Dear Oklahoma Please Try Harder

By Helen Grant

 

I’m supposed to be writing about this school shelter panel discussion KGOU hosted on Tuesday night at the Moore-Norman Technology Center but current events are swirling together to form a not-so-awesome nexus of crappy and extra crappy, to say nothing of the weather lately. I want to tell you both sides brought up great points in the discussion, but alas, not a single spokesperson for the Governor’s office nor one Oklahoma legislator who opposes the idea of public funding for school shelters attended the panel discussion to defend their point of view or back up their “logic” with facts. I wasn’t shocked, but I found it pretty appalling given 80% of polled Oklahomans want to see this issue go on the ballot in the next general election.

But that’s not the half of it.

So even as all this was taking place Tuesday night, I was also scrolling my Facebook feed. I was half-paying attention to the panel discussion, which was doing very little for me since I already support the idea of school shelters and wanted to hear arguments from the other side plus hear comments to come out of the Q/A they would have done with the public had any of them bothered to show up. And I was half-reading about the latest political uproar. Basically Mary Fallin stated all Oklahoma National Guard families, gay or straight, will be denied the ability to have their benefits processed in a convenient way. They won’t lose them, but they will have to go out of their way to get them.

What no one seems to be debating, at least from the articles I’ve skimmed, are the logistics of this decision. Look, I don’t expect full-time guard members who process these benefits to lose their jobs, but it will affect a few jobs to be sure. There are some guardsmen who’s sole responsibility it is to process these requests. It will also likely strain federal resources to serve additional people who could have been served closer to their own communities.

This is clearly a case of state government not only refusing to take responsibility for what it owes its military personnel, but also inserting itself into the homes of others. This is to say Oklahoma National Guard families shouldn’t have to live close to a federal military base or post to have easy access to their benefits. These people are not active duty, most have civilian jobs in their home communities because most are not full-time guard members. These are people who’ve volunteered to serve if called by the state to aid in the event of a disaster. Their service is not exclusively under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Just to highlight what kinds of rights these folks give up, they’d also get in serious trouble if they told Governor Fallin to piss off the next time a tornado comes through because they didn’t agree with her past marital indiscretions and decided not to do their jobs because her actions didn’t match their code of ethics. Bear in mind that if you get caught for adultery in the military that you can face jail time in addition to being kicked out. And it happens. I knew someone who spent a year in military jail and got kicked out of the National Guard for just that reason. And I’ve known others who had to “retire” all of a sudden.

At any rate, I was struck by the odd dichotomy of my family’s situation. I live in Moore so my kids go to school in Moore and my husband is deployed in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard. I don’t think I’m a special case, since Tinker is nearby, and I’m sure there are plenty of National Guard families in the Metro area that have been affected by the tornadoes in one way or another. I’m not trying to twirl these two issues too much, but they are related in some ways.

Honestly, there may have been some cognitive dissonance going on in my head that night too. I’ve seen Oklahomans, from all backgrounds, mobilize for causes they support. It also appears that no matter your political affiliation, most Oklahomans support the military and their families and a child’s right to a safe public school environment. Yet, at the moment it seems like the state is stagnating on taking any action to actually do any of that. Does the current state government accurately reflect the will of the people? One wonders.

I must admit that I have a growing sense of resignation that the majority of Oklahomans are not politically active enough to counter the more extremist parts of the population. That and this trend I’m seeing will ultimately force me to move out of state. Even while I consider where we’ll end up by the time my husband comes back, I have realized on some level I don’t really want to move away. There are parts of the OKC Metro area specifically like and think are great fun. I’ve also built up a network here and I have friends I love like family. And while I’m not from Oklahoma, I do have a set of nieces who live here too. I have some attachments, but those ties aren’t enough to forgo finding a safer place for my kids to go to school and having a government that doesn’t defer services for all based on a sliver of the populations’ marital status.

Ironically, this drive to leave Oklahoma won’t be because of Mary Fallin or those of her ilk. It will be because Oklahoma as a whole will show itself to be politically apathetic. It takes just a few small steps from a lot of people to make a difference. And by small step, I don’t mean complaining on Facebook. For instance, if 80% of polled Oklahomans want storm shelters, why don’t I see more people out collecting signatures to put it on the ballot through groups like Take Shelter OK? If it is because they don’t know about it, then why is that? It’s not for lack of effort on the part of the people trying to organize, I see them out there at public events and popping up in the news, so I’m going to state the obvious: perhaps it might be for lack of people willing to make the effort to send off for a petition, collect 20 signatures or 10, and then mail that back. You don’t even have to fill up the whole sheet, this is not an all or none kind of deal. Rather it’s a collective effort. There is no right number of signatures to collect other than the required 160,000 (although if more come in, great). And it’s not hard to find this information, hell its easier now than ever because we have Google to help us find more sources than we could possibly ever need on the subject.

And if all the Oklahomans I know are to some extent complaining about Fallin’s most recent desicion for the National Guard, where are the signature collectors getting petitions signed to bring up a vote to repeal the ban on same sex marriage in the Oklahoma constitution? If so many of us are upset, where are the stories of efforts to repeal this ban?

For fun, because every so often you have to stable your rage ponies, I present Stephen Colbert doing what he does best:

I know most working adults lead busy lives, but the thing that strikes me about Oklahoma in general is that too few people like to talk politics, probably for fear of souring close relationships and ostracizing themselves, and then there are those who do talk politics but can’t seem to be civil about it. Or they try to be funny when they should be plain spoken. Not everyone can be Steven Colbert. And let’s face it, there are folks who struggle with the fact that Stephen Colbert is mocking their ideology through political satire. Sometimes you just need to speak plainly.

And not being effective at communicating ideas is a terrible way to decide the future because there can be no balance. Extremism of any kind acts like poison on all social systems it spreads through, but it’s not without an antidote. Oklahoma, you’re not a hopeless state incapable of making progress because you’ve been poisoned by bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and people who habitually “shout down” others. I’ve watched with a growing affection for this place as parts of cities rejuvenate themselves and how that kind of progress spreads.

We need to keep pushing for that tipping point, and if nothing else, Mary Fallin and those like her are driving the rest of us to it. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell when you don’t see a lot of “everyday people” action circulating in the media. At worst I’ve seen news of a long exposure camera shot from a Moore family who’d lost a child being touted as “family sees guardian angel of lost son” and at best I have seen some coverage about how families are pushing the issue to get shelters on the ballot.

All of us could stand to try harder to be diplomatic with our not-so-like minded friends. Maybe we should be hosting little potluck dinners or whatever other kinds of get togethers are fun and seasonal, and ask friends to sign petitions afterwards, take opportunities to give honest feedback, while actively seeking alternatives to ineffective government.

I don’t want to beat this sucker into the ground, I don’t want to be angry and ranty. I just want to be good at communicating the real need for people to literally do anything when the government is failing to provide solutions.

So if doing something about that shelter vote interests you, this is what you need to know:

“Anyone interested in circulating a petition in his or her area can phone Take Shelter Oklahoma at (405) 470-7925 or emailĀ TakeShelterOklahoma@gmail.com. A copy of the petition is available for download atĀ TakeShelterOk.com.

Time is of the essence. Take Shelter Oklahoma has 90 days [as of today Friday Nov 22 it’s 25 days till deadline] from today to collect signatures of nearly 160,000 registered Oklahoma voters.”

 

[Update 12-2-13: There is also an event on Thursday Dec. 5th in the Old Farmers Market District in OKC. It’s a Chili Cook-Off competition and petition signing event. Starts at 5.]

 

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