Shortly after the election last November, a friend who lives in a blue state contacted me. He’d been worried about me, since I lived in Oklahoma, one of the deepest red states. I told him that I had been thinking the opposite: we’re used to this kind of thing, blue staters are not. America is about to become a lot more like Oklahoma.
Oklahoma progressives are a tough lot. We’re used to losing. Still we keep up the fight. When we gather for rallies or marches we see a lot of familiar faces in the small crowds that assemble. When, last week, I said my farewells to a colleague who would also be attending the Women’s March on Oklahoma last Saturday, we wished that we wouldn’t see each other there, because we hoped that the crowd would be bigger than usual.
On Saturday, I drove with a carload of women from Norman, home to the University of Oklahoma, about twenty miles to Oklahoma City. After gathering for a picture with several dozen other Normanites, we walked to the starting point for the march, in front of the State Capitol. We couldn’t hear a word from the speakers addressing the march. I did meet my colleague (and many of the other usual suspects) but the crowd was much larger than expected. Organizers had predicted 3,000 attendees. They got an estimated 12,000. Though I would have liked to hear the speakers, I wasn’t alone in thinking that it was a good thing that we had exceeded the sound system’s capabilities. The mood was festive. Knitted pink hats were everywhere. Humorous and angry signs abounded.
Eventually the crowd began to march. As we passed by the entrance of the Capitol, we bumped into a couple organizational tables that seemed happily overwhelmed by the crowd. One was gathering names and contact information, so that the Women’s March would be a beginning, not an end. The other was the Oklahoma Center for Reproductive Justice selling bright pink “Trust Oklahoma Women;” they were being assisted by Oklahoma City’s Peace House, one of the staples of progressive politics around here.
One of the first things I learned when I moved to Oklahoma in the late 1990s is that, in a small, conservative state like this, if you want to get something done politically and you’re on the left, nobody is going to do it for you. I quickly found myself doing things I’d never done before: serving on boards of nonprofits, organizing mayoral campaigns, and the like. This DIY spirit is an essential part of progressive politics around here. Against the odds, it sometimes even bears fruit. As America becomes Oklahoma over the next four years, even people in bigger, bluer states had better adopt this mentality. None of us now can afford to count on somebody else marching for us, organizing for us, calling for us, or voting for us. We turned out around the country on Saturday. And we need to keep turning out.