Letters to the Editor: Nov. 12, 2014 

click to enlarge Lauren Zuniga (Provided)
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  • Lauren Zuniga

Small, bold moves

Since writing the poem “A poem to Progressives plotting mass exodus” (originally published Nov. 18, 2010, Oklahoma Gazette) there is this slightly uncomfortable but oh-so-sweet thing that happens where strangers come up to me at shows or email me and say things like, “I love your poem about not leaving Oklahoma and staying to do the work, but I really can’t take it anymore and I have to get out. I’m sorry,” or, “I know you said not to go, but my husband got a job in Seattle and …,” as if I am the Red State Liberal Border Patrol or the Confession Booth for Weary Progressives.

I feel flattered at any of those notions. (For the record, I support any and all choices to live a full, nourishing life, and gobs of Oklahomans are doing vital work all over the country.) Mostly what I get is folks who say, “Hey. That poem. It really helped. Thanks,” which is more than I could have ever hoped for.

I wrote that poem four years ago, the day after the election that banned the use of Sharia Law, elected Mary Fallin as governor, instituted voter ID requirements and made English the official language, among other swell things. I wrote the poem while crying at my desk.

At the time, I worked for the State Election Board. I had just worked a heavily casseroled 16-hour Election Day shift and spent the last several months talking to voters across the state about such lovely topics as What Will Happen When the Muslims/Gays/Mexicans Take Over, Who Do I Talk to About These Illegals and, my personal favorite, Why Didn’t You Check Obama’s Birth Certificate?

When my boss asked why I was crying, assuring me that it is just the political tide, Democrats will have it back in a few years, I said, “I’m not crying because Republicans won; I am crying because I live in a state who just spent a ridiculous amount of time, energy and money to send the message that we are the most racist state in the nation.” He shrugged. “Oh that? That really didn’t take much time. That was like 30 minutes in the Senate and a few phone calls.” I slumped down in my chair and vowed to move as far away as possible.
But suddenly, it was like I could hear good ol’ George Dubya whispering pearls in my ear, “If you’re scared, the terrorists win. If you refuse to be scared, they lose.” Basically, if all the cool people leave, Oklahoma will become a herd of Sally Kerns storming the HiLo Club, putting Vince Gill on the jukebox and playing earthquake drinking games until Kelly Ogle is the only drag queen in town. Or something.

Look. I am a fifth-generation Okie. My family is part Creek-Seminole and part Irish preachers who moved here to “convert the savages.” My father’s mother was the first director of the ACLU in Oklahoma. My mother’s mother fought the City of Nichols Hills to allow people of color to live there. I’ll be damned if I am going to just pack up and move to Portland.

Too many people have died on this red dirt to allow right-wing fundamentalists to dismantle every smidge of progress we’ve made. I wrote the poem to convince myself to stay but also to remind myself of all the small ways that we create change.

Because Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin were willing to wait 9 years to have their court case heard, I can now marry my partner in the state of Oklahoma. Because Muneer Awad sued the State Election Board for religious discrimination, the ban on Sharia Law was ruled unconstitutional. Because Dr. Larry Burns and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the 2010 law requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion, that law was struck down. Because Ms. Stellman picked Ms. Holster up and took her to the polls yesterday, Ms. Holster was able to vote for Connie Johnson, the first African-American woman to be nominated for the US Senate. If Paul Thompson had not been the first gay man to stand up for himself court in 1969 after another gay bar police raid; if Angles hadn’t sued Oklahoma City in 1983 after one too many police beatings in the parking lot, maybe Al McAffrey and Paula Sophia would not have become police officers and would never have run for office. If Native women didn’t speak up against their attackers, maybe the Violence Against Native Women Act would not have been signed.

The truth is, each time our state policymakers become the butt of a joke on MSNBC, tons of other Oklahoman citizens are doing some overlooked courageous thing. A Chickasha mom introduces her trans child with his proper name and pronoun. The mayor of Waynoka feeds pigs in the morning with his nails painted purple, and in the afternoon, he refuses a contract to a racist businessman. A father of two drives around town in a van powered by vegetable oil, delivering local produce to restaurants. A Latino student organizes a voter registration drive at her high school. A hair stylist decides to build an off-the-grid house and teach people about urban gardening. A 10-year-old kid learns how to say thank you in four different languages so he can swap treats with the other kids at the lunch table.

I don’t know if I will always live in this state, or even in this country for that matter, but I know I want to die here. I know I want to be some part of what makes this state great. When I’m old, I want to sit under a redbud tree with my grandchildren and say, “Can you believe the things we had to fight for back then? My, how things have changed. My goodness, how things have changed.”

Lauren Zuniga Oklahoma City

Editor’s note: Oklahoma City resident Lauren Zuniga is an internationally touring poet, educator and activist. She has been featured on Upworthy, BoingBoing, MoveOn.org, Autostraddle and Everyday Feminism. She is a three-time national slam finalist and one of the top-ranked female poets in the world. In 2012, she was voted Best Local Author in Oklahoma Gazette’s Best of OKC poll.

Read Zuniga’s Nov. 19, 2010, poem on the Gazette website: wp.me/p4DEDr-5ZW

Teach youth proper manners

Answer to Ed Lake’s question (News, “Deadly Battle,” Nov. 5, Gazette): Why are we raising young men that do not have respect for women?

“We all have to look at what we are doing in raising young boys that contributes to this problem,” Lake said.

Chris Ross said, “It is kind of baffling to me why” we have such violence against women in Oklahoma. As a 45-year married father of three, grandfather of eight, with 45 years of studying the Bible and observing others, I believe I can answer that question: To raise a boy, you have to have a good dad, not one who is unfaithful, abuses drugs or alcohol or gambling, or is selfish and violent.

Then you need a dad who takes an active interest, spends time with his son and teaches him how to respect others and women in a particular, gentlemanly way. This dad also must have a caring and respectful relationship with his wife for his son to see how to treat a woman.

This dad must know how and when to discipline. These things are basic. The state can’t make good fathers happen. The state can only punish the man or father who becomes deadly violent.

But even if all of the good things happen between a father and son, there are things we, the public and the media, are doing that, if not corrected, will still result in our boys becoming violent men.

As long as schools teach that there is no difference between boys and girls, boys will resentfully prove them wrong. As long as there are repeated examples of solely sexual oriented relationships, bitchy women and violent, disrespectful men and bullies depicted in the media and music, boys will see and imitate media as real life.

In the ’50s and early ’60s television, we had Ben Cartwright, Andy Griffith and Matt Dillon to teach us how a man should raise sons and treat ladies. Then Archie Bunker and others taught us how to be disrespectful. Now fathers are pictured as idiots and doormats. No boy wants to end up like that, so he adopts the boorish violence of the rap singer and the twisted dark side of the hero/villains. Add to that the substance abuse lifestyle and the easily viewed surreal sex acts on the internet, and you end up with a boy who is selfish, disrespectful, defensive and who expects sexual results from a relationship that no man can ever perform, and no woman can ever be expected to enjoy without pay or substance abuse.

And recently, boys listening to the radio are bombarded with the false claims of porn star performance from expensive “men’s clinics” (women must hate those commercials).

When women are unable to satisfy the selfish expectations learned by these boys, bitterness, resentment and unfaithfulness are the results. If the woman complains or is bitchy, the boy can become violent. If the woman also has violent tendencies learned from parents and media, the boy will react on an even higher level of violence.

But the question, “Why are we raising young men that do not have respect for women?” will remain, answered as long as there is no censorship in the media and as long as schools ignore the differences of the sexes and teach political correctness in place of correct manners.

We are already well down the slippery slope of hedonistic license. The Bible tells me so. — Michael Moberly Oklahoma City

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