Friday, November 21, 2008

"Going Rogue" In California

The  just published a story on the California Obama campaign's massive GOTV phone bank effort. It's a great read about a largely unknown aspect of Obama's GOTV effort. But for those of us who were in the middle of the whirlwind, it's profoundly weird reading an "objective" account about something we knew so intimately. I especially got a kick out this passage:

By late September, the nascent phone bank operation already had 100 locations and was outgrowing the available lists from Nevada. Burning through call sheets almost before they could be printed, the operation was confronted with its own worst nightmare, a willing army, staring at their own phones, and no voters to call. By early October, the boiler-room operation was 'going rogue', staying up all night cutting voter file lists from battleground states, obtained without the consent of Chicago, and divvying them up to idle phone banks around the state. (Those lists came by way of Obama state staffers, who had originally been trained in -- California).

We were in the middle of this. By "we" I mean the Region 4 (Central Coast to Orange County) phone banks. My co-Regional Field Organizer, Mike Bonin, and I were responsible for the CD36 phone banks that ran under the direction of Aaron Schiller, the Region 4  Field Director, and one of the few paid Obama staffers in California.

When it became clear one weekend that Nevada was unable to provide Region 4 with enough call lists, and we were in danger of sending hundreds of volunteers home, Aaron, along with Amy Amsterdam, our Regional Data Director (and an unpaid volunteer) worked their contacts in North Carolina and New Mexico to get us lists.

It was a huge risk on their part. At the time, Chicago hadn't signed off on California calling any battleground states outside Nevada and New Mexico. If the program had backfired - if the lists were cut wrong, data didn't get entered, or if anyone caught on before we could prove what had been kludged together could work on a massive scale - Aaron could have lost his job and Amy could have been kicked off the campaign. We hid everything we did, even going so far as mis-categorizing our battleground state calls as "volunteer recruitment" calls in the nightly reports sent to Chicago.

But what they came up with did work, and it fundamentally changed the way the Obama campaign ran it's ground game. By literally becoming the nation's phone bank, California allowed battleground states to free up their resources to put boots on the ground for voter registration, canvassing, GOTV and early voting.

Our little congressional district was a huge part of this. In the last 4 days leading up to Election Day, we had over 1,500 volunteers who made 152,224 phone calls to the battleground states of New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.

No small debt of gratitude goes out to Aaron and Amy, who made this happen.

Amy Amsterdam and Aaron Schiller

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