on the fact that holding politicians accountable was exactly why I was calling. This ultimately didn’t inspire him to reconsider his beliefs, but it took our conversation a little further.
A lot of people care, but they’re uninformed.
On the other hand, sometimes I talk with people who are extremely concerned about gun violence. Often it’s parents of school-aged children who spend every day wondering if their school — and their kid — is next. The vast majority, though, aren’t aware of the bills and laws I’m talking about and would’ve likely gone uniformed without my call. They are not just willing, but eager for me to patch them through to their reps, which is great!
We need to make getting involved as easy as possible.
Many would-be advocates for gun reform unfortunately don’t have the knowledge, time, or endurance to keep up with and take action on these issues — and understandably so: bills, laws, and politics are complicated, time-consuming, and stressful. But we can change this if we provide people with tools, support, and clear processes for actions that are impactful without being too time-consuming.
I signed up to phone canvass on a day I was feeling particularly distraught about gun violence. It was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, there had just been another major school shooting, and yet another unarmed Black man was fatally shot by the NYPD — this time right in my own neighborhood. Like many, I had been too busy, too overwhelmed by the news, and was unaware of what I could realistically do to make a difference beyond tweeting, donating, and informing friends. Then I saw an @Everytown tweet looking for volunteers to spend just one hour a week phone canvassing. They would provide a quick training session, all the information, and I could do it from my home. I felt guided and supported and knew one hour was a commitment I could stick to, so I volunteered right away and encouraged others to do the same.
I just signed up to spend 1 hour a week calling voters to help them understand gun laws & pressure their senators.— Sage Lazzaro (@SageLazzaro) April 5, 2018
If you're mad about Parkland,
If you're sad about MLK,
If you just read the NYPD shot another unarmed black man to death & thought "not again,"
DO SOMETHING https://t.co/tUTlD4obhy
Laying out simple information and steps — and doing it often — will make a difference. Imagine if the 90% of Americans who support universal background checks called their senators. Imagine if they donated to the cause. Imagine if they VOTED.
We need to make people aware of databases (such as the Gifford Law Center’s) that track federal and local gun laws.
We need to make sure every American knows who their elected officials are and how to contact them (here’s a guide).
Activism is an emotional roller coaster.
My first day of phone canvassing left me fired up and optimistic — nearly every person I called enthusiastically listened and wanted to be connected to their senators. On my second day, however, nearly everyone hung up on me. I felt defeated and hopeless. There are highs and lows, and each call feels like you’re rolling the dice.
Back-to-back rejection of what you see as an obvious moral decision (people are senselessly dying) can be incredibly draining, but no one ever said activism is easy. It takes a lot out of you, but it’s what we need to do to cause change. And as we all struggle to process the seemingly never-ending barrage of injustices in this world, we need to remember that taking action helps — you still see the bad, but you also see results instead of always feeling hopeless. Everyone from therapists to CIA analysts who deal with highly disturbing content for a living recommend it. Maybe it's time for you to try it, too.