Thursday, 19 July 2018

Call From Australia

This one’s a little political.

Actually, it’s almost completely political. If you have an interest in US politics, then read on…



That was an actual conversation I had with a voter in California from my living room in Melbourne 5 days before the recent California senate primary.

How is everyone? It’s been a while since my last entry, but some of you will know that I was on crutches for 9 weeks (my calf muscle was torn from my Achilles tendon). I was off work and feeling pretty down. Other than my rehab, I couldn’t really do anything active. Following the news and watching movies was pretty much it. With the Orange One in power, US politics has taken on a whole new significance. Watching The Young Turks, and following the Justice Democrats, I had donated money to all of their candidates, as they are principled and not corrupt, representing the only major cohort of candidates who might actually oppose him on policy (as opposed to being the outrage police), as they’re not owned by corporations. 

I got an email from one of the organisers from California saying that they couldn’t accept money from me as I’m not a US resident, but if I wanted to help, I could volunteer to help on the campaign. California is a little far from Australia for me to knock on doors, but they seemed very happy for me to be on their phone banking team. I thought to myself- well… I’ve got lots of free time… I’ve got hours of free international minutes that I never use.. why not? After all- there are only so many Seinfeld episodes you can watch before you start going stir crazy. [“NO SOUP FOR YOU!!!!” ]

I remember watching a Daily Show sketch about political slacktivism and thinking “you know, Victor- you’re actually as guilty of this as a lot of people”. Expressing outrage and posting memes on Facebook might make you feel better for a moment, but in effect, you’re only reinforcing the views of those who already agree with you, and further entrenching those who don’t. The invitation to phone bank was an opportunity to actually do something constructive, and elect someone who is principled enough to bring about real change to America and the world. It would beat fossilising in front of the TV, anyway. 

[Although- having said that, this one was just too good not to share; my sister was at the anti-Trump protests in London last weekend, and even despite the swearing, I have never been more proud to call London home:


The icing on the cake for me is the timekeeper in-between each chorus shouting "FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!!"]

Now, where was I...? Ah yes-

I met the candidate and her team on their web forums, and got straight into it. I would call for 2-3 hours each morning (evening their time), speaking to voters, encouraging and informing them to come out and vote for my candidate. To be honest- it was varied in terms of how receptive people were. Some people would hang up on you. Others were just not interested, and a minority were just plain rude, and it really affected some of the other members of the team. I didn’t let those episodes bother me, and sent the group some words of encouragement:




However, despite this, a lot of team members didn’t continue with the phone calls. On the other hand, some of the interactions were overwhelmingly positive. I spoke to the incumbents neighbour who couldn’t stand her, and we had a laugh and a joke about that, another voter spoke to me for about half an hour after reassuring me that he had my vote, which was great, but after a while I was thinking “umm… this is nice, but I’ve got about 3million other voters to try and call…!!”

Election day was June 5th. I was due to visit family in London the week after, but at the end of May, the team announced a celebration night on election day. Everyone on the team seemed really friendly and inclusive, so I moved my flight forward, stopping in LA that day, as it would be a great, and possibly the only, opportunity to meet the people that I’d been helping. Now, parties normally have music, so I reached out to Joe, one of the campaign staffers, to see if he would like me to perform that night, and I was pleasantly surprised that he accepted my offer. 

All of a sudden, I was on a plane to LA! I hadn’t been to LA since 2011, but I didn’t expect it to have changed very much, being an overwhelmingly Democratic state. I was still making phone calls to voters on the way to the airport, and told the guy at the car hire company about my candidate “Hey, she sounds like just the kind of person we need- sure, I’ll vote for her!” That was pretty gratifying :D

I drove to the venue before the party started, to set up the sound equipment, but what I saw on the way there was truly disturbing. There’s an area of Downtown LA called Tent City, which I had heard of before, but had never truly appreciated as a real place. It’s real. Very real. Hundreds and hundreds of homeless people living in tents in the middle of the city. I was in shock. I had never seen first world poverty like this. I couldn’t believe I was in the richest state in the richest country in the world. If ever there was a sign of massive wealth inequality, this was it. This is what this new breed of democrat is fighting against. 

I got to the party later that evening and mingled with the team. Despite the tension involved in waiting for the poll results to come in, it was a very warm atmosphere- everyone was again, very friendly and welcoming. But then, when you are all bound by the philosophy that society should provide fair and equal opportunity for everybody, that atmosphere should come as standard. Abby was the coordinator for the phone banking, and it was lovely to meet her, as well as Joe, who was still keen for me to play later on.

The candidates name was Alison Hartson. I’d seen her on TYT and was somewhat familiar with her. She was kind and attentive enough to introduce herself to me as I spoke with her staffers before continuing to do her rounds. Later on, her mother introduced herself to me, and we actually got on really, really well. After about an hour of conversation, I had to physically stop myself from saying “Wow! Your’e so cool- can you be MY mother??” [sorry, mother- no disrespect intended]
Alison joined us and I told her that I’d been making calls fro her from Australia using my american accent [I reenacted the conversation in the video above], which she was eager to hear, and impressed by. I told her that my brother and I learned acting and voices by acting out our favourite cartoons as kids- my californian accent is actually Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michaelangelo is actually my favourite, but his voice is a little too surfer-dude to be mainstream), my southern accent is Cleetus from the Simpsons, my scottish accent is Scrooge McDuck from Duck Tales, etc…

To date, I’ve only met 2 politicians. Alison Hartson and Tony Blair. I had a summer job in a government office in London as a student, and Tony Blair happened to be doing a tour as prime minister [he didn’t come to see me specifically- he would have needed an appointment for that…]. In a lot of ways, Tony Blair is pretty hip for a politician: he speaks french and plays guitar. However, even despite that, it’s very clear that he is part of an elite establishment, having gone to an expensive private school, then law school, then ascended the ranks within a political party that is supposed to represent ordinary working people. In fact, had I not spent 2 years in private school myself, I probably would have found him difficult to relate to. 
Alison was the polar opposite. While it’s clear that she’s educated (she’s an english teacher by profession), she’s very obviously a much more down to earth person that the regular voter can relate to. She’s only 37, has tattoos and a nose piercing. You simply wouldn’t place her as a politician, but then, maybe that’s exactly the reason why she should be in office: the people who are there already are largely failing on policy. And Alison has all the right policies. As part of Justice Democrats her main ethos is rejecting corporate money, enabling her to stand for policies that actually help people.

I told her that in England, I had never paid a medical bill, as we have universal healthcare, and that I never worry about getting shot, and that mainland Europe was even better, with programs like universal daycare and transparent financing of elections. America is suffering as a country, and the current administration was only going to make it worse. I couldn't believe I was telling americans how great life is outside of America.

Later in the night, as the results came in, it became clear that we weren’t going to win, and we were all disappointed, but still proud of the effort and organisation that we had made as a collective. It was a herculean task- the incumbent was deeply entrenched for over 40 years, and spent $8.5M compared to our $330K. My heart went out to Alison, as she had almost literally bankrupted herself in this effort, working 14hours a day every day for 7 months. You only do something like that if you really care about your cause. And she does. Speeches and presentations were made, and in the end, I never actually got to sing, but I didn’t mind, as I’d made some great new friends. 

I had a pretty chilled out time in LA for the next few days. Ordinarily I’d be hitting the salsa clubs every night, but that’s off limits right now. I jammed at a couple of open mic nights, playing my original songs to and with new people, which is always fun :D

I arrived in London to a family dinner with my siblings, niece and nephew. We always get on like house on fire, and it’s only a matter of minutes before the room is filled with laughter whenever we’re together.



The week in London flew by, especially with the World Cup being played- my 9 year old nephew Nathan loves football, and is actually really good at it. I took him to pick up his player of the season award for his club :D





I actually didn’t realise that one of my schoolfriends works as a doctor in Orange County, so I stopped over in LA again on the way back to see him. Hiren and I both did physics, chemistry and biology together before going to medical school, but we hadn’t seen each other in over ten years. He’s married with 4 kids, living in an amazing house in the OC- life is good for him, but he appreciates that for most people in the US, it isn’t. 50% of people make $30,000 per year or less, and 44% of homeless people have a job. It’s the land of the free. If you’re rich. I hardly saw any homeless people when I was working Bavaria last year. And the few that I did see were blatant scammers from overseas [I’m sorry- if you’re wearing nicer clothes than me, you’re not homeless…]



Of course we reminisced about all the craziness we got upto in class, and how surprised we were to have graduated given all the joking we did. We laughed so much, I think we irritated his wife a bit (sorry!). My eyes are puffy in the photo because I spent half the night wiping the tears ways from them- and we didn’t even make it on to the Simpsons quotes… 

In essence, we’re still seventeen. A part of me will always be seventeen. Actually, screw it- most of me will always be seventeen, but I think I can be serious when it’s necessary.



[but only when necessary]

June 26th saw another primary election in New York in which another Justice Democrat , Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was taking on an establishment giant, rightly known as Corrupt Joe Crowley. Alison had the idea that her team in California help out Alexandrias team in New York, and again I agreed to make calls for her. I still wasn’t able to work, as I had only just come off crutches, and was limping quite badly, so it once again made sense to use my time productively. I spent another week churning through phone numbers from my living room in Australia, again enjoying getting americans to believe that I was also american ;) New York was a little tougher, as East Coast people are nothing like as laid back as people in California- at least nobody in California swore at me “I AIN’T VOTIN’ IN NO F@#KIN’ ELECTION!!!!”. Yikes….
Again, I was on the phones for 2-3 hours a day. Abby thanked me for making so many calls, and I explained to her that I don’t see hard work as an obstacle- in fact, in a way, hard work is actually the easiest thing in the world: you have a pile of work in front of you; you do it; it’s done. There’s nothing really to figure out. What is technically difficult is strategising and figuring out a path to success- that’s what the organisers do, and I don’t envy it. I was more than happy to be a foot soldier.

Watching the poll results come in online was nerve-wracking, as it was with Alison, but Alexandria started out with a narrow lead and this grew and grew as the polls closed, and in the end, she won by 15%, which is massive. This sent shock waves through the political landscape, as she had just come from nowhere to knock out the 4th most powerful democrat in the house. This represents real change, and I was thrilled to have been a part of it. Anyone who’s played football with me at school would know that when I celebrate, I don’t hold anything back (if you thought I was running quickly BEFORE scoring the goal….), so naturally the Tardelli celebration had to be done…


[It's the most famous celebration in football]

Alexandria will probably never know that I was on her team, but to be honest, I don’t really care. I just care about progress and having principled people in power who can effect positive change both domestically and globally. I’m hoping that this is just the first step in a long line of progressive victories.

Until the next time.


Victor.

2 comments: