A loud hum arose from a Santa Monica storefront crammed with folding tables and chairs where actors, producers, lawyers, moms with babies, marketing executives, retirees and teenagers doggedly worked the phones for Hillary Clinton in the waning days of the election.
Anxious or optimistic but mostly determined to stop Donald Trump from winning the presidency, the energy in the room on the Sunday before the election was palpable.
“Stop calling Wisconsin! You’re calling Nevada!” instructed a volunteer leader in a checked overshirt, addressing a table of volunteers.
Many of them came from Hollywood. Dawn Hudson, the CEO of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, was hunkered down on a folding chair in one corner calling undecideds in Florida. She got a rude Trump supporter, but moved on.
Earlier in the day television producer Tommy Schlamme and his wife, actress Christine Lahti, were on the phone banks as was Peter Horton, the television director and actor.
Stewart Levine, a record producer, hadn’t planned to volunteer for Hillary in this cycle, but after FBI director James Comey dropped his email bomb last week, he jumped in.
“I think he’s a madman,” he said, referring to Trump. “There’s never been a more obvious choice ever in the history of our country – he’s unqualified, he’s unfit for office. And I think anyone who’s voting for him is potentially suicidal.”
Levine, who calls himself a “radical” from way back, admitted that he sometimes got so upset he’d go off script – and into arguments.
The intensity of the campaign’s final days was evident everywhere as people shouted to be heard, and stepped over each other to find a nook to make their calls.
On one wall a big, hand-lettered sign said “Madam President,” while another demarcated the “Texting Center.” Phone calls were for the over-30 demographic. Millenials were being reached via text, a new thing in this cycle.
“We call all the battleground states,” said Melissa Grant, who co-chairs the volunteer center. “We are texting and phone banking – Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan – you name it.
“We are the number one staging location in the whole state,” she went on. “We are doing two or three times any other location in terms of calls. At this stage the aim is to get the vote out. We call Hillary supporters and confirm they’re going to vote, and we walk them through a plan. The science says if someone thinks about how they’re going to vote, if they need a babysitter, have to talk to their boss, they’re more likely than not to vote.”
Sean Sendelsky, an IT guy and sometimes-actor, was calling Florida. “When you get a Hillary supporter it’s pretty easy. Some people are on the fence, you can use your own argument. If it’s a Trump supporter you just move on to the next one – there’s no argument.”
Jennifer Kashdan, a marketing specialist, was fried after eight hours of working the phone banks – she said she thought she turned one undecided voter in all that time.
“I’m really exhausted. I’m really nervous,” she said. “I didn’t get in touch with as many people as I’d liked.”
She was particularly depressed after talking to a 21-year-old Latino man who she said was “very gung-ho” for Trump. “So I said, I can’t help but see that you’re Latino – It’s hard for me to understand how you’ll benefit from a President Trump. And he said, ‘I guess that’s a chance I’m gonna take,'” she recalled.
There were kids also making calls. One particularly poised 14-year-old took on Trump voters and rebutted them point by point.
And then when the news that came in the middle of the day that Comey had told Congress there were no plans to file charges against Clinton – a big cheer arose from the room. The already-intense energy began to rise to a fever pitch, along with a growing sense that things were definitively turning Clinton’s way.
“We’re very, very optimistic. We feel very good about what’s going to happen. … We know that, we feel it. With this kind of ground game, it’s hard to feel otherwise,” said Grant.
Said Levine: “I think we’re going to win, but the main thing is that we trounce him. He’s a bully and the main thing is to beat him beat him beat him. I’m not concerned with winning, I’m concerned with how badly he loses.”