On Saturday I spent two and a half hours phone banking for the upcoming elections, and I did not come away feeling like I’d done my duty as a citizen. Using my personal phone (which still has a Los Angeles County area code), I sat in a musty room of a public library in Chicago and called dozens upon dozens of numbers in southwest Michigan to inform voters about the application process for an absentee ballot.

Logged into a voter database, I clicked through number after number after number. A full seven out of every 10 numbers I called were disconnected. Of those that were working numbers 75% didn’t answer, and I was instructed to not leave messages. Of the very few instances where an actual human being answered the phone, many reported that I’d dialed a wrong number. One thought I was a bill collector.

One: that was the final tally of people I reached with whom I got through the call script about the absentee ballot. One. It did not feel like meaningful citizen engagement.

I just read Eitan Hersh’s Politics Is For Power, and I badly want to be less of a hobbyist and more of an engaged participant in the current election cycle, but, man, this kind of activity feels demoralizing, not engaging.

Maybe my expectations of what “engaged” means are too romantic. Maybe musty public library rooms and outdated call lists are the stuff of a vigorous democracy.

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