Populism is not just for the history books. It is a practical way forward for our state that resists the quiet rule of the wealthiest, tiny minority, which in Oklahoma is even smaller than “1%”.
It is necessary to resist, too: Oklahoma has not a better place now for ordinary people since we got the “right to work” or since we went from a one-party, to a two-party, and back into a one-party political system again, just with the other party now as the current single political power in the state.
The following is based on five points (in italics) for developing a Populist agenda nationally that were proposed by Jim Hightower, print and radio commentator from Texas, in a speech at the Strategy Summit held by the Progressive Congress and reported by The Nation Magazine .
These points are just as, if not more, applicable to potential Oklahoma Progressive/Populist influence as they are nationally.
1. Great Progressive movements have advanced not only by good organizing, but by a steady altering of the public’s perception. Cultural shifts produce political change. This truth is born out by how fiercely we see the current controlling conservative minority in Oklahoma working to control the print and broadcast media. If they can keep certain types of information from most of the people, or at least twist it enough, then enough people will believe their narrative and not rise up against a minority-rule system that has been developing for years. Truth published, spoken, aired by many different voices will have its effect over time.
2. Building a people’s movement requires taking the long view. Advancement takes place in decades, not months or years. Impatience is the biggest enemy of those who are progressive. That’s one of the reasons why progressive-minded people show up to vote for a particular candidate and then fade away until the next campaign. It requires little thought or effort to be all for a candidate for the last month of their campaign. In order to actually turn our state government toward that which will benefit a large majority of Oklahomans, progressives need to be a part of a movement year in and year out, not just individual campaigns. The best candidates that did not have enough support in this campaign will stay and return to fight another day if they have a convinced movement of people working for the same causes between campaigns.
3. Expand the movement by reaching out and connecting with other movements that don’t identify as progressive but are in fact populist and also are actually on the move. People who might disagree with a pro-abortion rights stance can be moved to act with others who are concerned about preserving life beyond the womb. People who might self-identify as conservative might be very moved by the ways in which unfettered strip mining and fracking are affecting the land that they love and want to protect and join with more progressive people who are concerned for what that does to our environment.
4. Do less issue-speak and policy dump and more talk about core values such as economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all. Van Jones has reminded us that MLK in his historic 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial didn’t say “I have a position paper”. Most people who I know in this state would be hard pressed to argue against those three values. Do we talk specifically about those values that most progressives have in common? I don’t hear it or see it much in print.
5. Get the hell out of Washington! The most productive politics are local, not national. Just look at any recent polls of the approval ratings of the Congress and you will see that most people of either party see Washington political piss fights as in-credible and not worth the time of anyone who lives outside of Washington, D.C. Recently our Republican Governor and Republican dominated legislature have blocked the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for no other definable reason except that it’s “Obamacare”. Right now, our state is not currently governed by Oklahomans, but by think tanks like ALEC and The Heritage Foundation.
Oklahoma has a great tradition of Populism. Currently, we see more signs of that in the workings of the Tea Party where there is a general appeal to the hard-working Oklahomans who believe that the economic system is rigged in favor of somebody else. They really don’t know who is rigging it, though. They believe it is that black man in the White House. But, they do only because they are hearing one narrative that sounds credible to them and not other counter narratives that more closely hold to the truth rather than racist, anti-abortion fiction.
It is time for people who advocate for common folks in Oklahoma to speak up, and in a constant way right here in our towns, cities, and state. We shouldn’t even worry that much about consistency. The persistence of our message is what will win.
What do you think?