By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Over 300 people including political candidates gathered at the Will Rogers Theatre in Oklahoma City to hear activist Sandra Fluke speak at the second annual Sally’s List annual luncheon.
Sally’s List was founded to recruit and train progressive women to run for political office in Oklahoma. Only 12.8 percent of the state legislature is female, ranking Oklahoma 49th nationally.
Fluke has devoted her career to social justice advocacy issues including LGBT rights, worker rights, immigrant rights, international human rights, healthcare reform, women’s rights, human trafficking, and domestic and sexual violence.
In February 2012, Fluke came to national attention when Congressional Republicans blocked her from testifying before Congress on issues pertaining to women’s health.
Undeterred, she testified before the House Democratic Steering Committee on the importance of private insurance covering contraception for women. She inspired viewers, particularly women, when she addressed the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Fluke, a member of Emerge California’s board of directors, an organization that trains women to run for office, says 26 percent of California’s state legislature are women.
“It’s a little better than Oklahoma’s 12.8 percent,” Fluke said, “but still a long way from 50 percent.”
Fluke encouraged Oklahomans who want to see change to come “out” with their progressive values.
Growing up in what she calls “red Pennsylvania,” Fluke says, “Sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable to be the lone voice in the room.”
She recalled a discussion in high school regarding a sexually assaulted woman who “must have deserved it because she was wearing a short skirt.”
Disconcerted, Fluke said, “There’s something wrong there.” The teacher branded Fluke as “sensitive.” She reflected on that event in 2012 when she again felt a “little strange” about being thrust into the national spotlight.
“We have to take a lesson from the gay rights movement. The political act of being ‘out.’ When women’s health is being debated in the state legislatures across the country, it’s not just a theoretical topic. It impacts people we know, our sisters, mothers and daughters.”
Event co-sponsor, Bob Lemon, said, “Men have never experienced the physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth, stillbirth, abortion or any of the health procedures routinely experienced by women. But we males gather together in state legislatures across this country, we pool our collectively ignorance, and we proceed to pass laws that we know nothing about by restricting the rights of a woman to manage her own body. These laws are perilous and they should be overturned.”
Fluke said, “Taking a risk to discuss these things in public – that is powerful. That is how we create change. Then you get really brave, like some of these men and women here today who are running for office.”
Fluke stressed the importance of having people to champion civil rights in the state legislature and to have organizations like Sally’s List improving the numbers of women in our state legislatures.
Fluke said, “We should hold our legislators accountable for appointing more women, more people of color, and more LGBT folks. Our legislature, our elected officials as well as our appointed offices, committees, even councils, need to look like the population. That is what democracy is.”
“People make decisions in those offices of power based on their own personal experiences. So, everybody’s personal experience needs to be represented,” she said.
Fluke attended Cornell University, receiving a BS in Policy Analysis and Management and in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She graduated cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center as a Public Interest Law Scholar with a Certificate in Refugee and Humanitarian Emergencies.
When asked about Hillary Clinton’s possible Presidential run, she said with a laugh, “You know I have not talked about it with her in person, but I know it would be amazing to see a woman in that office, that’s for sure.”
Regarding her own political future she said, “When I’m traveling around the country encouraging others to step forward and run, I have to consider that myself. If there’s the right opportunity at the right time, then that’s something that I’ll think about doing. My focus is on social justice concerns whether I’m working from outside or inside the system.”
Sara Jane Rose, Sally’s List founder and president, said, “I am overwhelmed by the success of this event. With speakers like Sandra Fluke, getting more progressive women involved in politics is a given. The growth Sally’s List has achieved in the last four years is astonishing.”
House Representative Kay Floyd, District 88, encouraged women to forego any fears they might have about running for office saying, “I promise you will never ever regret it.”
Anita Fream, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma said, “I loved Ms. Fluke’s message that the conversations that matter are when we articulate our progressive beliefs on a day-to-day level—in the grocery store, at parties, with our friends. She was a great motivation for us all.”
Oklahoma City University student Becky LaVictoire said, “Sandra Fluke certainly encouraged me to keep voicing my opinions and pushing for change. Her advice that more women need to be represented in every level of government really rang true and made me want to become more involved in politics.”
Fluke added, “I have a great deal of respect for the work of Sally’s List. It’s pretty inspiring seeing what they’re doing in Oklahoma.”
For more information, visit www.sallyslist.com.