When I was 7, I sat cross-legged on my living room floor, my eyes glued to the television as I watched the president of the United States vehemently deny having sexual relations with a White House intern. I was both mesmerized and confused.
I didn’t comprehend the big picture then, but my dramatic introduction into politics in many ways shaped my distrust in politicians and my life. Shortly after, my family experienced its own run-in with my father’s infidelity, and as my impressionable mind developed, my values and goals contorted through a male-dominated society.
My mother, a hard-working Pollyanna, tirelessly tried to motivate, educate, and provide for me. A fiscally conservative, environmental activist and humanitarian at heart, she often painted a picture of the world, in which we were making steady social progress. Around age 10, I proclaimed to my then Republican military single mom that I was a Democrat, and we would debate our nation’s political and social priorities.
Despite our differing political views, my mom always lead by example, showing me what it meant to fight uphill battles in her Army career, in single parenting, and in each of her humanitarian causes. Her moral compass firmly pointed North, and she dedicated her life working towards the greater good, leaving behind impossibly big career footsteps to follow.
When I was 18, my mom volunteered to do a tour in Afghanistan, largely motivated by a desire to promote peace, and to better understand the Troops she was in charge of deploying and ensuring they received proper medical care when they returned. While there, she coordinated numerous humanitarian missions aimed to prevent war by giving the Afghan people hope. By the time she landed back on U.S. soil, she was a retired U.S. Army Colonel, who had served over 32 years as a nurse, a MedEvac helicopter pilot, and a senior medical advisor.
Her identity had been shaped by the military, her strict sense of order, her exercise routines, and her purpose. But she quickly refocused her energy on a graduate studies program at Arizona State University, and we became campus coffee buddies as we got congruent degrees in Sustainability.
As the years progressed, and I found my own calling in international development with an emphasis on women’s and children’s rights, my mother and I morphed into great friends. She would visit me wherever my work would take me and we would embark on annual adventures like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking to Machu Picchu, and hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail.
Meanwhile, each job I took on, was met with an insurmountable barrier in the form of a powerful man, abusing his power. Each time I encountered this obstacle, it almost seemed to reoccur as a challenge I was meant to defeat in order to move on.
The final straw happened in New York, in the midst of the 2016 presidential election. Something stirred within me when I heard the voice of the GOP nominee for president bragging about sexually assaulting women, and again when I heard his inauguration speech filled with nationalist rhetoric.
I flashed through a slideshow of profound moments from my own memories. It began with my living room in 1997, as I watched Bill Clinton publically humiliate his wife, degrade one of the most prestigious leadership roles in the world, and distort morality and sex for a generation of youth coming of age. I then watched as politicians and media outlets downplayed Trump’s crude and inappropriate remarks as “locker room talk.” All the while, facing my own form of harassment at my job, and being reminded of my own sexual assaults that occurred at age 14, 18 and 22. This explosive combination of trauma triggered something in me that I didn’t expect.
I quit my job, sublet my Manhattan apartment and embarked on a two-month-long soul-searching backpacking extravaganza around Asia. I returned to the U.S. refreshed but with different priorities. My 10-year plan of getting a job at UNICEF and working my way around the world, learning cultures and languages, focused on global human rights issues was no longer at the forefront of my mind. I felt a new sense of urgency to focus on creating positive social change in my own country. So I turned my travel and lifestyle blog hobby into a digital storytelling business aimed at promoting human rights and sustainability, and I decided #vanlife was the perfect way to achieve this goal. My mom quickly agreed to help me make this dream a reality, and we converted a cargo van into my new mobile home.
As we awkwardly measured, sawed and screwed together the bed frame in the van, my mom pitched the idea of running for office to me. I laughed and we joked about using the van as a campaign vehicle. A few months later, her decision was finalized and we began collecting signatures to get her name on the ballot for the Arizona House of Representatives.
I was hesitant at first, but did my best to be supportive. I feared that she would lose and feel as lost as she did when she came home from Afghanistan, or worse, that she would win, and politics would be the thing that finally burst her idealistic view of the world.
Despite my hesitation, I agreed to help out on the campaign for a few months to get her started and then again right before the election. As I tagged along to house parties and events, introducing my mom, I realized that she was the perfect political candidate. Not because she is a polished politician, but because she is precisely the opposite.
My mom has always been my personal hero, a beacon of moral courage, and fiercely persistent; but those were not qualities I thought lent themselves well to politics. In fact, I felt strongly, that her good intentions would be better spent on other endeavors. She is virtually incorruptible, straight as an arrow, deeply compassionate, a skilled critical thinker with a solutions-oriented mind, and her authenticity and impressive background were resonating with people.
I had never been political before my mom’s campaign, despite my abundance of opinions on social issues, and attendance at various social protests and marches. I voted in presidential elections, because I had the nagging sense that it was my moral responsibility, but I never felt like MY vote truly counted. Furthermore, I rarely voted in midterm elections, and I certainly did not research all my candidates. I had viewed most politicians as machines, some slightly more oiled than others. In many ways, I thought politics were pointless. A lost cause, dominated by egotistical privileged men.
As my mom and I made our way around the rural district that spanned a 5-hour drive across shifting Arizona terrains and covered 36 townships and cities, the more energized I became. I knocked on doors in small towns of 500 people and less, walked the lively streets of Flagstaff, and met voters of all ages, genders, races, religions and political affiliations with shared visions for social progress and a strong sense of hope.
Two months turned into four, and I eventually took on the role of Communications Director on the campaign. By the time election day rolled around, I realized I had spent the better part of 14 months immersed in politics. I had accidentally become so engaged in voting statistics, platform issues and solutions, political marketing and outreach, current events, and state legislation. I knew what the propositions were, had met every candidate on my ballot, researched their platforms, and even met some of their families. I became a truly informed voter, and it felt good.
I also met a lot of people who didn’t vote, most due to confusion on registration deadlines, some due to criminal records, and some who talked about voting as if it were a mainstream fad they were too cool for.
In the end, my mom lost by 577 votes (just 0.34% behind her opponent). I can’t get it out of my head. That is a few days’ worth of canvassing or phone banking. The Democratic State Senate candidate in the same district (who also lost) got almost 3,000 more votes than my mom. Had those 3,000 voters, or just 578 of them taken 30 seconds to vote for a House of Representatives candidate just below “State Senate” on their ballot, my mom would be able to take office in January and write and vote on legislation that has the power to improve education, healthcare, and create sustainable economic growth for all Arizonans.
The loss hurts. Not just because my mom was the candidate, or because I invested countless hours, days and weeks in the campaign, but because of why I invested those hours. My mom was the most qualified, caring and genuine person on that ballot by far. Her journal entries from when she was a child, express her deep concern for global issues, and not much has changed since then. She is a lifelong student of history and science, and her idea of fun is staying up to date on current events and researching social innovation. She has two master’s degrees in science, she is a registered nurse, a MedEvac helicopter pilot, an educator, a sustainability scientist, and a veteran. She worked her way up the ranks in the Army from Private to Colonel, paying her dues, and fighting her way into flight school as a female in the 1980’s. She called every day for two years until the branch officer accepted her application, and she became the only female in her flight school class. She is a decorated veteran who focused her 32-year military career on humanitarian missions and operations other than war. Not only that, but she achieved most of her accomplishments while raising me as a single mother.
She gave me hope that Arizona could be the last state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment- a proposed amendment to the US Constitution stating that civil rights may not be denied on the basis of one’s sex (women still don’t have equal rights in the U.S. Constitution in the year 2018). I hoped that she could help get dirty money out of politics, properly fund our schools which are ranked at the bottom nationwide in most measures, and ensure that pre-existing conditions and other healthcare initiatives would be protected. I hoped that we could pass some common-sense gun legislation to combat gun violence. And I desperately hoped that Arizona could start leading the way in solar energy, which would create clean air, water and jobs, and combat Climate Change and climate-related natural disasters.
My mom’s campaign made me believe that politics don’t need to be dirty or dishonest. She refused to use negative ads against her opponents, and refused to accept any PAC money that compromised her values. She went to over 30 house parties, knocked on thousands of doors, visited every town in the district, showed up to every debate, and gathered noteworthy support, receiving an average of $30 contributions from over 2,500 individual donors (raising more money than any other LD6 candidate). Despite some cruel comments from conservatives who refused to vote for a Democratic candidate, my mom spent countless hours talking to people with opposing views trying to find common ground. But most importantly, she offered real solutions, and real-world experience and knowledge.
In a Republican stronghold district made up of rural Arizona towns, she came 577 votes shy of a House Seat as a Democratic candidate. She almost achieved the ability to enact laws with win-win solutions that would benefit ALL Arizonans. As nice as it would have been to feel like rural Arizona was going in a more equitable and sustainable direction, I choose to consider our campaign as progress, and I will not give up fighting until everybody has equal rights and opportunities.
I finally realize, that we DO NOT have the luxury of sitting out of politics. Politicians will continue to write and vote on laws that affect each of our daily lives whether we stay engaged or not. Even if those laws don’t impact you directly, they impact your neighbors, friends and family. We have a civic duty to care.
In Arizona alone, we had four new statewide midterm election victories for Democratic women that give me hope; U.S. Senate, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Corporation Commission. That is progress, and that is the kind of women’s empowerment that will create lasting change for 7 million Arizonans.
So for goodness sake, hold your politicians accountable, and young people, minorities, and WOMEN, get out and vote in 2020! It is the easiest way you can do your part to create change, because EVERY vote is a voice for yourself and those who don’t have one. You have two years to pick a cause, get involved, learn your candidates and create a voting plan, OR run for office yourself!
Learn more about my mom’s new campaign for AZ State Senate.