Last week we hosted our first events of the 2017 Oklahoma legislative season - Hall & Oaths and the inaugural Capitol Crawl. Both of these events were timed to coincide with the swearing-in ceremonies of the 56th Legislature, which more-or-less marks the first "official" day for the 43 new members of the legislature.
Hall & Oaths
The purpose of Hall & Oaths was to get people to do something rather unusual: go to the state Capitol, watch the legislature take their oath of office, and actually have face-to-face conversations with them. What better way to welcome state representatives and senators to the job than to show up, wear buttons, and start the discussion. These folks ran for office because they want to make a difference in our state, so we wanted to tell them what issues are most important to we, the people of Oklahoma.
As it turns out, the general public rarely attends the swearing-in ceremonies, so our presence there was highly unusual. Multiple people commented that they have never seen a crowd so large for these events. There were people sporting red Let's Fix This buttons throughout the Capitol - in the halls, in galleries, in legislators' offices.
We estimate there were 75 to 100 people attending LFT throughout the day, and among our group were teachers, parents, healthcare workers, blue collar workers, white collar professionals, retired adults, newborn babies - the whole gamut. I'm proud to say that our group proudly represented the diversity of our state. The media took notice as well, with the following comprehensive reports from OETA, NonDoc, and the Red Dirt Report:
While the purpose of Hall & Oaths was to the bring the people to the Capitol, the purpose of the Capitol Crawl was to bring the Capitol to the people. We decided to hold the event in the Uptown 23rd district, in shadow of the Capitol itself. The crawl began at 6:00pm at Guyutes with around 35 people (including four legislators) and then moved to The Pump Bar, where we joined up with more people (and another legislator). You could feel the momentum and excitement growing with each stop along the route.
By the time the full group reached the Rockford Cocktail Den around 8:30pm, we numbered more than 150 and had strangers asking "What's going on?" followed by "Oh wow, this is really cool!"
Here's the thing: it really was cool. People were introducing themselves to legislators and asking them real questions, like "What's your stance on school vouchers?" and "What are you going to do about mental health funding?" Furthermore, the legislators were also introducing themselves to constituents, asking where they lived, who their representatives are, and finding out what issues are important to them.
We [the public] hold onto this notion that legislature doesn't care about us, and I understand why. We want to change that perception, and, to the extent that it exists, we want to change that reality. I also have a hunch that many in the legislature feel like the public doesn't care about what they do, because we don't act like we care. Low voter turnout and very little interaction with the folks at the Capitol mean they have to govern in a vacuum. They can't represent you if you never talk to them. Even if you didn't vote for them, they still represent you.
It's not hard. We did it, and on pretty short notice, too. All you have to do is call your legislator and invite them. Or even tweet at them, like one of our board members did:
Altogether we had over 200 people - including seven legislators - who were able to come to our first Capitol Crawl. We look forward to many more constituents, many more legislators, and many more conversations at our next one in February. And we hope that more people feel like this attendee: