Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agree With Us and the Calls Will Stop

After yesterday, will have to change its card that reads, “This gay pride month, lets dream of a day when New York and California are as progressive as Iowa and Maine.” I am thrilled to see that my home state has, at long last, joined the right side of history and civil rights. This is an inspiring watershed moment, and it is made more satisfying for me personally by the thought that it may signify the end of a long series of aggravating robocalls I’ve been received.

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of times at which the phone in my home office rang, and before I am able to complete the word “hello” a recorded voice announces that it is the National Organization for Marriage calling with a brief survey. “Are you registered to vote in New York State?” it asks. And having been confused by the abruptness and lack of instruction the first time or two, I paused awkwardly before tentatively speaking the word “yes” into the receiver. “Do you agree,” the recording then continues, “that only marriage between one man and one woman should be legal in New York State?” Again I paused at first, this time wondering why the tone of the recorded voice seemed so cavalier, so evidently expectant of an affirmative response. Had they gotten my number confused with that of some archconservative they were trying to rally? I thought this to myself as I answered no.

“Thank you for your time and views,” said the robot, followed by silence. Generally, I expect a serious survey to consist of more than one opinion question, so it took me a long moment after the first call to realize that the machine was then no longer speaking to me. It didn’t even have the courtesy to say goodbye. It must have been quite disappointed with my response.

The day after the first call, I got another, which was absolutely identical. I shrugged, imagining that some hiccup in their system must have caused the auto-dialer to fail to recognize that my number had already been called. I answered the two questions the same as I had before, but more quickly, and hung up feeling perhaps ignobly gratified by the fact that my answer had counted twice. After three or four more repetitions of the same call, however, I began to wonder whether this was being done by design. Was the National Organization for Marriage perhaps only counting the yes votes, and giving the others unlimited chances to change their minds? Did they think that by bothering me repeatedly, and seeing to it that the machine typically called at least twice on a given day, they would wear me down and get me to answer yes just in the hope that the calls would stop thereafter, or that the survey would continue and give me a chance to speak to someone, and complain?

Perhaps I’m being silly and conspiratorial. It may well be that they were just using an extremely poorly designed system. But if they were trying to prompt a reversal, they had quite the opposite effect. My no vote became louder, firmer, and angrier each time. I considered trying to register my recorded response as “absolutely not, you callous, homophobic bastard,” or something along those lines.

I’m not the only one who experienced this ridiculous repetition, and it’s fun to think that it is a deliberate stratagem on the part of the National Organization for Marriage, because it would be indicative of both their stunningly narrow worldview and their desperation in the face of the increasing momentum of social change. I imagine a person assigned to review the recordings each morning playing back the denials of their position and reacting with disbelief that the weight of popular opinion is so firmly against them. “This must be a mistake,” I hear him saying each time he hears my voice or another speaking the word “no.” “He doesn’t sound gay. He must have misunderstood the question. Call him back.” Or else I imagine him deleting the record of numerous denials of their viewpoint, eagerly tallying up the statements of agreement, whether genuine or false, and starting the process over again in the morning, hoping that soon it will add up to an adequately manipulated show of agreement so as to justify their assertion that they are the ones being repressed, to indicate that the tyranny of an outspoken minority makes appropriate Bishop Joseph Mattera’s statement: “We look at it like we’re the victims.”

The National Organization for Marriage may not have put as much forethought into their campaign as I am imagining. They may not have conceived of the robocalls as harassment, and the constant repetition may have been little more than a technical flaw. But whether by design or not, it paints a fair picture of the inability of conservative evangelicals and regressive traditionalists to process other points of view. And whether they pestered me by design or purely by accident, I am hopeful that now that gay marriage is legal in New York State, these calls will come to an end. I am less hopeful about the end of the bigotry and ignorance underlying them.

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