The education rally at the state Capitol today should draw thousands of educators and their supporters, but they probably won’t get a warm welcome from most Republican officials.
The rally begins at 12:30 p.m. on the south side of the state Capitol building.
It’s impossible to avoid the reality. Republicans dominate state government. They hold massive majorities in both the House and Senate, the governor’s seat, and ALL statewide offices. Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, a Republican, will be at the rally and speak in favor of raises for teachers, and some Republican lawmakers might support increased funding for education, but overall the GOP has created a drastic, emergency situation for our schools.
The rally, called the Brighter Future, is designed to call attention to extremely low teacher pay here, an increasing teacher shortage in the state and a 24 percent decrease in Oklahoma education funding since 2008, the most in the nation. It’s a dismal situation that has the potential to get even worse.
At this point, however, educators might just be happy if they don’t face any more cuts. The state faces a $611 million shortfall at least partially because of relatively recent income tax cuts and tax incentives given to businesses, including the state’s oil and gas industry.
What doesn’t get stated enough or loudly enough at these rallies is this: (1) The cuts to education are part of a Republican agenda, along with high-stakes testing, to dismantle public education and privatize it, and (2) if voters here continue to elect Republicans in massive numbers education funding will remain inadequate in Oklahoma. A rally won’t change those facts.
The larger point here is that although education funding should be a bipartisan issue, it definitely isn’t when it comes to the Oklahoma legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin. Fallin and conservative legislators may seem to sympathize with educators at times, but cuts to education here and elsewhere have been a part of the Republican agenda for a long time now.
Rallies are great. They show solidarity, and leave participants energized, but the real change comes in elections.
In Leslie Marmon Silko’s highly-acclaimed 1977 novel, Ceremony, Tayo, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico experiences the horrors of the 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II.
Tayo, who joins the military after the Japanese Imperial Army bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, endures the brutality of an approximately 60-mile march to a prison camp after U.S. and Filipino troops are forced to surrender after a long battle. Along the march, he watches as a Japanese soldier kills his cousin Rocky, with whom he grew up as a brother in the same home.
As an American soldier, Tayo and his fellow native people were welcomed with open arms by white people. Once back home, suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, Tayo faces the same discrimination he faced growing up as his paths crossed with the dominant white power structure, which urged him to assimilate.
Tayo grows bitter. His PTSD almost completely disables him. What finally heals him is a modern native ceremony for that era, a new native ritual that doesn’t demonize the entire white culture but allows for nuance and discourages generalizations while keeping the traditions of Tayo’s ancestry alive.
It’s a brilliant novel, interspersed with written versions of oral storytelling, and I highly recommend it.
This may seem like a longer introduction to get to a local issue I want to address, but I think at this point it might well take some type of unique reconciliation ceremony to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City, situated on riverfront property near the I-35 and I-40 junction. I’m not being flippant about this issue of ceremony.
The center is only partially completed, and it’s been in the making for several years, but it needs about $40 million in state money to complete it. Another $40 million will come from private donations. The state has put in more than $90 million so far, according to a media report, but the project has stalled. Last year, House Speaker Jeff Hickman didn’t even allow a vote on the issue.
This year, as a recent NewsOK.com story noted, “A sense of despair has settled” over the issue.
There has been some speculation that Oklahoma City, which gave the land to the state for the project, could take over and finish the project with agreements with some of the native nations in the state, which is probably better than nothing, but I hope it doesn’t happen this way.
The unfinished center, which is being built to Smithsonian standards and would obviously draw visitors from around the world, stands as a symbol of broken promises and mistreatment endured by indigenous people here and across the world since western European colonization dating back centuries.
One Spaniard, for example, claimed Tayo’s Laguna area for Spain, in the 16th century, and the Spanish eventually established missions there. The 1830s Indian Removal Act, promoted by President Andrew Jackson, led to the Trail of Tears when native people were forced to walk from southeastern states to what is now known as Oklahoma so “settlers”—that’s what they’re called in elementary school—could grow cotton picked by slaves in Mississippi. The various Indian Appropriation Acts through the 19th century contributed to more hardship for native people.
The overall romantic “settlers” story, complete with covered wagons, shotguns and ladies in bonnets, still taught to children here as we glorify Oklahoma’s 1889 Land Run, is called systemic, institutional racism, and it’s not difficult to see the center’s recent funding problems as part of it, especially since the center should eventually pay for itself in the long-term in admissions fees and local and state taxes for hotels and shopping. It could lead to other development and other academic centers.
The two main arguments against the state providing more money are that there isn’t enough money in the budget to do so right now and that native people here should just pay for it themselves, even though various Oklahoma-based Indian nations have already contributed.
The counter argument is obvious. If this is going to be a state-operated and state-promoted center, a true Oklahoma effort, then the state should complete it with taxpayer money, even if it means passing more legislation for another bond issue. Oklahoma’s involvement here is an act of reconciliation and reparations on a symbolic level, and a part of the unique ceremony I would like to see. It means all of us here, whatever our ancestral roots or skin color, have a stake in it. The center would belong to us all. That’s important.
In the end, what we have here is a story. It’s about how a great symbol of reconciliation and unity in our state has been hopefully only delayed but increasingly seems impossible.
Silko, a Laguna Pueblo of mixed ancestry, begins her acclaimed novel with this story:
I will tell you something about stories
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
All we have to fight off
Illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly
I keep them here
Here put your hand on it
See, it is moving.
There is life here
for the people.
And in the belly of this story
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.
There’s still time for reconciliation and unity, but if the center gets delayed much further, the lasting story might not be one not of healing and growth but of years of bitterness, perceived bigotry and, perhaps worse, historical amnesia and false pride under the contemporary term “American exceptionalism.”
Last month, Oklahoma’s senior U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe held up a snowball on the Senate floor as indisputable proof that not only was the northeast United States enduring a bitter cold winter but also that global warming was simply a myth.
Indeed, the northeastern U.S. has experienced a snowy, cold winter, but new information has recently been released that on a global level, this recent winter—December through February—was the warmest winter ever recorded in history. In fact, the last 12 months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were the warmest ever recorded in history as well.
Inhofe, who believes global warming is actually a left-wing hoax among scientists to lower the profits of the oil and gas industry and that only God can control the climate, looks even more foolish now than he did in February. But Oklahomans are used to these types of Inhofe stunts and have continued nonetheless to send him to office. There is, however, a solid, progressive group of people in Oklahoma who adamantly oppose Inhofe’s sophomoric approach to global warming, which threatens the planet and has been accelerated by manmade carbon emissions.
To repeat: One particular weather event or events in one particular area of the world doesn’t tell us much about climate change, which is measured over decades and even centuries. It’s the steady, long-term trajectory that matters and the larger issues, such as the melting of the arctic ice cap, rising sea levels and consistent weather-pattern changes.
NOAA reported that the world’s air and sea temperatures were a combined 1.48 higher than the national average for the 20th century and the highest ever record. According to NOAA, the states of Washington, California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona were extremely warm this winter and broke records. California, which is experiencing an extreme drought, was especially warm. So while the northeast was icy cold the western U.S. was especially warm. Other parts of the world that experienced warmer weather, NOAA states, were “Central America, northern and central South America, Australia, most of Africa, and much of Eurasia, including a broad swath that covered most of Russia.”
Inhofe, now 80, has based much of his political career on disputing scientific claims that point out the role of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to power our cars and planes. As a senior Senator and again chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, he’s once again in a position to do much damage to the planet. Actually, bringing melting snowballs to the Senate is only political theater in which Inhofe revels and the local corporate media either celebrates or ignores. Trying to turn back or block rules that would limit carbon emissions is a far more dangerous endeavor.
I will point out again what the mainstream media often fails to note. From 2009 to 2014, Inhofe accepted $454,500 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.com, and more than $1.7 million from the same industry during his entire career.
Mainstream journalists these days don’t often note when it comes to Inhofe how campaign money buys influence. Perhaps, people just accept now the role of big-donor money in influencing politicians, and maybe Inhofe pulls a theatrical stunt now and then for his sheer enjoyment or out of insecurity as he seeks attention. I don’t know.
I do know Inhofe continues to make Oklahoma look backwards and, even worse, uncaring about the environmental welfare of the plant.