The pandemic put an end to communal call centers filled with high-fiving campaign volunteers.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t form virtual communities online. WhatsApp and Facebook are helping groups stay connected. And Zoom, in particular, has become a crucial tool for training volunteers.
For Josh Soskin, 39, an organizer of a California-based phone bank crew dubbed “Califlornication” — calling Florida voters on behalf of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign — Zoom is important for morale. “Part of my effort has been to try to create the same sense of community among volunteers that might have existed in a physical way during the Obama years,” he said.
Since the first presidential debate last week, volunteers have been flooding in. Soskin has had to prepare a daily training session for new volunteers joining his now 100-person crew. He does this on Zoom. Initially he was hosting live Zoom sessions, but that became exhausting for the filmmaker, who lives with his wife and two kids on California’s Central Coast. So he made a Zoom recording of him training people on Zoom that everyone watches on Zoom. As he noted, it’s very meta.
Then, he makes a few live calls to voters so newbies can get a feel for the system and dialing software. He stays on Zoom afterward with the chat open for anyone to voice concerns or issues while the volunteers start phoning. The chat is also for celebrating great calls. Same goes for a terrible call. During a phone banking session, Zoom is on the entire time (with callers typically muted). “I think it’s pretty amazing,” Soskin said of the video platform.
Of course, with so many people on a Zoom call at a time, he’s seen firsthand its shortcomings: “Zoom is not good at multiple people talking over each other.” For a training like his, with only one speaker talking at a time, however, it’s perfect, he says. Usually he takes advantage of the “mute all” feature: If someone wants to speak, they can raise a virtual hand or give other nonverbal feedback.
On an even bigger level, groups like Vote Save America are harnessing the organizing power of Zoom to train and pump up thousands of volunteers at a time. Back in June, a phone-banking training session with guest politician Stacey Abrams brought in nearly 10,000 Zoom attendees.
Attending a vote save America organizing meeting on Zoom. More than 10,000 attendees! We can do this, and the training makes it easy to get out the vote, no matter how anxious you may feel. Go for it. This is our country!
— lmepeete (@lmepeete) June 5, 2020
It’s not just Democratic groups that rely on Zoom for training. Trainings to use the GOP’s Red Dialer phone-banking tool are almost always held online through a Zoom session. Everyone is making calls separately from home, but group trainings show how to set up the calling system.
As seen in many Facebook events for phone banking, training sessions often share a Zoom link to get started, like this event Wednesday for volunteers in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland.
It’s not just phone banking. Letter-writing campaigns are also in full swing, particularly through the group Vote Forward. Volunteers join together on Zoom calls, where they hang out, write letters, and occasionally chat and check in — to make it more social. Scheduling a Zoom call also encourages volunteers to set aside a time to write the letters, even if they stay on mute with or without video on.
Using Zoom to rally and motivate volunteers often means just leaving it on in the background. It’s probably the best use of Zoom yet.