By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Newspaper
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – As the saying goes, “dynamite comes in small packages,’ so goes petite (4’11”) but tough Senator Barbara Boxer, the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Sally’s List Luncheon.
Boxer rallied Sally’s List candidates and their supporters at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum on Nov. 3 in Oklahoma City. She spoke about, and signed copies of her new autobiography “The Art of Tough.”
“One goal of this memoir is to inspire people to fight for change. It takes what I call the Art of Tough and I’ve had to do it all my life,” said Boxer.
Oklahoma City based Sally’s List is a nonpartisan organization whose mission is to recruit, train, and help elect progressive women to public office in Oklahoma.
Sally’s List board President LaShonda Williamson-Jennings welcomed guests and discussed updates about the organization and current legislation. She observed, “There should be nothing about us, without us.”
Raised in a Jewish, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, Boxer was a journalist who decided she could make a difference. She first ran for local office in 1972 in California and was defeated.
In 1976 she was elected to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and served for six years. She served 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and then 24 years in the U.S. Senate, leaving in January 2017.
Boxer said she had visited Oklahoma City many years before when she said she gave her typical left leaning, tough sentiment talk. When she finished, there was silence. She wondered, “Did I say something wrong?
“Perhaps they had never heard a progressive, in that situation, at that time speak like that before,” she recalled. “Suddenly the room erupted,” she said. As she was leaving someone asked, ‘Would you give us that speech all over again.”
Boxer’s husband of 55 years, Stewart, a prominent attorney, attended the luncheon with her. “One of my favorite lines in the book is ‘Stew married Debbie Reynolds and he woke up with Golda Meir,” she laughed.
After praising Sally’s List for its work in recruiting and training female candidates to run for office, Boxer spoke about national politics, but said it all starts at the local level.
“We’re at a treacherous time for our beloved country because in my opinion the leader of America is taking a wrecking ball to American values. I think we’re in a national emergency.
“It is critical is to have people in office who are good, decent and motivated by one thing only – to help other people,” Boxer said. “It’s about service to others, that’s what public service is.”
“I lost my first fight,” Boxer said. “As sad as it was, I learned a lot. – to be humble and that you have to be tough.
“I stand before you as a first generation American,” she said. “I got to the highest legislative body in the world because of this country.” “We can’t spend a lot of time debating how we got here. We have to pick ourselves up and win. When we are told by the leader of the free world that the press is our enemy, we need to take it seriously and challenge that. When we see harsh attacks on immigrants, gays, and Muslims we must challenge that.”
“My mother said, ‘Barbara, you can tell someone to go to hell in such a nice way that they’ll say thank you.’ You’ve seen me do that before on the floor of the United States Senate, even to my dear friend Jim Inhofe,” Boxer said. “Jim and I have a very good relationship because we didn’t discuss the environment.” Rather she said that they came together on issues they could agree on.
Since leaving the Senate Boxer has founded PAC For A Change, where she follows congressional districts that went for Hilary but are being led by conservatives.
“My PAC is going after these people that are taking away healthcare and tax deductions for the most vulnerable.
“I don’t want to give you Jewish guilt, I got plenty of that growing up…and ask my kids I’m still pretty good at giving it, but for politics it is a good thing. Because we now know what is going on….an offense an hour,” she said.
Boxer noted that her mother never got to see her enter the Senate. She recalled after her passing she was going through her things and ran across a paper double wrapped in cellophane. It was her mother’s naturalization certificate.
“That said it all,” Boxer said. “We don’t have a choice, we have to do more and we have to get more people to help Sally’s List.”
Boxer advises candidates when they are confronted to say, “I don’t know why you’re coming after me. We want to breathe clean air, we want to drink clean water, we want our children to be safe. Use what they say as fuel…that’s the art of tough. It’s important to stand up for ideals wherever we live. Because it’s what really brings us together…human rights, freedom of religion, the right to vote, a healthy environment. Human beings need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And Sally’s List is bigger than each of us.”
Sara Jane Rose, Sally’s List founder and interim executive director stated, “Senator Boxer hit it out of the park. The wisdom and insight of her thirty-four years of public service radiated through the crowd, encouraging each of us to be involved, to pay attention to the political process, to vote, and most importantly, to support the work of Sally’s List and the candidates we recruit, train, and help get into office.
Rose added. “As I walked the Senator out of the building, she expressed how empowering it felt to engage with such a passionate audience, how enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, and how this is the feeling we need to maintain if we want to win back our state and nation.”
Sally’s List has recruited and trained a new group of candidates for the 2018 election cycle.
“There are six Sally’s List-recruited and trained women currently serving in the Oklahoma State Legislature, two on school boards, one on a city council and another nine running for a variety of offices in 2018,” Rose said.
Sally’s List carries on the work of its namesake, Sally Rae Merkle Mock, who passed away in 2009. An attorney and advocate for progressive issues, Sally served as a board member of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma and was a co-founder of the Oklahoma Committee to Promote Women’s Health.
“We are deep in preparations for 2018 and working with several women who have just recently decided to run. I plan on basking in the afterglow of the luncheon for as long as possible,” Rose said. “For those of you who couldn’t join us, there will be more opportunities to get involved with Sally’s List in the coming year.”
Boxer suggested the group should hold another event before the 2018 election. “Get someone like me, or maybe someone a little taller, to bring this election home, because it’s an emergency,” she said.