Mom said: ‘I want to vote in this election’

14th Oct 2020

At age 87, my mother had not voted in years. So, a couple of weeks ago when she told me and my sister Peaches that she wanted to vote in the upcoming general election, I was glad to go online and register her.

I recalled the 1970s, when as a single mother she raised four children on her own at a time when women had few rights and fewer avenues in the workplace. Jobs were scarce in our new hometown of Flagstaff, but she found work as a hostess at Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant and often would bring home its famous hamburgers.

She would take me with her when she voted, underscoring the importance of participating in our democracy. Her strong work ethic was of similar conviction.

One day, I remembered how excited she was when, after several previous attempts, she finally passed the employment exam for the phone company. She was hired as a switchboard operator, which meant I usually could get ahold of my mom instantly simply by dialing "O" on the phone. At a time before cellphones, this was a big deal for a little kid.

We were poor. There really is no other way to put it. Although every penny counted, Mom still joined the union and gladly paid her union dues because she believed in worker rights, collective bargaining and employee grievance representation.

I remember her taking me to hear a certain union leader speak in 1972. I was 11 years old. From a union hall in East Flagstaff, the union leader even got up on the back of a flatbed truck to make his point. His name was Cesar Chavez.

I was mesmerized. Here was somebody who looked like me (or maybe I looked like him) who quietly but powerfully spoke about fair wages for honest work, decent working and living conditions, and the right to unionize in an anti-union state. He was calling for a boycott on lettuce in support of farmworkers. And people listened, including me. A somewhat dramatic kid, I used to do a pretty comical, on-demand Cesar Chavez impression: “Don’t eat lettuce. Your tacos are still good without them.” The routine was comicial, but the message was not.

My mom was a pioneer of sorts. She was among the first women to work in the phone company's supply yard, a hold-out bastion of unapologetic and unfettered machismo in the form of telephone repair guys. On her first day, she was greeted with a supply office full of pornographic magazines and pin-ups. A modest yet undeterred woman, she simply boxed up everything and left a note for all the men to see: “If any of these magazines are yours, claim them today because tomorrow they go in the trash.” Nobody claimed them.

The men came to love her and her ability to get them what they needed in terms of supplies, including when necessary reminding them they were forgetting their lunch before they left the yard. "Really, men are just grown little boys," she once said.

The woman who years before had repeatedly flunked her driver’s test (she never tested well) would go on to learn how to drive stick shift and a fork lift. Failure was never an option, with my mom performing as many or more miracles as Mother Teresa in finding ways to somehow make ends meet for her family through love, hard work and prayer.

She later became a union steward and then a union officer. Although she didn’t finish high school, she graduated in becoming president of the Communications Workers of America union for Northern Arizona. The distinction of never having lost a union grievance against a manager or the company still stands today. She said the key was always doing her "homework."

I asked her once, in addition to always doing her "homework," what was her “secret weapon.” She quickly responded it’s no secret; it’s called “integrity” – and it’s there in the open for all to see, but it’s also there when nobody is looking. She was big on integrity.

As a longtime journalist, as a public policy researcher/author/communicator, as a teacher, as a worker, as a volunteer board member, as a friend/neighbor/family member, as a person, I’ve tried to always abide by that “secret weapon," in addition to doing my "homework," of course.

Our family could always depend on my mom, who was fortunate enough to retire from the phone company more than 25 years ago. As she grew frail and more vulnerable, I welcomed her into my home to care for her as she once had cared for us. I didn't want her to live alone.

As she advanced in age, she wasn’t as plugged into current events and politics like she was before. Somewhere along the way she quit voting.

Fast-forward to 2020, and Mom declared she was ready to vote again in what rightfully is being called the most important election in our lifetime.

“We’re so proud of you,” my sister told my mom. I had the distinct honor of registering to vote this lovely person, mother of seven children and grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother of so many more.

Her ballot arrived by mail the other day, along with my own. But her ballot won’t be completed or mailed back. With her integrity fully intact, Virginia Garcia passed on Oct. 6, the day before early voting began and ballots were mailed out.

Although she won't be voting, saddened but resolved I pledge in her name that my mail ballot will be filled out, signed, sealed and delivered.

I ask you to make a similar pledge for someone special in your life – past, present or future – and make sure you vote in this important election.

Democracy must live on. Families are counting on us.


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