The worst, weirdest, stupidest phone call I ever made was in 2006, when I was a rising star in the world of arts marketing. I called a subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to sell a season ticket package. A little kid answered the phone, and I asked him to put his father on. Which the kid, of course, dutifully did. As I began my routine, the father interrupted me: “I have NOT had sex with my wife for MONTHS, and I FINALLY get her in bed, and you JUST FUCKED IT ALL UP FOR ME!!!…” Oh, he started screaming at me at the top of his lungs after that, but I missed everything he said because I was already in the act of placing the phone back onto the base. It was the only time I ever hung up on one of my customers. What I REALLY wanted to do was interrupt him in turn with a short speech about how ugly his wife was – after all, what was the kid doing running around at THAT time if he was interested in his wife? But my supervisor could have been listening, so I ignored the impulse.
I left the Symphony a short time after that to make a go with the Illinois PIRGs. They were a resoundingly shitty organization to work for, had lied outright about their work in order to recruit me, and my once-promising media career was over. To tell the truth, I was a little relieved; working my way up the corporate ladder for the company contracting me would have meant spending more time on the phone. I could rest easy knowing my life wasn’t dependant on calling people and asking for their credit card numbers anymore.
Here I am now, years later, going back into political activism after a long period of inactivity. And just my luck! What does my line of campaign work involve now? Calling people! No one likes bugging people in their private homes, and no one likes being bugged in their private homes, either. Not many people realize this about telemarketers, but they don’t like talking to you. If you’ve answered the phone, they already want you dead. But old experience gets volunteer employers to take note, so in the early days of my new politically active era, I was on the fucking phone yet again. Three phone banking sessions and I started telling people in the campaign that I was absolutely, positively done making calls. I don’t want my candidate to lose votes because my tongue got too loose.
While outright abuse has been thankfully minimal, there’s one little truth about phone banking that needs to be addressed: This “list.” Let’s get a few things clear about the list. The first thing you need to know about the list is that you heard about it through the grapevine, and we all know how things heard through grapevines work. That’s a fancy way of saying ideas about it may not be accurate, and the list is one of those things in which that’s true. The list you want to be taken off of is no more real than the grapevine you heard about it from. What that means is that from the telemarketer’s point of view, there’s nothing to pull your name from, and so you’re just some random name that popped off a screen somewhere. Names come up and the people making those annoying phone calls don’t have a choice. People in call centers have no control whatsoever over who they call. If a name is in there, it’s in there, and no amount of screaming, bitching, or death threats is going to change that. And frankly, if you’re too nasty or threatening, you deserve the harassment.
While I’m on the subject, I need to cover the no-call list that everyone says they’re on as well since I’ve been verbally abused over it. I don’t know what this no-call list is or who’s on it. I don’t know where to go to sign my name to it. What I DO know is that between all the phone work I’ve been forced to do, I’ve never actually seen a no-call list. I think that, unlike the caller list, the no-call list might actually exist, though. When I was doing work for WNED and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it got talked about an awful lot, even by my supervisors. And the supervisors talked about it in legal technicalities. So even if the no-call list exists – which, again, is something I can reasonably doubt – there are a few factors in play which the people who kick and scream about it don’t take into account. First of all, the no-call list doesn’t apply to everywhere that tries to grab money through phone sales and phone donations. Arts and government organizations are exempt from it. And if a big corporation has outsourced its phone sales jobs to places overseas, the no-call list doesn’t apply to them, either. Frankly, the types of callers the no-call list bans are in a very, Very, VERY specific line of making phone sales, and the good folks behind it apparently aren’t into random inspections. If a place needs to disturb you at home, they can get around your precious no-call list by changing their callers’ official job titles. Why wouldn’t they? Uncle Sam isn’t breathing down their necks.
So this is what it comes down to: You’re assaulting someone who is probably poised to blow their top over a list they don’t know anything about. No, you don’t want to be bugged about some damn ideology at home, but from the employee’s point of view, you’re an asshole who can’t be polite for the two seconds it takes to say, “No.” And I should take the time to point out that there are some telemarketing services that provide employees with the customers’ information.
Since my political work is strictly on a volunteer level, though, I’m not worried about getting threats from people I call. After all, I told them I wasn’t going to bug people at home about politics anymore and that they’ll have to find something new for me to do. There’s one more thing I should remind people about volunteer work, though: If a volunteer calls, there’s nothing that can stop them from blowing up.