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Bemidji volunteers use phone lines to fight marriage amendment

Candy Roberts-Salter makes a phone call to a potential voter Tuesday evening at Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship as part of Minnesotans United for All Families’ Bemidji Vote No! Conversation Drive. BRIAN MATTHEWS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI — With the 2012 elections just 68 days away, local volunteers continue to make calls in hopes of defeating the amendment that would ban same-sex couples from marrying in Minnesota.

“We are going to plant a seed in the head of whoever we call tonight,” volunteer Jini Block said at the Minnesotans United for All Families Bemidji Vote No! Conversation Drive Tuesday night at Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

The phone banks have been a weekly occurrence in Bemidji since May, held every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. Minnesotans United for All Families North Central Community Organizer Arielle Schnur said the drives have been well-attended and she hopes that having college back in session will only increase volunteer participation.

Tuesday’s session had 12 volunteers, ranging from first-time callers to seasoned veterans like Candy Roberts-Salter, a volunteer who has participated in numerous phone banks over the summer.

“I’ve actually enjoyed it enough to keep coming back,” Roberts-Salter said. “My partner and I were so thrilled to hear that Minnesotans United were setting up an office here, because we just didn’t know what to do other than to throw money at organizations down in the Cities.”

Roberts-Salter has been with her same-sex partner for 15 years. Their children are just entering school full time and are starting to question how their family compares to their friends’ families.

“We are really concerned that they hear the same positive message about their family because we can’t get married,” Roberts-Salter said. “They have to be able to hear the same message and all those people who don’t believe in it don’t have to, but they need to allow those of us who do the same opportunity.”

In addition to volunteers like Roberts-Salter, there are plenty of first-time callers attending each session. Before they start dialing, Block walks them through the process, explaining the various types of people they will encounter.

A ranking system from one to five is used, with ones being the people who will definitely vote no (supporting gay marriage) and fives being the ones who are going to vote for the amendment to pass, banning gay marriage.

It is not the ones or the fives that the callers are focused on; it is those in between who volunteers are hoping to sway. During each call session, volunteers are asked to make 50 phone calls, having at least eight conversations.

Block said that of all the phone banks held, volunteers have been successful in moving 25 percent of the persuadable voters.

Whether or not the efforts are enough to get the amendment voted down is unknown, but for callers like Roberts-Salter, it seems to be working.

“I really believe it is,” Roberts-Salter said. “My partner and I have said for years, what makes a difference is people getting to know us and this is the first step for a lot of people of being able to have that conversation with a gay or lesbian person or even just talking more openly about an issue that they have to do something about.”