Anyone who has lived here any length of time and pays attention knows that Oklahoma consistently faces a barrage of reports and studies showing its dismal national rankings in socio-economic, health, women, equality and education issues.
Oklahoma is ranked so low so often that many of us face it with a sort of grim, self-deprecating humor. What else can you do when your state is ranked last or near the last in most quality-of-life issues? We know what needs to be fixed, but there’s no political will or money to do so.
Just recently, Oklahoma was ranked 48th in the nation for women’s welfare and deemed one of the most dangerous states in the nation. A new chart just released showed Oklahoma had the most draconian abortion laws in the country. The state has long led the nation in the number of women it incarcerates, and during the recession, a recent report showed, Oklahoma cut education funding more than any other state on a percentage basis. I could go on.
I once described the barrage of reports as “reportitis,” noting how it could affect overall morale here. That was in 2007.
Under the current GOP-dominated government and even before that, Oklahomans couldn’t expect much progress on quality of life issues. Democrats might move us up incrementally higher with new, appropriate government programs, but it’s never enough to make up for years of neglect.
Now that the federal government has become highly dysfunctional and put into paralysis by Tea Party extremists, the country’s political process might seem entirely futile to some progressive Oklahomans. What’s there to do? Wait it out until something happens?
One thing progressive Oklahomans can do is expend their political energy on urban issues, particularly in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Our nation’s cities, according to some national leaders, are making progress even as the federal government stagnates and fails.
Writing on Salon.com, Henry Grabar points out, “For years, city officials and urban theorists have heralded the arrival of the metropolitan area as the most dynamic unit of American governance and economic growth. What better endorsement than anarchy at the Capitol and order in the streets?” Grabar cites the work of Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, whose book The Metropolitan Revolution deals with the issue of the emergence of the city as the center of political importance.
I’ve argued for the importance of city politics for progressives for some time now. Can you shut out all the noise from the chaos of the federal government and the GOP-social agenda here at the state level? Of course not, but you can create and expand forward-thinking enclaves within cities. These enclaves connect to others like them in other cities, but not necessarily to any state government or the federal government.
One obstacle facing Oklahoma City, in particular, is its heavy reliance on the federal government for jobs so its economic health could be directly related to a functioning, normal-acting federal government, which probably won’t happen anytime soon. That doesn’t mean improving the quality of life in Oklahoma couldn’t have its own deep economic impact.
It doesn’t look like progressives can do much on the state level in Oklahoma right now, and until that changes, local government probably represents the best opportunity for change and progress.