The Great Post Election Listening Roadtrip: Here's how it all started...
I woke up in the dark on the morning after the election, having had only 3 hours of sleep, and it was time to get up and go to Oklahoma. "I want to cancel this trip... " I groaned into the darkness, where Peter was lying beside me, "...or I wish you were going with me. I don't want to go to Oklahoma the day after the election."
I felt, like so many people, unsafe in the new world.
Peter quietly talked me through my fears saying "What has been missing throughout this election is listening and compassion. That's how we got into this: people stopped listening and got scared of each other. I think you will find compassion in Oklahoma, and I think you will bring compassion to Oklahoma, because that's what you are good at."
As this image slowly trickled into me, it gave me a completely different take on the trip. I started to imagine Oklahoma as a gentle place where I could start to heal.
On the way to the airport I talked to Vanessa Rule, who echoed Peter's sentiments. She said she thought it was not only okay, but REALLY important for me to go to Oklahoma--to do the cross-pollinating listening that I tend to do wherever I am.
"The Great Listening...!" I said to Vanessa.
"That's right," she said "Let the Great Listening begin."
I arrived fairly late at night. An elegant older middle eastern woman checked me in to my hotel. At 9 pm I went out by myself to a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant to eat, and got in a long amazing conversation with the Mexican (immigrant) waiter and waitress--hung out with them while they were drying all their spoons talking till closing time. They brought up racism, deportation, the election, how the schools in El Reno are closed one day a week because all the money has gone to big oil corporations. They talked about the monthly earthquakes that they never used to have until the last 3 years from fracking (5.3 on the richter scale last week), and the fact that the water isn't drinkable in their neighborhood. They gave me my meal almost for free. I tipped them twice what the bill had been.
At breakfast the next morning at my hotel, the dining room was filled with wonderful vibrant young black and Hispanic guys who work in the oil fields, getting paid $15 an hour, but being put up in $100 hotel rooms. For the next few days, we all ate our biscuits and gravy like an odd family. (Temple Grandin was there as well--just to make things even more interesting). I sat in the hot tub with a white working class mother and her mixed race teenage daughter. They were discussing whether an English male friend of their family was a racist. He had called the daughter a "half caste." The mother looked over at me, "That's racist, right?"
I nodded, yes.
"But I like him!" said the teenage daughter. "How could he be racist?"
At this point I was laughing at myself, because in imagining Oklahoma, I had forgotten that there might be any people of color there.
I spent the next few days with white folks, I've written some about them, more stories on their way....
The white men I met were gracious, gentle, respectful, generous. The black men I met were gracious, gentle, respectful, generous. (One, turned out to be a professor of medical sociology--how perfect is that--and invited me to come speak at Southeastern OSU).
The women were powerful beyond belief.