Dialing for a difference

By Trent Anderson/El Inde

Olivia Coleman has spent the last several months asking every stranger she has met: “Are you registered to vote?”

She doesn’t care who you voted for. She doesn’t want to have a political debate. She just wants every eligible voter to participate. 

In fact, she likes asking people about voting so much, she made a career out of it. During this past election season, Coleman worked for the Democrats as a political phone banker. She spent her days calling eligible Arizona citizens and reminding them to vote, but not telling them how to vote.

Coleman, 44, is a Tucson native and has spent her entire life here. She has only known Arizona to ever be a red state (with the exception of how it voted in 1996), but has dreamed of flipping the state blue for good ever since she was a child. 

“My dad worked at the pink building (the Old Pima County Courthouse) in downtown Tucson when I was a kid, and they would hold elections there,” said Coleman. Her dad would take her with him, and it was during these ‘take your daughter to work’ days that Coleman learned the importance of democracy and the power of a vote.

As Coleman became an adult, her dad began to pester her even more about being an informed citizen. “He would always ask me, ‘Are you registered to vote?’ That was a big thing with him, asking people if they were registered,” she said.

Although she admits she was not as involved in campaigning as she would have liked to have been when she was younger, now as a 44 year-old mother, Coleman has a widened world view. She has adopted her father’s age- old question and made a habit of asking everyone she knows, even strangers, if they are registered to vote. 

Coleman attributes her increased interest in politics due to motherhood. “A lot of it has to do with my daughter. She’s the younger generation, she’s 20. I give a lot of credit to her for urging me to get involved,” she said. 

During the 2020 election campaign Coleman reached out to as many Arizona residents as she could to remind them that they have the power of a vote. On occasion, people would ask Coleman who she was voting for, and she had no problem telling them she’d vote for Biden. But she wasn’t calling to tell people how to vote, she just wanted to remind the people of their power. 

And did people remember. In 2016, approximately 2.4 million Arizonans voted. In 2020, that number soared up to roughly 3.3 million, about a 900,000-person increase in voter turnout from the past election. 

“It was a good feeling, and I felt like I was making a difference. And then after the election results, I feel even more victorious because I really feel like we impacted someone somewhere by making those calls,” Coleman said.

But before she felt victorious, there were four long days of crippling anxiety. “Ever since election day, my TV has strictly been on channel 31, which is CNN, we have not watched anything else. Nothing. I am too on edge that I am going to miss something. Go to sleep to it, wake up to it,” Coleman said. 

However, when the results began to take days to confirm, she decided she had to leave sometime. On Saturday morning, four days after election day, Coleman decided to take the risk and go to the grocery store. Not even five minutes into her shopping, she got a notification on her phone informing her that Joe Biden was presumed to be elected president.

“I called my daughter immediately and screamed ‘Check the TV! Is it true? Of all the times I was glued to the TV, the one time I really wanted to see this for myself, I was not home. I was at the grocery store!”

Now that her role in the election is over, Coleman says that she actually misses making her daily calls. She is already looking forward to next election season and excited to find new ways to get the community involved. “I really feel like I did make a difference. Even if it was only a little difference, I’m proud to have had the chance to do this.”

Although she believes there is still a long road of healing ahead for the nation, Coleman remains optimistic. “We can’t change the past, we can only look forward to the future. And I feel good about what’s to come.”

Coleman may just be one person, but it’s possible for one person to be capable of changing everything. “Let’s make this a better country. No, a better world, for us,” Coleman said.