ST. LOUIS, Mo. - "You really made my day," said the voice on the other end of the phone, from Austin, Texas. "I'm so happy to hear from you guys." He was on his way to the South by Southwest music festival, but paused long enough to talk to a phonebanker.
That was a typical response from the coast-to-coast call to 1,500 new members of the Communist Party USA and Young Communist League on March 19. All had joined the CPUSA or YCL online recently, and some were getting their first contact.
"It was a great reception. People really want to be a part of the Communist Party," said Jonathan, one of the phone bankers. "Several people were very excited and said, 'I was wondering when someone was going to call me.'"
"The positive response from so many was very uplifting," said Zenobia Thompson. "I look forward to doing this regularly."
The calls were made using a predictive dialer system typically used in election campaigns. Members were asked if they wanted to renew their membership, update their contact info, sign up for the CPUSA's or its press's email lists and pay membership dues or make a financial contribution.
"This is a historic event for us," Roberta Wood, CPUSA Secretary-Treasurer, told the phone bankers during a break. "I don't think even a few years ago we could have pictured the Communist Party calling around the country on an automatic dialer system."
The national call is one of several initiatives the CPUSA is taking to bolster contact with its membership. Lack of contact was in fact the biggest complaint of the new members. Many live in areas that are isolated or don't have a party organization. Getting a call meant a lot.
"What people are concerned about most is how to get involved and we can help," said Tony Pecinovsky, CPUSA organizer for the Missouri-Kansas district. "People were a little concerned about not being contacted as quickly as we would like."
"I spoke with a lot of young people who had signed up on the CPUSA website and were really excited to be having their first conversation with an actual member," said Noah Toler. "Mainly people were interested in what the Party was thinking about this or that issue."
Many were already active with the Party and YCL locally, in their unions, or through local struggles. A lot expressed enthusiasm for developments in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and the protest wave sweeping the country. They were happy to know the Party and YCL were deeply involved in the fight.
"A lot of people were very happy to hear what we were doing," said Janet Edburg, another phonebanker. "One member was so excited about what was happening in Wisconsin I thought he was going to jump out of the phone!"
The new members joining are one of several indicators of Party and YCL growth. It's all part of the explosion in activism and rapidly changing thinking among the American people. A recent Rasmussen Poll shows 11 percent of adults think communism is a better political system than capitalism. That's roughly 15 million Americans.
"Three people told me they previously had more conservative views. But since the economy has gone south for working people, they are starting to latch on to different ways of looking at things," said Earl Clay. "This indicates to me the country is going through a metamorphosis and more people want to do things to change the direction of things."
In a conversation with a member, Edburg described her activism in building a movement for jobs and against budget cuts to home energy assistance and community block grant programs.
"We'll be marching Friday. We're going to keep on marching and keep on fighting," she told the member who in turn told Edburg how good it felt to hear from her and the Party. "It makes me feel good just to talk to you too," she said.
Image: Noah, a CPUSA member, makes calls. John Bachtell/PW