LOS ANGELES — For the past two months, a group of artists and art professionals in Los Angeles have been leading weekly phone banking sessions in support of the Biden / Harris presidential ticket. Formed by Los Angeles-based artists Barnett Cohen, Ellen Schafer, Tanya Brodsky, Katherine Aungier, and curator Ceci Moss, the group is called “Artists for Biden/Harris,” and is focused on training art workers across the country to make calls encouraging others to vote in the most consequential election of our lifetimes. The organizers all had experience previously campaigning for Bernie Sanders, but have since thrown their support behind the current Democratic nominee.
“All of us were really committed Bernie supporters,” said Cohen, “but the rubber hits the road and we have to stop this guy [Trump] from winning or stealing the election.”
The group has held weekly two-hour training and phone banking events over Zoom, and is making a three-day push with sessions Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Election Day. First-time phone bankers will get training on a script to follow and software to use before making calls, with organizers providing online help via chat should problems arise. Cohen estimates that a couple of hundred people have participated so far, with as many as 50 people logging on at the same time.
Every session has participants calling a new destination, generally in a swing state, like Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, or Texas, with the script varying based on local races and issues. Cohen says most of the calls are hang-ups or go to voicemail, with a smaller amount reaching Biden or Trump supporters. “Then, occasionally, there are undecided voters,” he said. “They are real, they exist. It reminds me how small my bubble is.”
He says their goal is not to get bogged down in debates and worry about “converting” people, but make each call quickly and politely — otherwise, “that’s 15 minutes you lost when you could have been reminding a Democrat to vote.”
“We approach these conversations with a great degree of compassion and empathy,” explained Moss. “For some people, we may be the only Democrats they’ve talked to in a while. Having powerful conversations with people can have a huge difference.”
Many artists and others in creative fields have been questioning how they can apply their skills to engage with current social and cultural upheavals, from pandemic relief, to movements for social justice, and voter engagement. For Cohen, the link between artists and activism lies in a kind of radical imagination.
“You’re going to find people with the most potential for imagining a new future among artists and activists,” he said.
Moss sees the current situation as an existential dilemma, one that affects everyone, but one that has the beginnings of change in political action.
“If we don’t have healthcare, artists can’t make work. If we don’t address climate change, if we don’t address racial injustice, we won’t be able to live and make work,” she said. “These are structural problems, they need real policy changes. The only way that happens is with Biden and Harris, and Democrats in the House and Senate. That’s a prerequisite for people to survive as people, and as people who make art.”
The last two phone banking sessions with “Artists for Biden/Harris” are Monday, November 2, 12–2pm (PST) and Tuesday, November 3, 12–2pm (PST). Sign up here.