Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

OKC Supporters Celebrate the Commutation of Chelsea Manning's Sentence

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The Center for Conscience in Action has been actively involved in advocacy work for Chelsea Manning since 2010 shortly after she was arrested for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. (She was then known as Bradley.)

In that time, we have organized marches, public forums, vigils, talks, letter-writing campaigns, petition drives, Twitter storms and more for the whistleblower who was born and raised right here in Central Oklahoma. We have written articles and blog posts, tabled, held annual birthday parties, and marched in the OKC Pride Parade. We sent staffperson Rena Guay to attend several days of her press conference in 2013.

Today we celebrate the happy conclusion of our Chelsea Manning project, as President Obama has commuted the bulk of her sentence and she will be released from the Army’s prison at Fort Leavenworth.

The following statement should be credited to Rena Guay:

“We are extremely grateful to President Obama for showing mercy for Chelsea and letting her out early. We believe, as do many military law experts, that the sentence was excessive. And we have always felt a special responsibility and honor in keeping Chelsea’s cause alive in Central Oklahoma, her birthplace and childhood home.”

“There was also the added complication of Chelsea’s diagnosis — by military doctors prior to her court martial — of gender dysphoria. Now, she will be able to get the medical and psychological treatment that is recommended, that the military was neither willing nor prepared to provide, including gender reassignment surgery.”

“Finally, Chelsea will be able to speak for herself in a way she has not been able to before, and to be true to the person she is. We look forward to her many future contributions to the area of LGBT and human rights, as well as her unique creative and intellectual gifts. We also hope to organize one more party for her here — at which she can finally attend in person.”

Photos from some of our many actions for Chelsea.

Fixing The Vote: Some Suggestions

By Nyla Ali Khan, for Oklahoma Observer
Reprinted with permission

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In order to improve the election process for the Oklahoma people to engage and encourage them to be informed and to vote, it is imperative to identify issues that are important to voters to inspire them to want to make a significant difference by voting and participating.

As Sen. Connie Johnson observed in a conversation I had with her, “citizens must be educated about civic engagement/participation. They must be given voting information and voting strategies, e.g., absentee voting.”

An absentee ballot provides citizens with the time to carefully read the state questions and thoroughly research them; gives them time to familiarize themselves with the candidates and their positions on issues of import; gives them an alternative to going to the polls if the weather is inclement or they are immobile. To that effect, I would recommend the extension of early voting.

Local political activists and educators observe that many older Oklahomans, who voted more frequently and regularly than younger voters, were required to provide a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot. She points out that that requirement no longer exists, which a lot of people are not aware of.

It is unfortunate that the average Oklahoman knows very little about how the local, state, or federal government works, which is why it is necessary to begin civic education in early grades, and this should press upon high school seniors the importance of registering to vote.

Civil society and political institutions are closely interconnected. In order to create democracy, there must be a minimum of participation and adequate pluralism in a society. A consolidated democracy has to be open to diverse opinions; dissent and differences of opinion on policies is an important element of every democracy. This issue needs to be not addressed just in Oklahoma but across the nation as well.

Voter participation can be substantially increased by automatically registering a citizen to vote once she/he turns 18. Oregon is an excellent example of how this strategy can be successfully implemented.

Young people can be further motivated to vote by reinforcing laws, such as the Voting Rights Act 1965, that removed restrictions that had traditionally been employed to discourage voting by African-Americans. Another strategy that would lead to greater participation, transparency, and accountability is the enacting of public financing of elections, which would eradicate the necessity of the candidate soliciting funds, as has successfully been done in Maine. Nonprofit and community organizations can play a significant role in providing candidates forums to explain their stances.

Greater transparency in the electoral process can be ensured by outlawing the practice of gerrymandering or manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency.

The legislative improvement/change that I would recommend is the repeal of SQ 640, which requires a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate as well as the governor’s signature before a revenue measure can become law, rendering the entire process impractical and almost impossible to achieve. Political activists and educators that I have spoken to point out that this legislative change could be brought about by circulating an initiative petition, which would place the repeal on the ballot for a vote.

After talking with local political activists, other legislative improvements/changes that I would recommend are the robust enforcement of existing political donor regulations to prevent some highly questionable vote-buying activities; reform the ballot access process so that non-major-party candidates can get onto the ballot; allow taxpayers to designate a small amount of money to the candidate fund when they file their tax returns. These reforms could be carried out by existing state and county election commissions and wouldn’t incur significant costs.

The non-legislative improvements/changes that I would recommend are as follows: new efforts and new forums are required not just in Oklahoma but in other parts of the world as well for the germination of new ideas, broad-based coalition politics that transcends organizational divides, and gives women the space and leeway to make important political decisions.

The most effective way to make a gender perspective viable in Oklahoman society would be for women, state as well as non-state actors, to pursue the task of not just incorporating and improving the positions of their organizations within civil society, but also by forging connections between their agendas and strategies for civic/voter engagement and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other sections of the populace impacted by the lack of voter engagement.

It is imperative that women actors, in collaboration with other civil society actors, focus on the rebuilding of a greatly polarized and fragmented social fabric to ensure the redress of inadequate political participation, reconstruction of the infrastructure and productive capacity of Oklahoma, and resumption of access to basic social services. It is imperative that the state government recognizes the worth of the peace-building work that women’s organizations can contribute at the local and regional levels.

Women in Oklahoma have had a hard lot, even those who have been visible in the public arena. Researching my own family’s story, I have found that women in my native state of Kashmir, similar to women in my adopted state of Oklahoma, are conditioned to wipe away their footprints and end up leaving very few traces of their work. Women in civic associations and in government can strengthen a pluralistic democracy.

The best way to put the state’s house in order is by further developing responsive and pluralistic democratic government. Building on the earlier gains, a pluralistic government can now ensure further economic, social, and educational gains for women and marginalized groups.

The first step is for local government to assure basic equality. Women still get paid less than men in every state and industry in the United States. Women citizens should be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life – economic, cultural, political, and in government services. Women should have the right to work in every line of employment for terms and wages equal to those for men. Women would be assured of equality with men in education, social insurance and job conditions. The law should protect mothers and children, but not use motherhood as an excuse to hamstring women.

Not just in Oklahoma, but in many parts of the world, women can play an important role in establishing a more inclusive democracy and new forums for citizen cooperation. Women offer new ideas, build broad-based political coalitions, and work to bridge organizational divides.

Women active in politics must aim not just to improve the position of their particular organizations, but also to forge connections across differences to rebuild a society that is racially/ethnically/religiously diverse.

––
nylakhanNyla Ali Khan is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism [Routledge, 2005]; Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan [Palgrave Macmillan, 2010]; Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity [Palgrave Macmillan, 2012], and The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation.

State Question 776: Unnecessary, Unaffordable, Uninformed

By Camille Landry for OklahomaActivist.com

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The ballot language for State Question 776

This is an OklahomaActivist.com original opinion piece from contributor Camille Landry. Cross posted with permission. 

camille-head-shotThe leaders who founded our nation and our state envisioned a government of laws and principles that would apply equally to everyone. They wrote a federal, then state constitutions to ensure that the most important principles of our society are clearly enshrined. The right to vote, the right to speak freely, freedom of the press, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and other constitutional rights form the foundation for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The founders took an additional step to protect democracy: they made it difficult to change our constitutions. Opinions change, society evolves, but the constitution is meant to be the solid foundation that our government of laws is built upon and was never intended to be changed without serious consideration. After all, you don’t start tearing at the foundation unless you have a good reason – and then you proceed very carefully in a well-thought out way lest the whole structure comes tumbling down.

SQ776 would enshrine the death penalty as part of Oklahoma’s constitution. The amendment would make all methods of execution constitutionally allowable, regardless of how barbaric they are, and would forbid the death penalty from being construed as “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.” It opens the door for beheadings, firing squads and the return of the electric chair.

SQ776 is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing. There is no compelling reason for people who are either for or against the death penalty to vote “yes” on this question. Its passage would do nothing but shout “hooray” at something that is already an established practice; it is wasteful and serves to trivialize what is literally a life-and-death issue. Continue reading

Oklahoma law restricting emergency contraception blocked in district court

Judge Lisa Davis granted a temporary injunction, blocking a law preventing over-the-counter sales of emergency contraceptive

Today District Judge Lisa Davis blocked a law that made emergency contraception less accessible to women in Oklahoma.

Passed by the legislature with bipartisan support and signed by Governor Fallin this spring, HB 2226 made Oklahoma the only state with a law keeping the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step behind the counter.  The law requires that all women show identification to a pharmacist and teens have a prescription in order to purchase the contraceptive.  

Because of the judge’s temporary restraining order, this law does not go into effect on Thursday as planned and the drug will be available for sale like all other over the counter drugs.

Martha Skeeters speaks at press conference after ruling to block HR 2226 in Oklahoma


Martha Skeeters speaks at press conference after ruling to block HB 2226 in Oklahoma. She is joined by Senator Connie Johnson and lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights.


 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights were the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, an advocacy group, and Jo Ann Mangili, an Oklahoma mother of a teen daughter.

HB 2226 began as a bill concerned with regulating health insurance benefit forms, but came to include the unrelated and discriminatory provision concerning Plan B One-Step. David Brown, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the law contravened the Oklahoma Constitution’s requirement that a law contain only one subject.

OCRJ President Martha Skeeters said, “The judge’s ruling today is good news for women and teens in Oklahoma, who deserve the same access to emergency contraceptives that women in the rest of the country have.”  The FDA has ruled this contraceptive safe and effective for all ages.  It is most effective the sooner it is taken and effective only up to 72 hours.  So its timely availability is extremely important. 

Skeeters added, “The legislature needs to be more concerned about the far-reaching effects of unintended pregnancy on the health and safety of Oklahomans and refrain from passing unconstitutional bills aimed at restricting accessibility to contraceptives.”

Oklahoma’s rate of births from unintended pregnancy at 48% is much higher than the national rate of 38%.  And Oklahoma ranks seventh among states in teen birth rates.  In 2012 the state settled a lawsuit which alleged among other things that children in the DHS foster care system were being mistreated.  Unfortunately the state has been unable to reach goals set by that settlement to improve the treatment of children in DHS care or to increase the number of social workers.

Senator Connie Johnson explained how the bill's content was altered at the eleventh hour of the legislative session.

Senator Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) explained how the bill’s content was altered at the eleventh hour of the legislative session.


News coverage of the court hearing and reaction:

Posted originally at ocrj.org, and republished here with permission.  

Oklahoma City's 27th Peace Festival – Sunday Nov. 11

We ask your assistance in getting this word out. Please forward, share, announce and promote freely. Flyers can be downloaded and printed for distribution (from here). Thank you!

Details are in place for Oklahoma City’s 27th annual Peace Festival to be held Sunday, Nov. 11th, from 11 am to 5 pm, in the Civic Center Music Hall’s “Hall of Mirrors” in downtown in Oklahoma City.  The event is free and open to the public.  

“Visitors will be inspired by tables and booths of local groups and organizations serving in the areas of social justice, human service, human rights, environment and peace,” said Nathaniel Batchelder, director of the Peace House.  “Oklahoma City cares about people and the world,” he said.

The Peace Festival has become a holiday shopping opportunity as groups and vendors sell items as gifts for the holiday season.  Fair trade and home-made goods on sale include pottery, crafts and organic coffee from Central America, carving and hand-made items from Africa.  Local artists and craftspeople sell their art as well.  Many groups sell books, calendars, t-shirts and bumper stickers furthering their mission.  All groups offer brochures, newsletters, and membership opportunities in addition to sales items.

“Background music during the festival includes musicians Steve McLinn, Jahruba, and others,” Batchelder said.  Folk singers and guitarists Jerry Carroll and D. Ray Polk will entertain. Dance recitals will be performed by students from Oklahoma City’s Aalim School of Dance.

A Children’s Activity Room, supervised by adults during the event, is sponsored by the Peace Education Institute, a cosponsor of the Festival.

Other sponsors with the Peace House and Peace Education Institute include the Social Justice Committee First Unitarian Church, Home Creations, Bright Lights of OKC, Summit Business Systems, and Bob Lemon.

More information is available by calling the Peace House in Oklahoma City at 405-524-5577, or by going on the website  www.PeaceHouseOK.org>/a>.

OccupyOKC plans events of protest, music, commemoration and family fun

Events begin this weekend with rally at Capitol and musical performances

On Saturday, October 29th, Occupy OKC will be joining with other Occupy groups in Oklahoma in a protest march to the State Capitol. The protest march will leave Kerr Park at 11:30am. The event will feature several distinguished guest speakers and a series of short speeches by participants of Occupy OKC and live music protesting the undue influence of money on our political system. The event will end at 3pm and the protestors will return to Kerr Park to enjoy the 4pm music concert that afternoon.

Music

A series of weekend music concerts are planned for Kerr Park every Thursday through Sunday, 4-6pm, beginning this weekend. They will feature some of the best local and national touring folk musicians coming through OKC. These free music concerts are open to the public and will be held in the amphitheater at Kerr Park. This weekend’s line-up will feature Victor Zuniga (OKC) John Brooks (Touring Nationally) and several other local bands. See the website occupyokc.com for a full schedule.

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Candlelight Vigil

On Sunday, October 30, at 8pm, Occupy OKC will be hosting a Candlelight Vigil to honor first responder and war veterans. The public is encouraged to attend and bring thank you cards and posters with messages of thanks to honor their service to our community and country, and to also bring candles to light to signify your appreciation. This will be a solemn native American style event. After an initial welcome by the Occupy OKC Compassion Team, first responders, war veterans and their families will be encouraged to step up to the mic and share their stories, concerns and victories. There will also be a moment of silence to honor all of our fallen heroes. Please come to Kerr Park and help us say thank you.

Safe Family Halloween Party

On Monday, October 31, at 6pm, Occupy OKC will be hosting a safe family friendly Halloween event in Kerr Park with free candy, face painting & other fun activities for children, and live music for parents.

Principles

Occupy OKC stands in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and we are unified in the desire to make our Government more responsive to ordinary citizens instead of just being responsive to those interests – like the wealthy elite, banks, wall street & big corporations – that have the most money. We all would like to see meaningful campaign finance reform and other measures enacted that actually ensure this change occurs. Beyond that, each of us bring our own issues and concerns, and we highly encourage everyone’s participation. This is why we do not affiliate with or support any particular political party & welcome anyone to join us regardless of their political affiliation. If you agree, please come join us!

Thanks to supporters

Occupy OKC would also like to thank all of the generous supporters who have donated supplies or other items. If you would like to make a donation, there is a supply list and a button to make financial contributions on the Home page of our website. Finally, Occupy OKC would like to remind everyone in our OKC community of our Occupy OKC Good Neighbor policy posted at the Info tab of our website – www.OccupyOKC.com – which is applicable to all our events.