Friday, July 6, 2007

Native Son Returns (The Great White Hope)

Oklahoma had strong progressive and populist roots after its birth in 1907.

Andrew Rice, whose brother was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, has moved back to the state to find out where those roots still hold.

BY MARIE DOEZEMA, Oklahoma Gazette - NEWSPOLITICS, March 2004

When Andrew Rice was shipped off to boarding school at age 17, he never expected to return to Oklahoma. After a Harvard education, considerable achievement in documentray filmmaking and nonprofit work, the events of Sept. 11 have brought him back.

Rice, executive director of Oklahoma's newly formed Progessive Alliance Foundation, said part of the inspiration for his return came from his brother: David Rice, an investment banker, former Fullbright scholar and volunteer who worked with drug addicts and alcoholics, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on Spet. 11, 2001.

Rice said his brother had hoped to return to Oklahoma some day. With that in mind, as well as a desire to be closer to his parents, Rice returned to his roots.

Additional impetus for the move came from Martin Luther King Jr.'s concept of the "organic intellectual." Rice said he felt a certain responsibility to return to his place of origin, to share both his talent and experiences.

"What it really means is that if you're going to go off from your community and become educated and gain experience along issues that are important -- social justice issues -- you have a responsibility to come back organically to where you were from," Rice said.

It was out of Rice's concern for such issues that he formed the nonprofit Progressive Alliance Foundation, aimed at "typical or traditional progressive issues."

"Part of our message, and what will be sort of the organizing principle of our overall message and all the work we do, is that these issues are mainstream -- the values that we are advancing with these issues are mainstream values.

"It is to try to undo this longtime sort of smear that the people on the other end of the spectrum -- not good, middle-of-the-road Oklahomans, but people on the far-right fringe -- have done by labeling and tabbing things liberal, and that somehow they're radical now.

"I don't know what's so radical about people's privacy rights; I don't know what's so radical about improving health care for kids. We're trying to undo this misrepresentation," he said.

One of the major projects of the foundation is the Red River Democracy Project. The projects's launch party on April 3 will feature music, drinks and food, as well as a keynote speech by Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and advocate of family farms and organic production. Hightower will address the state of American democracy.

The event will mark the first of what will be monthly meetings, tent revival-style. The idea is to make all feel welcome, and provide fun, as well as accurate information.
"A cornerstone of democracy is that the people of the nation will get independent, unbiased information about what's going on so that they, therefore, can go to the polls and vote with that information, and then they can hold their representatives accountable."

This is not the first cause to which Rice had dedicated time and energy for the sake of accountability. After the death of his brother, Rice became involved with Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization comprisd of relatives and loved ones of those killed in the events of Sept. 11.

Rice spent a year touring the country, speaking out against President Bush's attitude of retribution, as well as his use of Sept. 11 images in his ad campaign.
"You know, you can take action to apprehend members of al-Qaida and bring them to justice, but the idea that it's inextricably woven up with retribution -- that they're one and the same -- I was rejecting that," Rice said.

"This language about feeling our (counrty's) wrath, and these images of bald eagles with a very angry look on their face that people were slapping on their cars, and cartoons of the statue of liberty holding a gun; this very muscular, retributive, angry sentiment was something we were rejecting. We felt like it was really stooping to the level of the terrorists and letting them win to be very retributive."

One of the main problems, Rice said, is that too often political issues are dumbed down, both by politicians and the media.

Oklahoma is just the place for progressive politics to thrive, Rice said, citing natives like Woody Guthrie and deceased Congressman Mike Synar as examples of the state's long-held progressive tradition.

"I have a very extreme, unique, tragic way in which the complexities and ugliness of politics and world power has affected my life; and it doesn't necessarily just have to be that -- you not having a voice in decisions that our country makes and our state makes can affect your life."

For more information about the Progressive Alliance Foundation, visit [OKG]

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