Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Is Oklahoma coming around on legalization of marijuana?

While there is still strong resistance to legalizing marijuana from current state government leaders, as well as prosecutors and law enforcement in our state, there is evidence that the average Oklahoman is ready to reform the harsh laws that harken back to the War on Drugs of the Reagan era.

In 2016, two ballot initiatives aimed at criminal justice reform passed overwhelmingly, with voters recognizing that putting nonviolent offenders in prison, sometimes for lengthy sentences, is neither effective or financially responsible.

But again, legislators at the Capitol decided they knew better and found ways to squelch the reforms. For now.

Activists are pushing forward with a ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and this time the state’s voters may be ready. But maybe a majority is ready to go even further. The general success of legalization in states like Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and California, with others allowing medicinal use, has begun to erode the alarmist arguments of the past decades.

Rather than the old saw about marijuana being a gateway drug, I think things have evolved to the point that medical marijuana is the gateway reform. I think it’s time to go for the whole enchilada, and in fact, that discussion is already starting on the federal level, thanks to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. It might turn out that by the time Oklahoma approves the less controversial approach, the conversation across the country will be well ahead of us.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

But I don’t think the many old fogey pols in Oklahoma will be able to use those outdated arguments much longer and not get laughed at, and they won’t be able to avoid the issue entirely either. Really, the time has come to put this self-defeating drumbeat of doom to rest and listen to the science and the personal experience of millions of users.

Political and community leaders, even in Oklahoma, need to be bolder about taking a stand to bring a saner approach to drug use in general, to stop arrests for possession of small amounts of pot, or growing for personal use or to treat medical conditions. And this is sure to become an issue in 2018 state elections with the question on that same ballot.

Connie Johnson, currently running for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and Joe Dorman, former gubernatorial candidate and currently CEO of Oklahoma Institute for Children Advocacy both were quoted with full or tentative support, respectively, in an August 4 story in The Tulsa World about New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s proposal for federal level legalization.

Both have been involved in past efforts to allow medical marijuana in Oklahoma. They were interviewed for an August 3 story in the Tulsa World by Siandhara Bonnet about Booker’s bill.

“I believe the federal government should get out of the … illegal marijuana business,” Booker said. “It disturbs me right now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not moving as the states are, moving as public opinion is, but actually saying that we should be doubling down and enforcing federal marijuana laws even in states that have made marijuana legal.”

Neither Johnson nor Dorman defended the current approach in Oklahoma, of course, because they are ahead of the curve, and have been for several years. They should not be the ones quizzed, in my opinion. Where do the current crop of candidates for governor and other state positions stand — that’s what we need to know.

It’s time for other state leaders and candidates to acquaint themselves with the realities of our times, and stop promoting easily-refuted claims of cultural calamity. crime, eventual escalation to opiates and other such myths, and support making marijuana legal in Oklahoma for both medical AND recreational use.

Implications of a Trump Presidency for Minorities and Women in America

The election of Donald Trump as the next United States president has generated stimulating and vibrant debates across the country, particularly with regard to the treatment of minorities. My attempt is to analyze the intersection of law and race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and national origin within the current political context.

In a post 9/ 11 world, political and cultural edifices have been entrenched by imperial discourse have sanctified the convenient first world-third world dichotomy. Institutional politics and policies have facilitated the construction of the “third world” subject as an eternally feral being whose essential savagery is not amenable to socio-cultural conditioning. The rationale provided for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, is those territories’ purportedly dehumanized condition that cries out for enlightenment, underscoring the constructed bestiality of non-Western, other cultures.

The construction of the “first world-third world” dichotomy in the wake of military interventions overseas vitiated progressive political and social change. This befouling of institutional politics insidiously bled into the dominant political discourse in the United States and was used to promulgate Islamophobia.

Although governance is a different ballgame, the rhetoric deployed and legitimized by Trump while on the campaign trial purported to create a totalizing or homogenizing center. In particular, non-Western cultural, religious, political, and social epistemologies were dismissed as “marginal” or reductively “fanatical by the discourse generated during the campaign. Some of the epistemologies that were demonized are institutions and modes of thought created by contemporary nationalisms; the consciousness of political, social, and cultural place that offers a critical perspective from which to formulate alternatives to an insulated modernity and its concomitant defeatism of developing nations; and the ushering in of an era in which a nation is NOT constructed around a common language, religion, culture, patriarchal image of womanhood, and an ethnically pure majority.

The increase in polarization and fragmentation that we witnessed in the wake of the presidential campaign and the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the US undermined the traditional notion of self-determination, rule of law, a return to the process of internal political dialogue, negotiations, and political accommodation in a democratic nation. In a nation that prides itself on women’s selfhood, autonomy, and ability to self-actualize, the blatant infantilization and objectification of women brought to the fore, among other things, that misogyny and racism are not things of the past. We still have a lot of work to do in order to repair schisms. Democracy does not limit itself to numbers or majoritarian rule, but to substance. There is no room for the subjection of religious minorities to a centralized and authoritarian state in a democratic nation. Self-promotion in the name of democracy, which is a given in autocratic and oligarchic forms of government, must be strongly discouraged by constitutional means and methods. In the recent presidential campaign, democracy was brazenly deployed to promote centralization and majoritarianism to the detriment of democratic growth and evolution.

Trump’s success lies in bringing out of the woodwork all those who have been frustrated with the establishment and the Davos set and getting them to vent their anger on those who are “different” either racially, ethnically, or in terms of gender and religious affiliation. The absolute urgency of revivifying economic growth and opportunities for people across the board is undeniable, but that cannot be accomplished at the cost of cultural diversity and the incorporation of cultural/ racial/ gender/ religious differences into our polity and history.

In the space of globalization/ transnationalism, cultures undergo a dialectical interplay and create interlayered and mixed identities. This process necessitates the reconception and cultural and linguistic differences into our sense of identity.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She is on the Advisory Council of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women. Nyla Ali Khan is also a member of the Oklahoma Academy, a state-wide policy planning organization.

Fixing The Vote: Some Suggestions

By Nyla Ali Khan, for Oklahoma Observer
Reprinted with permission

vote-1024x512
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

sq776-ballot-lang

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

Where does Oklahoma want to be politically for the next few years?

Cross-posted from my blog, Peace Arena.

On Nov. 4, Oklahomans have a serious question to ask themselves before voting: Do they want to be stuck with two Senators and all but one of their Representatives in the minority party for the foreseeable future, or do they want to be seriously involved in governing this country, solving our collective problems and moving into the future?

Because, unless something unexpected happens before, or something illegal happens on Election Day, the Democratic Party is going to control both houses of Congress — probably by a considerable margin — as well as the White House, come January 20, 2009.

Members of the minority party, meanwhile, simply will be keeping their seats warm, having have no real power.

If Andrew Rice, the Democrat who is challenging Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, is elected, he will be part of that national majority, and able to represent Oklahoma’s interests in Washington during the next six years, which I happen to think he will do very well. But even if you disagree with him on many issues, at least you will be able to contact a member of the ruling party to influence legislation. The other option is to send Inhofe back, where he will continue to suffer the precipitous decline of his status and influence to shape anything other than the cushion of his chair. In the latter outcome, Oklahoma will have no serious voice in the world-changing debate and decisions that are looming before us — in security, the environment, energy, the economy, et. al.

It’s really that simple.

I hope Oklahomans will think about whether they want to have any participation or power in making the changes that are coming. This election could be their one chance for that to happen.

The Oklahoma deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 10. Check here for how to register, or to confirm your registration.

Online guide to the 2008 Democratic Convention

( – promoted by peacearena)

This was posted under a slightly different title at my own blog, Peace Arena .  

I’ve been scouting out the best online news resources for following the Democratic Party convention in Denver, other than the well-known, corporate news operations (that I generally avoid anyway), which I think we can all find on our own. Below is what I’ve found so far, and I’ll add to the list as I come across others.

Note: If you only care about the Oklahoma angle, jump down here.

The official convention site is worth a look for speaker schedules, logistics, last minute updates and the like.

This is the first convention where bloggers are more than an afterthought, so check out the official list of bloggers credentialed by the Party. These independent (that is, not Party funded; all are fiercely partisan Democrats) bloggers will be “embedded” with their state delegations, so as  to bring all the surprise and spontaneity of the convention to life for their readers back home. (Seriously, it’s a good thing, and probably demonstrating much more integrity than that other embedding project the government tried with the media a few years back.)

The Big Tent –   there is literally something called “The Big Tent” (subtle enough for you, Dems?) serving as bloggers central for the convention; this site is not for news reporting apparently (bloggers do have their own outlets, after all), but for coordinating use of the facility.  Still interesting for those of us into the meta stuff. This not run by the Party, but by a group of bloggers and sponsors like Digg and Google.

Just to keep everyone confused with information overload, some of the credentialed state blogs (including Oklahoma’s), along with some non-credentialed ones, decided to aggregate their convention reports on yet another site, Roots Wire.

DemConWatch is an independent blog run by grassroots Democrats that has a pretty thorough background and coverage of the event — including live cams! And check out the DNC history links in the sidebar

Colorado sites that will probably have major resources dedicated to the convention.

A number of netroots/Democratic/progressive sites have dedicated sections for convention news, and have folks on the ground there.

Plus, some really good news: Democracy Now! will expand to two hours live broadcast on radio and tv for the next two weeks, covering both conventions. Unless you live at or near UCO, you’ll have to pick the show up after the fact on the web, but it’s worth it.  Their in-depth interviews are unequaled.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the Twitter Search tag #dnc08 that Twitterers in Denver at using to flag their tweets. Or, the Denver Post has a dedicated Twitter account for convention related updates, The DNC – a warning though: this is high-volume so you may just want to visit the page once or twice a day, rather than follow and hve your timeline completely swamped.

Okies in Denver

Last but not least, there’s the Oklahoma credentialed blog team, Calvin and Tim from DemoOkie Forum. Yes, Oklahoma’s credentialed blog is a forum, but I think it was an apppropriate selection, since it is the major site for the grassroots of the state Democratic Party. Anyway, thanks to Howard Dean, they will be right there in the Pepsi Center and INVESCO Field with the Oklahoma Delegation.

I’m very happy to see that the boys, once selected, actually realized they would need a real blog to pull this off, rather than trying to stretch that Snitz 2000 forum, which is already distorted way beyond its intended purpose (bless ’em, they do keep things hopping over there, it’s just clumsy and ugly as shit, and about as state-of-the-art as Windows 98, and I obsess about those things). I’m hoping they’ll like the new format so much that they will come home and do a complete overhaul of their site once Barack has moved in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with Michelle and the girls.

Tim posted about their plans for Denver:

If you want Gavel to Gavel, watch the news. It will be better than we can do. However, since we are embedded with the Oklahoma Delegation, we will be with them all day. You will get to meet them and see what really happens at these conventions. Delegates usually start with a breakfast at 7:30 am and continue until late night. I know when I went to Boston I was exhausted when I came back. You’ll go with them to receptions, caucuses and just hanging around.

We’ve brought digital cameras, digital videos and digital audio recorders. We plan on making a few of the attendees YouTube stars. Dr. Earl Mitchell from Stillwater has been drafted again as a special correspondent. We also will be sharing photos taken by the delegates themselves.

Hopefully we will fulfill Howard Deans vision of bringing the other parts of the convention home. We look forward to the opportunity.

If you want a down and dirty compilation of news out of Denver, check the sidebar of DenverOkie.com, there’s a list of the latest news headline from all the state bloggers, as well as the RootsWire feed. For any normal person, that will be more than enough! (I of course, am not normal and will be trying to go to every site for every last pixel of information.)

Tim and Calvin say they are making their photos and reports available to Oklahoma media. I hope they mean new/digital as well as old/dead-tree media, or I’ll really have to give them a netroots/open-source whup-ass tutorial, if they don’t get one in Denver first (which I suspect they might).

This list is by no means definitive! It’s just a starting point. If you have other links to offer, please post in comments.