Friday, November 7, 2008

Catching Up with Barak or Barack

Okay, okay, okay. I KNOW. I start a blog about my name and His Name, and then I not only abandon it but let Election Day pass without comment. What was I thinking? Well, I do have other things on my mind, and while this historic event has been among those most occupying my thoughts, writing about it has been of less import.

But now I'm back. For the last four years, my name has become steadily more noteworthy/time-consuming, and never has it been as much of a, uh, conversation piece as it is now. And I have so much to share. Are you ready?

The Volunteer

Five days before the election, I decided to do some "phone banking" (i.e., make calls) for His Campaign. Given His Landslide Victory, the urgency in that office was in retrospect almost comical ... but hey, that's how He won, right? So, I walk into the Hollywood offices of a firm called Partizan Entertainment (yes, with a Z, just like my last name), where about six people are talking animatedly on phones or to each other. I walk up to the oldest one and announce, realizing as I do so, how ridiculous this sounds: "Hi, my name is Barak Zimmerman, and I'm here to volunteer."

Everyone stops and looks at me, smiles broadening across their features. No one's smiling more than the guy running the show, who says, "Really?" He thinks I'm kidding, but not really, because what a dopey joke that would be. Plus, my sheepish smile makes it clear that I'm serious. Everyone who's not on a call is paying attention. It feels kind of like being a celebrity non-impersonator.

"It's been a long year for you, hasn't it?," he says.


"Is that your real name? I mean, do you have a nickname?"

"No, that's my name. No nickname. I have a blog about it."

"Well, my name's weird too. It's Haze."

"Haze? Is that short for anything?"

"No, it's an old, old family name. Goes back generations."

"Do you have a nickname?

"See? Now I've got you doing it too," he laughs.

The next thing he gets me doing is making calls. No script -- "I don't believe in scripts," he says. The volunteering is sort of meta-volunteering: We're calling people who'd volunteered during the primaries and asking them to staff call centers over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday. I decide to simplify things by calling myself "John." And I do, at first.

But I'd had a beer before arriving, so my usual blinding intelligence is on hiatus. And so it came to pass that by the third successful call (that which yielded a conversation and not voicemail), I forget my alias and begin the call with: "Hi, my name is Barak Zimmerman, and I'm calling you on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign. How are you this evening?"

Naturally, this provokes a response.

And I wish I could tell you what that response was, but by now, I've been dealing with this for so long that they all blend into one another. Except the few I'm writing about.

Let's wrap up the volunteering story: It was fun to re-engage with the process, I was glad to be there, and not all the people I reached even noticed my name. It was a reminder of the accretive power of many tiny acts: As minute as my efforts seemed to be -- I got four people to agree to receive an email telling them where they might volunteer over the last four days of the campaign, and I crossed off a few dead numbers -- it was the collective power of thousands of people doing just such tiny acts that led to victory.

At a certain point, I overheard Haze talking with another person about editing a document. I thought my time might be better used editing than phoning, so I volunteered to lend my skills to improving a message he was planning to send to his loyalists.

The fierce urgency of his now was surprising to me, a reminder of the fervor that campaigns provoke. I recall walking door to door to rally my neighbors in another presidential campaign many years ago. Over the course of weeks, as we attempted to extract every possible vote from our block, I repeatedly disturbed one old recluse who never came to the door but would yell from her second-floor window that she wanted to be left alone.

Undeterred, I'd call back, "But can we count on you to vote next week?"

What a pain I was. And that guy did NOT win. Of course, that guy didn't have the Internet or Shepard Fairey on his side. Or my name.

1 comment:

Richard Ryan said...

Great story! Are you still in touch with Haze?