Practice for Victims of Oklahoma Tornado
Our hearts are with the victims of the tornado which struck Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City yesterday. (May 20, 2013). Winds of 200 mph destroyed large parts of the city, destroying entire neighborhoods and killing at least 24 people. The Sakyong has advised us that in cases of such tragedy, we can individually dedicate our practice to the victims and everyone who was affected.
An interview with Oklahoma Mayor Deborah Bright
Edited by Candlin Dobbs
Deborah is both a Shambhalian and the Mayor of Drumright, a town of 3,000 in the Northeast quadrant of Oklahoma. We caught her at home. She shared with us her experience of bringing a non-partisan view based on basic goodness to her experience as Mayor of a small town.
Deborah started by telling us a little about her town, saying, “Drumright has super high poverty. And yet people have great pride in their community and they have a lot of passion about issues that affect their daily lives.”
Six years ago she agreed to run for the city council, explaining that, “People were begging me to run…it went on for weeks. One night, here at our house, at a dinner party, I had had several glasses of wine and finally blurted out: I’ll do it!” She says she had no idea what that would mean. At that time, the city was coming out of a period of great challenge in city management and working to regain financial stability.
Since then Deborah’s been re-elected twice to the City Council. The last time, she says that, “I only won by 7 votes. It was 207 – 200. It was my fellow commissioners that elected me to be the mayor.” This all goes towards saying that, “Everyone needs to recognize that not only do you represent the people that voted for you but also the people that didn’t vote for you.”
In Drumright, day-to-day operating decisions are made by the City Manager. The Mayor and City Council set town priorities and budgets. “Part of my role,” says Deborah, “is to shape the agenda. Not just the meeting agenda but what are our priorities for the limited resources we have?”
Deborah lived in Drumright as a child, and went to high school there. “At that time,” she says, “the population was five to six thousand people; the economy was booming and we had a large retail area.” Several oil companies had made their home in Drumright. There was a large tax base and, she says, “we were able to have wonderful streets. With the booming economy, we built an elaborate water system and a developed a huge gas infrastructure project.”
Now, Drumright has half the population that it had in the 60’s and it is dealing with abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure and declining revenues.
“The Broken Window Theory is my guiding principle for trying to make something long lasting happen in this town,” Deborah shares. The theory says that, “In any neighborhood, if a window gets broken then it’s not long before all windows are broken… The environment is stimulating negativity, so to speak.” Yet, Deborah points out, “You don’t have to fix the streets and make everybody clean their stuff up. You don’t have to become punitive, you just have to fix that first broken window.”
In response to this, Deborah started a program of yearly abatement. This means that every year they put money in the budget to tear down the worst of the worst and, as Deborah says, “We make a nice lot, a nice empty lot. By uplifting the simple things we can, we change the whole environment and culture.”
What we see in politics these days, Deborah explains, is that everyone wants to take a side. Once that happens, you can no longer hear objectively what anyone has to say. But the truth of the matter is that there’s wisdom coming from the full circle. “Wisdom arises from all the directions, not just the direction that you lean towards more heavily,” she says.
In a position of leadership, like being a Mayor, Deborah says it’s crucial to cultivate equanimity. “In Shambhala it’s not like you ‘learn’, it’s like you get processed and then different qualities become more accessible to you. I draw heavily from a sense of equanimity,” and, she says, “sometimes it takes an effort to hear everything. But it’s absolutely imperative that you are able to.” Practice, she points out, makes it possible to “hear from all the directions.”