How to Build Phone Zaps: Getting People to Call

How to Build Phone Zaps: Getting People to Call
Milwaukee IWOC

This goes through one process for getting other people to make a quick wellness check for someone on hunger strike, or who is otherwise facing retaliation for collective organizing. The goal is to provide outside support, and also try to mobilize people who are not previously involved in IWOC work, to try to grow capacity. If you have feedback on this training resource or questions, contact us at

1) Make a verbal pitch for an IWOC phone zap at some event. Recently I’ve done this as the mass lecture against Mass Incarceration, GDC meeting, IWW general membership meeting, IWW at UWM meeting. It’s not too different in different context. I say that IWOC is the part of the IWW that supports prisoners organizing, that we communicate a lot with people to find out what people’s problems and demands are, and then try to support them. Explain about the specific phone zap happening now, why it’s morally compelling. For the most recent one, I said “Cody Long at Waupun prison is on hunger strike, he is one of the indigenous prisoners being extorted by both gangs and guards. We’re organizing a phone zap for a wellness check, where multiple people call the prison and ask how he’s doing. The Wisconsin prison system deals with hunger strikes by force feeding and brutality. Prisons aren’t used to people caring, so hearing from people can reduce retaliation.”

2) Circulate a clipboard with paper, asking for people’s name and phone number. Say that people interested in taking 2 minutes to do a wellness check should put down their info, and we’ll text them the number to call and sample script.

3) Within 24 hours of people signing up for this, send a followup text. The one for the most recent phone zap I did was:
“I’m following up for the phone call to the prison that I talked about today, to support the hunger strike and oppose extortion by guards. Call Waupun prison at 920-324-5571, dial 0 to speak to front desk. Sample script “I’m calling to do a wellness check on Cody Long, DOC number 558710. What is his physical condition?” They’ll probably transfer you to medical or social worker, repeat message. They likely won’t give you info, but they record how many people call-in, and support reduces retaliation. Do you need more info? Can you make the call tomorrow? After you call, can you text me and say how it went? [My First Name]”

4) Some people will do the call based on this info, some people won’t do it at all, some people will need a reminder to either make the call or to text you back. Occasionally people will have questions before they feel comfortable making the call, but that’s not too common. If I send the text in step 3 on Monday night, then Tuesday noon I will do a reminder text to everyone who hasn’t yet gotten back to me, something like “Did you get a chance to call yet? How did it go?”

I don’t tend to do more reminders than this, if someone needs more than one reminder to do something that they volunteered to do yesterday, they’re probably not going to do this without a lot more support than I have time to do for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean we write off those people forever–maybe they’re flaky, maybe they are finding the phone zap thing more stressful than they anticipated, maybe they need more contact to be invested, there may be other asks that are better for them–but it’s not a great sign if people aren’t following up on the one thing we know they volunteered for, so I’m going to focus more time on following up with people who have done that one thing. I think having some IWOC thing that’s not a huge time commitment and that’s verifiable if they do it or not can be useful. Over several years there have been a fair number of people who will do a one-on-one, or come to a meeting, and will be interested, will say they’ll do stuff, and not follow through, often because they overcommit to multiple campaigns, or multiple groups, and don’t manage time well.. There’s no way to avoid this happening, but if we followup with people who have shown that they will complete something they volunteer for, it’s a good first step.

5) When people text back with details for how the call went, thank them for doing it. Positive reinforcement is useful. Usually they’ll just say that they talked to someone or left a message

6) After the cycle at which people will probably make calls has passed, look through your texts, and see who made the call. Go to the Phone Zap Record spreadsheet (Internal IWOC–Fights).
Note the prison that was called, the reason for called, how the phone zap was organized, the name of each person who confirmed they called, and the total number of calls. Recording this will be useful for evaluating effectiveness of the phone zap, being able to later tell these people how it went, and in knowing who we can draw on for future calls.

7) If they’re a new contact, enter their names and phone numbers in the Phone Zap Record subtab, People Who Call.

8) Open the door to future involvement with people who did the call, if they’re not already connected to IWOC. I pass on this step if I know that someone is super involved in other IWW organizing, and legitimately doesn’t have time for much more involvement than a phone zap. For everyone else, though, it’s worth asking them if there’s more kinds of activity they’d be interested in doing, there are many people who are, if we ask them. Often at this stage giving tools to find out more information is useful. For the Cody Long phone zap, the next day I put together an open google drive folder, and sent a followup text to everyone that had done the phone zap:
“Thank you again for doing the phone zap recently for Cody Long. Here’s a link to more general information on conditions in the Waupun prison. Do you want to get more involved with support for prisoner organizing? Writing letters, research, data entry, transcription, spreading phone zap, other activities?”
The link in this case goes to a subfolder I made, copying information from the Toolkit–Research on Waupun (something written by an outside volunteers, plus some info and maps that came from fellow workers inside) as well as the Dying to Live Campaign Post-Mortem. Try to use information we’ve already gathered, make available if needed, there can be a steep learning curve for IWOC work, and giving this stuff makes people more

9) If they say they’re interested in doing more, you can send them the Help the Work Along Form, or text to find a specific task they’d want to do, or setup a one-on-one to talk more. It depends on your availability and your read on what seems best, and what exactly they’re saying. In whatever format, give them something tangible and useful to do, have there be a specific deadline, and followup with them to make sure they’ve done it. If they’re saying they want to do more, we should give them slightly bigger tasks.

10) If they followup on that task and they haven’t yet had a one-on-one, set one up for that, with you if you have time, another IWOC member if you don’t. From that conversation, get a better sense of what motivates them to do this kind of work, what their availability and skillset is, how much time they will be able to give. Answer questions they have about IWOC, strategize with them on stuff that would be most useful to do. Find out what their level of investment is going to be

This is kind of a lot, but the advantage is that there’s somewhat of a filter–if people only have a passing interest in getting involved they won’t sign up for a phone zap, if they’re really unreliable they will sign up for a phone zap and not do it, and we’re only spending about 30 seconds saving their number and copy-pasting two text messages. And we spend more time with people who are at least doing something.

Time commitment:
*Preparing information for phone zap: 10-20 minutes
*Making the pitch for phone zap at an event, passing around sign up sheet: 1-2 minutes. (good not to talk too long)
*Enter all new phone numbers into your phone: about 20 seconds per number
*Designing the script to text people: 5-10 minutes. (Make sure all the necessary info is in correctly, there aren’t typos, try not to ramble or include any info that absolutely doesn’t need to be there)
*Text the message to the first person, then copy-paste this to everyone else who signed up for this task: about 6 people per minute
*Do secondary text reminder, copy-paste: about 6 people per minute
*Thanking people who made the call: a few second per person
*Designing open google drive subfolder for followup: 10 minutes
*Writing text for “Want to Do More?”: 5 minutes
*Copy pasting followup to people who made call, 20 seconds per number
*Followup texting with people to assign them a task or followup from Help the Work Along Form: 20-40 minutes (spread out over days or weeks)
*Texting to set up one-on-one, confirm day and time that works: 10-20 minutes (spread out over days sometimes)
*One-on-one conversation with someone: 45-90 minutes, plus travel time

Conditions in the Wisconsin prison  system need to change.