Blue Future teamed up with Grassroots Democrats HQ to create a compensated program to train young people in virtual organizing, which we called Organize for Democracy. At the conclusion of the program, we asked our wonderful participants to write a reflection on their time in the program.
“I’m not really a voter type of person, but hear me out, I think the biggest issue Congress should be talking about right now is UFOs!”
That day, my job was to convince a UFO fanatic from Arizona to exercise his right to vote in one of the closest races in Congress, a race to represent the needs and wants of Arizonians in the Senate. As I thought of past encounters with people who claimed politicians were lizards and Bill Clinton was a Soviet-era communist, I tried to find a positive direction to take the conversation. As the gears in my head spun, a plan started to emerge. I decided that my first step would be to learn more about his interest in UFOs. So, I put on my detective thinking hat and in an unsuccessful attempt at seeming like Sherlock Holmes, I said, “huuuuuuuh that’s really interesting, I’ve never heard that before. How did you become interested in UFOs?”.
Only the light buzz of distant cicadas could be heard from his phone, but after a few seconds, he broke the silence. “I’m kinda busy right now but I’m Native. I was born and raised on a reservation here in Arizona and have lived here basically my whole life. I became interested in UFOs because out here in the deserts they are easy to see. Sometimes I stay up late into the night just watching the lights fly by and I can’t stop wondering what they are. I just know there are aliens out there.”
I was taken aback, his words strangely poetic. Had I judged him too early by mentally labeling him as a crazy person? As I thought some more about what he said, I responded with what I did know.
“Your current Senator is the most qualified person in all of Congress to answer your questions. Senator Mark Kelley is one of the most famous astronauts in American history and has gone to the International Space Station multiple times.”
Another period of silence ensued.
“That’s cool bro, but I’m not really political. Thanks for calling though.”
What! How could he have done this to me? I thought we had been bonding! Shocked at what had just occurred, a rush of adrenaline overtook my body and without thinking I dialed back.
Talking as fast as I could, practically rapping, I said, “I just need another minute of your time”.
As his hesitancy continued, I started with my last ditch effort to persuade him to vote.“He also strongly supports tribal sovereignty. Kelley has worked hard on securing funding for health care for Navajo elders, building the first long-term care facility in the Navajo Nation. He also has advocated for increasing water access to tribal lands and access to high-speed internet.”
“Really? I never knew!” As the man’s voice rose multiple octaves, his excitement piercing through the phone and attitude clearly shifted, he continued. “I’ve been struggling with water access and with climate change I’m scared it’s gonna get worse. Faster WiFi would also be kinda nice.”
The sweat from my palms started to dry. Trying to conceal my excitement, I responded. “Yeah, he’s a really dope guy and he’s running for re-election in a super competitive race, so you can actually make a difference in deciding whether he will get elected or not. Would you be willing to vote for him?”
“Yeah for sure, I’d be down to vote for him. I had no clue there were politicians that actually cared about Native rights and not going to lie, the fact that he was an astronaut is also pretty cool. I wish someone had told me sooner. How do I register?”
I had just completed the holy grail of phone banking, successfully persuading an initially hesitant UFO fanatic to create change in his community through voting. After some more questions about UFOs and his thoughts on alien civilizations, I walked him through the process of registering to vote and the forms of identification needed for election day. After he completed his voter registration, I thanked him for taking the time out of his day to vote and we crossed our fingers that the alien files in Area 51 would be released.
I spent an hour on everyday phone banking. These moments where I was able to educate and inform others about the power of their voice in shaping our democracy, made it all worthwhile because these were the moments, I remembered when I put my phone down.