Florence was born in Oklahoma Territory in 1903, four years before statehood. By the time this famous photograph was taken in February 1936, she had lost her first husband to tuberculosis in California and had six hungry mouths to feed. “I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I cooked. I worked in the fields. I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids,” she said later.
Florence’s story symbolizes the strength of Oklahoma women and Diamond Donkey, our Spring fundraiser on April 17, will highlight that strength through the words of Oklahoma women who are making a difference here in our state.
Cyndi Munson is more than just another candidate who lost her house race by a few hundred votes. A lifelong Girl Scout and only 29, she cares and works on a variety of issues important to all Oklahomans.
As the national leader in imprisoning women and third overall, Oklahoma has a pathetic record on human rights by underfunding corrections and by having the worst drug laws in the country. Cyndi sits on the board and works with the Oklahoma Messages Project which allows prisoners to be a healthy part of their children’s lives by recording video messages of them reading books that are sent to their children.
That isn’t Cyndi’s only issue. Oklahoma is 49th in the nation in female representation in our legislative bodies and she is one of the organizers of 2020 Oklahoma, an Oklahoma Political Action Committee that gives money directly to the campaigns of Oklahoma Democratic women candidates. The year 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary for women having the right to vote and 2020 seeks to reach as much gender parity as possible before 2020.
Singer/Songwriter Carter Sampson, queen of Oklahoma, has been making her way around the country spreading the red dirt gospel, but her passion and enthusiasm for our great state isn’t just in her music.
One of her passions is Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, an organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of girls and women to create social change. As the founding organization says, “Girls need positive role models and support for their creative endeavors.” We would all do well to recognize that everyone needs positive role models and support for all their endeavors.
Carter’s bio describes her as “A naturally independent free spirit” and she’s been performing for nearly 20 years despite her youth. Unlike some people in the last election, when turnout was historically low, Carter actually voted. Dashboard Dolly, the figurine that sits on the dash of Carter’s RV that empowers her to be a touring musician and small businesswoman, proudly wears an “I Voted” Sticker that indirectly defined the theme for our event this year.
Dr. Laura Belmonte is head of the OSU History Department and has done extensive commentary on U.S. politics and human rights. The Journal of American History called her book, Selling the American Way, “a welcome addition to a fast-growing body of literature on propaganda…”
Laura is also a founder and board member of Freedom Oklahoma, Oklahoma’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, which is winning our fight for marriage equality. “We have been successful every time we have to fend off anti-LGBT legislation,” she said in January as hate-filled bills were being introduced in the legislature.
Dr. Belmonte will offer historical perspective on the state of women in politics in our state.
Finally, our friend Cathy Cummings, candidate in 2014 for Lt. Governor, didn’t stop caring just because the election was over. Descended from Italian immigrants, Cathy is a small business woman and restauranteur, active in a variety of causes, and, along with her husband Sean, works for progressive candidates all over the state.
In 2013, their experiment with living on minimum wage nearly killed Sean, but it highlighted just how difficult it is for working people in our state. In part because of the publicity that received, the legislature in 2014 passed a bill that prevented municipalities like Oklahoma City from passing their own minimum wage bills to just try and do a little more for the poorest and least represented of our citizens.
That bill is the foundation Republicans are using for legislation backed by the energy companies that would prevent cities like Stillwater from regulating oil and gas drilling independently of state government. So much for local rule.
Photographer Dorthea Lange got some of Florence’s story wrong in her notes, but the photograph symbolized the outward migration of Oklahomans to California during The Great Depression and the strength of the women who left our state and never returned.
Florence’s story is also memorialized by Payne County’s own Monica Taylor in her song Young Mother who asks the migrant mother, “Would you go back to Oklahoma? Or would you have never come?” if she’d known how difficult it would be in California. Florence may have visited Oklahoma many times later in life, but she never brought her considerable courage back here to live.
Too many young people are leaving our state because of the craziness our politics has become. These four women are here now, making a difference for all of us. Whether they like it or not, they are the role models we need to encourage young women and men to stand up and speak out for the people of our state.
We hope you will come out to meet and hear them on April 17th at Meditations, 1205 N. Country Club Road, in Stillwater. There will be an outstanding meal, cash bar and silent auction. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., food is served at 6:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $50 in advance and the proceeds go to help get Democrats, especially women, elected. Preferred placement tables, which include eight meals, are also available. Individual tickets can also be purchased at our headquarters at 302 N. Main in Stillwater between now and the event.
Bring your daughters, mothers, wives, lovers and friends. People need to know that we’re not going to give up on what’s right without a serious fight. If you can’t come, make a donation so that we can sponsor Oklahomans who need to hear these women before they decide that Oklahoma is a lost cause. We are not a lost cause.