I was first stung by the disregard of blue-state activists for those of us in flyover country during a panel discussion I attended about campus organizing at the otherwise-great Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference (CLPP) in Massachusetts. Our very own Sandra was a moderator and presenter on this panel. Those of us from OU and other red state colleges such as the University of North Texas discussed what it was like organizing in hostile environments where we face large groups of well-funded and powerful opponents and hostile campus cultures and administrations. We discussed dealing with JFA, the sexual assault policy change campaign, and the harassment WGS faculty and students faced from Representative Aaron Stiles.
After we had finished, an attendee from the North East replied. Hey, it’s difficult to organize in blue states too! They said that people there were SO apathetic – because everyone was liberal. Then, students from Smith College described how they organized several protest marches because a student had received a racist note under her dorm room door. These were the problems that our counterparts in places like Massachusetts and New York faced? I finally left the room because we received word that Norman and the OU campus were being hit by a tornado while we sat in a safe classroom in Massachusetts. It seemed that very weather was trying to highlight the differences between Oklahoma and Massachusetts (shout out to Sandy).
Since then, I have paid more attention to how people on the coasts, in the blue states write about red states, particularly Oklahoma. Any story that they do deign to cover is presented in the most frightening way possible. Earlier this month, RHRealityCheck published an extremely condescending editorial regarding TrustWomen’s acquisition of Dr. Tiller’s former clinic in Wichita. The author did not even bother to contact anyone in the organization before deciding that they were probably unprepared and incompetent. I guess it’s easier to talk about how terrible and frightening a place is than actually discuss what people are doing to change these places. Here’s some free advice to anyone who wants to write about a red state: don’t. Find someone who lives there, who works there, who actually understands the pluses and minuses of their home, and give them a platform on which to discuss the issue.
I think lack of understanding is a big part of the issue in interactions between those of us in the “flyover states” and those on the coasts. I wouldn’t presume to understand what it is like to go to a school without having to worry about seeing little baby feet chalked on the sidewalk or hide my rainbow bracelet so someone doesn’t call me a dyke. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to go to school in a place where students and faculty weren’t verbally harassed and threatened simply for attending an event in the same place as a CPC fundraiser. I wouldn’t understand what it would be like to live in a place where the city council would supply clinic escorts because clinics shut down due to protestors.
Even though it gets discouraging when you go to another conference where people don’t want to listen, when you apply for another grant to be told that they only support causes in Boston or New York City, or when you read another article that just misses the point about where you call home, I am happy that I live here. Living and working in Oklahoma and Kansas has made me who I am. I don’t know who I would be as an activist and as a person if I had lived somewhere where life was easier. We have to be tough, and we have to work harder. When there’s not much left, you have less to lose. We have to be our own saviors because there’s no one else to save us.
So here’s some more free advice to coasties and blue staters: listen when we speak, give us the help we ask for rather than what you think we need, and don’t get in our way.
Katie has recently returned to Oklahoma from Kansas and is still trying to find missing socks and library books. You can find her on twitter and tumblr if you enjoy rants about food, coasties, and not getting enough sleep.
- Nuking the Nuclear: Mother’s Day and Mama’s Day ok4rj.org/2013/05/nuking… @strongfams @riotprrrl 2 days ago
- RT @TrustWomen: Requiring ID for #EC will limit access for more than just teenagers ok4rj.org/2013/05/im-gon… via @OK4RJ @cuteredhood 1 week ago
- Rodeo Roundup: Bomb Girls and Electric Ladies ok4rj.org/2013/05/rodeo-… 1 week ago
- ICYMI, @sandraholla responded to O'Brien's article from a #redstates #reprojustice perspective ok4rj.org/2013/04/the-st… 1 week ago
- What we're reading: MT @rhrealitycheck From #prochoice to #Reprojustice: Use this transitional time to talk goals. ow.ly/kRCX0 1 week ago
Tagsabortion activism anti-choice birth control community building conference contraception Dr. Tiller economic justice feminism feminist theory series fetal personhood gender healthcare heteronormativity intersectionality Justice for All Kansas legislation LGBTQ missouri news Oklahoma Oklahoma legislation personhood pop culture pregnancy public health queer race racism rape culture red state red states reproductive justice self care sex education sexual assault so you want to be an activist student activism take root take root 2013 Texas trans* weekly round up