I spent almost 15 hours volunteering in January...and if February goes the way I've planned, I'll finish out the month just shy of 40 hours. My once-a-week commitment to phone-banking has blossomed into two or three shifts each week. Sometimes I make phone calls. Sometimes I actually get to train other volunteers and support them while they make phone calls. I enjoy (and feel like I'm better at) the latter rather than the former.
But it's all critical work, and I'm glad to do whatever I can to make a difference.
There are two kinds of phone banks (thus far): we're either calling known supporters and asking them if they'd like to come in and volunteer...or we're calling undecided voters and asking them about how they feel about gay marriage and the proposed constitutional amendment. Although cold-calling strangers is never a walk in the park (at least for some of us), let's just say I'm more comfortable soliciting volunteers than I am chatting up voters.
But--like I said before--it's all critical work, and I'm glad to do whatever I can to make a difference.
That being said, phone banking was pretty tough tonight. Not Freedom Rides tough or Bloody Sunday tough--lest anyone think I'm not keeping history in perspective--but tough, nonetheless.
I feel wimpy complaining about the stress of talking to strangers on the phone.
I mean, all things considered, this is pretty risk-free work. But it is emotional and exhausting work. It is discordant and polarizing work. In one moment, you're hearing someone say that they absolutely will vote against the amendment...that there is no room in our state constitution for hate and discrimination. And then during the very next call, you have someone tell you that gay marriage is wrong and against their religious beliefs. It's highs and lows. Peaks and valleys. Heartening and disheartening. One conversation after another. After another. After another.
"No thank you. I don't want to talk about that."
"I'm going to stop you right there...that's a private matter."
I did, however, end up in conversations with 9 Minnesotans. 4 of them told me they would likely/definitely oppose the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, 2 of them were undecided, and 3 of them would likely/definitely support the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
The folks who were against the constitutional amendment...the folks joining so many of us in pledging to VOTE NO in November...say things like "I can't even believe we have to talk about this in our state!" They tell stories about friends and neighbors and coworkers and siblings. Even their own children. They talk about love and the importance of strong relationships. They say, "It's time."
The folks who are in favor of the constitutional amendment...the folks who want to ban gay marriage...talk about tradition and religious beliefs and "normal" and "that's just the way it should be" and "civil unions are good enough."
We ask folks to talk about their own relationships and tell us what their marriage means to them. We try to listen carefully and demonstrate affirmation and appreciation for this very personal sharing. Because it truly is generous for people to talk about their most cherished relationship. And then we say things like, "Don't you think that gay and lesbian people feel the same way about the people they love?" and "I don't know too many people who would trade their marriage for a domestic partnership." We ask "Why is it important that gay and lesbian couples have something different than "traditional" marriage?"
Sometimes you can hear people wrestling with the questions...sometimes they'll even talk to you about it.
Other times they won't. Tonight, a woman graciously told me all about why she has loved her husband all these years. And when I asked her, "Don't you think gay and lesbian people feel the same way about the people they love?" there was a huge pause.
And then she said, "No."
And hung up the phone.
I shouldn't sound so doom-and-gloom though.
For what would be my last phone call of the evening, I dialed a 76-year-old woman in town about an hour outside of the Twin Cities (population just over 1,000). Honestly, I was hoping she wouldn't even pick up the phone, as I hadn't had a lot of luck with her age-bracket/geographical region in the previous 37 calls. But answer, she did.
"Hi! My name is Emily and I'm a volunteer with Minnesotans United for All Families," I said...going through my introductory spiel, finally getting to, "Which of the following is closest to your point of view..."
I gave her the list of options.
"Well...you know...I haven't thought about this yet today," she said.
"Would you like to think about it right now...with me?" I asked.
"Sure," she said.
And we went on to have a good 7-10 minute conversation about all her thoughts on the matter. About how she didn't think gay and lesbian people should be able to be married, but about how there should be some protections and rights. About how she doesn't think anyone "chooses" to be gay...that's just how people are. About how it doesn't seem right to ban things...she "may not agree with some things, but that's no reason to write it in the constitution." Just when I'd think she had said all she wanted to say, she'd keep voicing more thoughts...wrestling with more ideas. She was refuting all sorts of her own previous assumptions...there's this but then there's that...there's that but then there's this. She didn't even need me anymore.
But she didn't seem to want to get off the phone either. Finally, she took a breath.
"So," I asked, "would you support or oppose the amendment to ban marriage for gay and lesbian couples?"
"I'll oppose it," she said.
"And will you share all the thoughts you shared with me with your friends and family?" I asked.
"Absolutely," she said.
There's nothing like ending the night on a high note, huh?
And that call...with that 76-year-old woman in a small town in greater Minnesota is why I do this. For every few people who refuse to talk to me, there is someone like her. Not only did she talk to me, but I know she'll keep talking about this issue with people in her life. She may have thought about this issue for the first time today, but I can tell that it won't be the last.
And that's the whole point of this critical, state-wide conversation. It's about Minnesotans talking to Minnesotans. It's about talking to our friends and family. It's about getting to the heart of why people truly want to be married. It's about commitment. It's about love.
Constitutional bans of gay marriage have been successful in all other 29 states in which they have been proposed. But not here. Not in our state.
It's about commitment.
It's about love.
It's about time.