On Saturday, I met Rose Aguilar, a San Francisco journalist now in Oklahoma writing stories about our state and its people. You need to read her insightful pieces on the site Stories in America for a different and much-needed perspective about Oklahoma and its political scene. Her writing is as respectful as it is illuminating.
Aguilar is on a tremendous red-state tour, leaving what she calls her “liberal bubble” to talk to people in the places that voted overwhelming for President George Bush last election. She has or plans to also visit Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Montana, Utah, and other red states.
Here in Oklahoma, she has written about the legendary Clara Luper (this is a great piece), state churches, progressive protesters she encountered on the street one day, and Vietnamese American Baptists.
She has also interviewed members of at least one local Republican organization, and she was on her way to Muskogee Saturday afternoon.
Aguilar interviewed me and Green Party leader and local progressive activist James Branum at the Back Door Coffeehouse in Oklahoma City on Saturday morning. Aguilar is a wonderful interviewer and a committed, independent journalist who is trying to understand the political dynamics of red states like Oklahoma.
Her project is admirable and fascinating. It breaks stereotypes even as it builds bridges between diverse communities in the places she visits.
Many of the questions Aguilar asked me dealt with Oklahoma’s political scene and how religion plays a major role in shaping the state’s political reality. She also ask me about my stance as a liberal or, dare I utter the forbidden phrase, “a secular humanist,” (no gasping, please!) in a state known for his fundamentalist religious views.
I do not know if any of my comments will make it into her project, but I want to assure regular Okie Funk readers I told her Oklahoma was home to thousands of pro-choice liberals who think U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe are right-wing freaks who consistently embarrass the state. I even jokingly suggested progressive Oklahomans and other progressive red-staters should start a new “Sorry Everybody” campaign for coastal liberals.
On a more serious note, I also argued that coastal progressives need to continue to validate and help all of us who are working in the trenches here to stop the conservative juggernaut. Aguilar’s project is a perfect example of this
Branum and I talked about cultural stereotyping faced by Oklahomans when they travel to larger urban areas in the country because of our regional dialect, and we debated how much influence the cultural wedges issues such as abortion and gay marriage have on the Oklahoma politic scene.
Branum, a tireless champion for the Green Party and progressive issues in the state, and I talked about bringing together both religion leftists and secular leftists to protest the Iraq war and to work on other moral and value issues.
It is well worth it to check out Aguilar’s work.
In a somewhat related issue, the Democratic National Committee, under the leadership of Howard Dean, recently created some new staff positions for the Oklahoma Democratic Party. These positions, all filled by Oklahomans, will be completed funded by the national Democrats
Let us hope Aguilar’s visit and the national Democrats interest in our state are the start of a trend in which progressives start dealing with the conservative juggernaut here in the middle of the country.
Aguilar’s writing can help reconfigure cultural stereotypes about this region of the country as it shows the diverse philosophical and political views of people who live here. And Dean is a doctor, of course, so he should know as well as anyone that to remove a cancerous tumor you need to cut and scrape it out from its center. The new staff positions will help perform this “operation.”
We need to continue to show Oklahoman conservatives how progressive moral values reflect their own values and will secure a decent future for their children.