Leaving Oklahoma 

You've had this happen before, right? You're standing around whatever the 21st century equivalent of the water cooler is (the Keurig? Facebook?), and the conversation takes a dismaying turn to the latest crazy happening down state Capitol way.

Someone inevitably groans and says, "I think I just need to move to another state."

Not to say there aren't reasons to leave. No matter where you grow up, any number of factors can take you away: school, career opportunities or, for some, the need for a good, old-fashioned change of scene.

But to move because you don't like the politics? Because someone showed up on the news and made a spectacle of him or herself, saying things you're sure make Jesus smite his forehead?

Those dismaying public figures, who shall remain nameless, the ones who act as God's Self-Appointed Midwest Representatives " they don't get to decide where anyone is going to live. They don't have a copyright on the word "values." And they don't get to make anyone embarrassed to be from Oklahoma. Their kind are everywhere; you might as well be embarrassed to be human.

A democracy without diversity is no such thing. Democracy thrives on the dissenting voice. Oklahoma needs members of the political minority to stay put, to remind our leaders that their power is not absolute, that it is derived from the people, and not from God. Oklahoma is your home, too, even if your values look a little different.

It might be easier to pull up stakes and move somewhere with a more like-minded culture. (And, as fine a city as it is, Dallas is not that place). But perhaps the nobler effort is to stay, to show Oklahoma what progressive values look like. To be friendly to the people down the street with the really mean-spirited bumper stickers, the ones who glare and clutch their kids protectively when we drive past.

Nothing is served by treating our political enemies as lepers. Sometimes simple engagement " simple kindness, the kind Jesus was all about " is the best way to get the process unstuck. Maybe on the next trash day, you take that guy's bins up the driveway for him. Or bake him a cake. Like Rich Mullins said, "If the cake is good, you may lose an enemy and gain a friend. If the cake is bad, at least vengeance is sweet."

Brace yourselves for the long haul. Oklahoma may always be a politically distressing place to live if you're of a certain persuasion. But if you have found a home here, you don't let anyone take it away from you. You don't let anyone make you feel unwelcome.

Oklahoma is too amazing a place to call home to cede territory because you find yourself in the minority. This land was made for you and me, as the song goes. Let's all stick around and do some good.

Gunter fled Oklahoma for college on the East Coast in 1998, then returned in 2002. The Oklahoma City-based writer is an alumnus of the graduate professional writing program at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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