Radical Oklahoma Tour Gives Travelers the Opportunity to Explore Woody Guthrie’s “Radical Oklahoma” Heritage

Attention Woody Guthrie fans, Oklahoma expats/descendants of expats, folk music fans and history buffs:  Global Exchange invites you to join us on our second annual Radical Oklahoma Reality Tour, culminating in the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK, from July 6 to July 13, 2014.   Last year’s tour was fascinating and lots of fun, and this year we’ll have the same brilliant (and delightful) guide, Oklahoma University doctoral candidate Rachel Jackson. Read the blog series of Rachel’s blogs from last year’s tour.

The state of Oklahoma has a reputation for being perhaps the most conservative state in the union.  In fact, it has a radical past unmatched for activism and racial solidarity. The Socialist Party, for example, had its highest per-capita membership in Oklahoma in 1914 with 12,000 dues-paying members, publication of dozens of party newspapers, and the election of several hundred local elected officials. Much of their success came from their willingness to reach out to Black and American Indian voters. Oklahoma also delivered presidential candidate Eugene Debs his highest vote count in the nation in 1912.

The “Okie” diaspora peaked during the Dust Bowl migration to the West Coast in the 1930’s, but it was also prompted by attacks on Wobblies and other radicals in the early 20th century who fled the state.  This diaspora of the left (and eventually of the right, as descendants became more conservative) has had a major impact on politics and culture throughout the US but most particularly in eastern California, eastern Oregon, and other regions where Okies settled. Join us in exploring this forgotten history, meet some modern Oklahoma radicals, and celebrate with music on the weekend!

Join us for this unique experience and sign up for the Radical Oklahoma Reality Tour today!

The following post is written by Reality Tours communications intern William Jones Jr as he explores Afro-Venezuelan identity historically and in its current context. Visit Venezuela on a Reality Tour to learn more about the struggles, contributions, and successes of Afro-Venezuelans.

History and Legacy

Under the leadership of the late President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela has made strides toward combating the historical legacy of racism and recognizing the national importance of African heritage, promoting social inclusion and respect for Afro-Venezuelans. Among them is the official celebration of the Month of Africa in May and Day of Afro-Venezuelans on May 10.

Although Abolition occurred in 1854, freedom did not bring equality. Venezuela, like many other Latin American countries, used the idea of the mestizo born of European, Indigenous, and African blood, to uphold a myth of racial democracy that denied rampant discrimination on the basis of skin color and African identity on paper.  In reality African cultural traditions remained marginalized and European traditions were promoted. Blacks remained at the bottom of the economic and social hierarchy.

Since the election of late Hugo Chávez, conditions for Afro-Venezuelans have improved vastly. Once a privilege enjoyed by only a few, education is now considered a human right. Afro-Venezuelans are partaking in education at unprecedented rates, an education that has an intercultural emphasis and includes their historical contributions. Massive literacy campaigns and new educational institutions have allowed more than 1.5 million adults to learn to read and write, or to return to school.

With the 1999 Constitution, Venezuela became the second Latin American country after Cuba to guarantee all citizens the right to basic healthcare. To meet this goal, a partnership was initiated with the government of Cuba in 2003, which provided 20,000 medical professionals to treat previously underserved Venezuelans. Thousands of community health clinics have been established throughout the country, which has directly benefited Afro-Venezuelans. Since 2003, millions of Afro-Venezuelans have been issued national ID cards guaranteeing them the citizenship rights they previously lacked. Electoral participation among Afro-Venezuelans has grown exponentially. Social missions addressing poverty and inequality have resulted in a great rise in the standard of living for Afro-Venezuelans.

Celebrating and Connecting with African and African Diaspora Heritage

Venezuela has prioritized its relations with Africa by opening 18 new embassies in countries including Mali, Morocco, Congo, and Angola. The Second Africa-South American Summit was held in Venezuela on Margarita Island on the Caribbean from Sept. 26-27, 2009, where Chavez quoted “Africa will be an important geographic, economic and social pole. And South America will be too.”

Transnational alliances and movement building has occurred between African Americans and Afro-Venezuelans involving organizations such as the Rainbow Push Coalition, TransAfrica Forum, the NAACP and the Organization of Africans in the Americas. Prominent social activists include Cornel West, Julianne Malveaux, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Bill Fletcher. They are just a few of the many U.S.-based organizations and activists working to build bridges to Afro-Latin America.

Visit Venezuela on a Reality Tour

Travel on a Reality Tour to Venezuela to learn more about Afro-Venezuelan history and to see how Venezuelans are working together to combat racism and economic inequality in the country. Join us on the May 3- May 13, 2014 Reality Tour to celebrate in person the Day of Afro-Venezuelans!

Thanks William for this informative and inspiring post!

The following post is written by Professor Sarah Sharp who recently participated on a Reality Tour to Iran. While there, she was inspired by the great Persian poet Saadi, wondering, how would Saadi encourage the participants to embrace their travel experiences?

The 13th century Persian poet Saadi traveled widely, visiting Syria and China, as well as many sites in Europe, and throughout Persia, of course.  He liked to give advice and he encouraged “good thoughts, good talks, and good deeds,” according to our Iranian tour guide, Bahman.

One day, we stopped in at a madrasa to see Shi’ite Islamic classes in session, housed in a Safavid era building.  Mullahs were speaking outside in the central garden spaces.  I hoped to photograph a small group and was quickly waved off by one of the individuals.  Iran’s supreme leader supervises all of the country’s system of madrasas through his appointees.  To truly understand the theological training that occurs in these seminaries, and even to see further by visiting Qom, Iran’s theological center, a city with hundreds of madrasas for men and women, would take a much longer journey.  But we can harness twin efforts from what we do see.  For one, we can ask questions about religion and its full-bodied dimensions in Iran’s society.  For another, we can imagine that Saadi is walking a bit ahead of us, encouraging to be generous in all meetings and settings.

Inside Saadi's tomb

Visiting Saadi’s tomb. Photo by Shereen Jon Kajouee.

Touring with Saadi would refresh us in every way.  While at his tomb earlier this evening, I saw a mother feeding ice cream to her child.  I caught her eye, smiled to her, and simply said, “Salaam.”  She followed me, offered to have me hold her daughter and then she took our picture.  We encountered many groups of young and older families, youths, strolling through this park that surrounded Saadi’s tomb.  Not  only were the strollers curious about us, but they genuinely wanted to communicate with us.  They said, “Hello,”and gave us other greetings.  Saadi would have urged us, like the small child, to extend ourselves with a warm hospitality somehow, whether we could speak the same language or not.

We have returned a few times to a gallery to see a wide variety of Persian carpets, collected from several regions across Iran.  Not only are they rich in color and design, but many of them have a single motif that repeats across regional specialty.  The cypress tree.  Visiting Iran’s 4000-year old cypress tree a few days ago gave me a chance to record bird sounds coming from the tree, but also to photograph families doing what we were doing — getting a close look at this natural wonder.  I didn’t realize that I wasn’t done with that part of Iran’s past until I saw the cypress tree woven into many of the carpets.  What would Saadi make of this connection?  Maybe he would encourage us to see the beauty of both past and present.

Saadi’s poetry is a grand gift from Persia’s past, as well as Iran’s present.  As a fellow traveler, I can hope, a bit, to walk just bit behind Saadi and appreciate his point of view, “good thoughts, good talks, good deeds.

Thanks Sarah for sharing your experiences with us!

Take Action!Take Action

  • If you are in the Bay area, please join recent Reality Tour participant Marc Sapir for a report back from his travels in Iran. The event is December 8 at 7pm at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Fellowship Hall, Cedar and Bonita, Berkeley, CA. For questions about the event, please contact Marc at marcsapir@gmail.com.
  • Learn more about traveling on a Reality Tour to Iran!

Today we are excited to participate in Blog Action Day, an annual event when bloggers from around the world gather to write and discuss one topic. This year’s topic is “Human Rights.”

Global Exchange Reality Tours has a vision that meaningful, socially responsible travel, can and does, change the world. By offering experiential educational tours, Reality Tours has connected people to issues, issues to movements, and movements to social change. Many of the highlights of our Reality Tours include meetings with local human rights activists who work tirelessly to support their communities.

Below, hear from our in-country coordinator in Uganda Brian Ourien about some of the most pressing human rights issues that face Ugandans today.


Human Rights in Uganda
The Ugandan constitution provides for the protection of every Ugandan’s human rights, with emphasis on providing an enabling environment for all to flourish. The greatest challenge, though, is the poor implementation of these laws, leaving huge gaps that allow abusers to take advantage of vulnerable people, mostly women and children.

Domestic servitude is the most common form of human trafficking. Many children are brought into the city and other urban areas by relatives and friends of relatives with the promise of a better life. Many of these children end up working as domestic servants in the homes of their urban relatives, and are sometimes sold off to work for people who are not even remotely related to them. This means that their dreams of getting a better education and a better life in the city are replaced by despair and some of the most decrepit living conditions.

Sex trafficking is a growing form of injustice in Uganda’s cities and towns. Despite its being illegal, prostitution seems to be growing. There is also a growing number of underage girls (some as young as 10 years old) being roped into illegal brothels, mostly set in the slum areas of the capital Kampala.

Child Soldiery in Uganda
With more than twenty years of conflict in Northern Uganda, children became the prime target for rebel groups, abducting and conscripting them into rebel ranks. The children were trained into mindless soldiers who executed terror with little or no mercy and remorse.

Over the years these children have trickled back into the country – having escaped with the most harrowing tales imaginable, while others were rescued by the Ugandan army and brought back home to eagerly-waiting families. Soon enough the difficult process of reintegration begins.

Often shunned by relatives, some of whom suffered at the hands of the child rebels, the returning children struggle to find identity and acceptance in the communities they once called home. Some of the children spent more than ten years in the jungles of Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic and now return to a ‘normalcy’ they have never experienced. Their violent approach to life and their short tempers find no place in a community already burdened by years of violent abuse at the hands of ruthless rebels.

Fueled by conflict over land long uninhabited and whose boundaries have been washed away by years of abandonment – whose previous owners found their only refuge in displaced people’s camps for more than twenty years, northern Uganda grapples with post-conflict issues.

From unclear farming boundaries and contested homelands to emotional trauma and economic strife, northern Uganda seeks to break free of the past and to build a future in which children will once again be free to grow in a world bursting with possibility and the promise of a bright future.

Brian also shares with us how travel to Uganda can expand Westerners perspectives:
2010.07.21-065Reality Tours is a great opportunity for participants to get immersed in the work of organizations fighting to secure the rights of vulnerable people in Uganda. Reality Tours participants get to hear, first hand, the stories of those who have faced grave injustice and whose life paths have been unfairly changed by selfish people.

Above all, the most memorable and important moments is the connection that grows between the participants and the people in the host organizations. There is always a heart-warming sense of family and unity when travelers visit the many organizations with rescued victims of violent oppression.

Thanks so much to Brian for taking the time to share his thoughts with us!

Take ActionTake Action!

  • Learn more about human trafficking in Uganda and other countries; Read about the socio-political situation in Uganda and Learn about child soldiers;

The following is written by Catherine Sagan, who participated in a professional educators tour in March 2013. Here she shares her perspective on visiting Cuba for the first time.

Catherine Sagan (middle with hat) dances at the Muraleando community project in Havana

Catherine Sagan (middle with hat) dances at the Muraleando community project in Havana

Going to Cuba has been a back burner dream of mine ever since my years in Guatemala in the 60s when I had worked among the poor in the Cuchumatanes Mountains, and then had to leave for political reasons. The 60s were the beginning of the Guatemalan Civil war, and a group of us religious, priests, and lay people got enthusiastically involved in wanting to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed poor. It was the era of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII’s call to individual responsibility and response to the problems at hand.

Even though the parish in Guatemala in which I worked as a Maryknoll missionary sister had many excellent social programs: a coffee cooperative, a credit union, literacy classes for adults, courses on better farming methods, and an ungraded school for children from distant villages where there were no schools for them, the priest and sister that I was working with at the time became convinced that our efforts were only helping a minimally few people, that the vast majority of poor Guatemalans, in particular, the indigenous people, were being sucked dry by the exploitative system prevalent in Guatemala then, practices to a certain extent that continue to exist today.

Prior to these events, I had been hearing about the Literacy campaign in Cuba via Guatemalan radio and the gossip that happens among foreigners. In Fidel Castro’s speech of 4 hours at the United Nations assembly in 1960, he vowed that Cuba, in one year, would become the first Latin American country to be totally alphabetized, that is, literate – capable of reading and writing in Spanish. This boast intrigued me. Our efforts with the ungraded school and the literacy classes we were providing in Guatemala were successful, but only to a point. Those poor children and adults who had attended our classes did learn, but what about the hundreds of thousands of others? Our efforts were really just a drop in the bucket of need.

The successful Cuban literacy campaign of 1961 was what I was most interested in and wanted to learn more about. For Cuba to go from a 60-76% literacy rate to 96% literacy rate in one year was a marvel that seemed to belong in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

Reflecting on this recent trip to Cuba, viewing the country and its present challenges, I saw many areas of progress, for example, in the area of education. Everyone has access to a free education and is guaranteed a job after graduating. In order to avoid degree glut in some professional areas, some of these academic opportunities to pursue are limited, so that there is not what is now happening in the United States, too many lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, etc. and no jobs in these fields. Coming from our ingrained individualism as Americans, we might say that the Cuban government is interfering with free choice. Yet, it is something to consider that American graduates in many of the above mentioned fields of expertise are worried about how they are going to pay back their huge student loans on a salary of minimum wage.

Would I ever go back to Cuba? Yes, in a heartbeat! The times I had an opportunity on this recent trip to visit Cubans in their homes or in a relaxed environment have convinced me that there is something special about Cuban people. I admire their resilience in making lemonade with rum when the United States gave them sour lemons through the blockade. Perhaps it could be said that they thought “outside the box” of how to survive in their given social system, a little, little country only 90 miles from the shores of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Thanks Catherine for sharing your thoughts with us!

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The following blog post is written by Reality Tours intern Lissa Goldstein, who visited the Alamar Organoponico.

Wondering what sort of people and places you might encounter on a visit to Cuba?  The UBPC (Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa or Basic Cooperative Production Unit) Vivero Alamar is one of the places where you will see Cuban charisma and creativity at work.  Located in the eastern part of Havana, it is the largest farm cooperative in the city.  The farm was started by Miguel Salcines in 1997 on a small plot of land that would allow him and his family to fend for themselves in a period of instability and uncertainty.  Today, it has grown to 11 hectares (about 22 acres) and has over 160 members.  The median age of the members is in the 50s which, as Salcines likes to say, makes for a very wise staff.

Alamar Organopónico, Havana, Cuba - Photo by Bryan Weiner

Alamar Organopónico, Havana, Cuba – Photo by Bryan Weiner

Lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, and carrots and other vegetables provide much of the farm’s income.  They sell ornamental plants and fruit trees, worm compost produced on the farm, and value-added farm products such as spices and pickles.  The cooperative uses innovative organic farming methods and is a model for what sustainable medium-scale production can look like.  The farm’s social structure is innovative too, particularly when compared to most farms in North America.  As a cooperative, 30% of the farm’s income goes back into the farm expenditures and the rest is divided among the members according to seniority, in addition to a monthly wage.  Some of the job perks include two meals a day, a monthly haircut or manicure, and flexible scheduling.

Salcines talking with a recent RT group.

Salcines talking with a recent RT group.


Salcines, his wife, and their daughter, Isis, are at the center of the operation.   Upon meeting them, it’s easy to see why this cooperative has been so successful.  They are smart, funny, charismatic, and have a great deal of valuable information to offer visitors to the farm. After walking all around the farm and hearing the stories and insights of the members of the cooperative, visitors can sit down to what is easily one of the best meals in Cuba. Fresh organic ingredients, a plethora of vegetables and salads (which can often be a luxury in Cuba) and fantastic traditional recipes are served in an outdoor, covered dining area right next to the gardens.

So even if you’re not a farmer or food activist, this is the type of place where a visit is bound to be enlightening, inspiring and delicious!

Global Exchange is proud to announce a partnership with NEEM (Natural Ecological Environmental Management). Learn more about NEEM sustainability tours to Cuba.

As we start the final month of Summer, now is the time to plan your meaningful, socially responsible travel experiences for the rest of the year and beyond. Many of our travelers like to plan for their Reality Tours at least four to six months in advance, so, with that in mind, we’ve highlighted some of our staff picks to help you choose where to go next. Where will you be this Fall?

Reality Tour participant with women students in Afghanistan. - Photo by Zarah Patriana

Reality Tour participant with women students in Afghanistan.

October 1-10, 2013. Afghanistan: Women Making Change. Join us on this inspiring delegation to meet with Afghan women activists and grassroots organizations working for change. Visit with recently opened girls schools, vocational training centers, literacy programs, and more. Read former participants stories.

GX.DiaDeLosMuertos25thLogo_colorOct. 30-Nov. 7, 2013. Celebrate Day of the Dead in Oaxaca with Global Exchange! Help us celebrate Global Exchange’s 25th anniversary with our special Reality Tour celebrating Day of the Dead. Highlights of the trip will include meeting with indigenous leaders and community organizers, artists, healers, and participating in Day of the Dead ceremonies.

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Nov. 1-Nov. 11, 2013. India: Rights of Nature with Dr. Vandana ShivaWe are proud to offer this one of a kind opportunity to learn from and visit with one of the world’s leading pioneers in the ecological sustainability movement, Dr. Vandana Shiva. Join Dr. Vandana Shiva and Global Exchange’s Shannon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights program, to explore India’s sacred seed saving work. Highlights will include spending four days on Dr. Vandana Shiva’s farm in Dehradun, cooking a meal of ancient “forgotten foods” together, participating in a sacred water ceremony on the banks of the Ganges, visiting seed banks, food co-ops, and more. Join us for this rare opportunity.


Indigenous group in Ecuador

Dec. 27 -Jan. 4, 2013-2014. Ecuador: New Year’s on the Equator. Spend this coming New Year’s on the equator learning about and celebrating the work of indigenous leaders, healers and activists building ecologically and socially-sustainable alternatives to the corporate global economy. Visit with indigenous leaders and healers in the Amazon, rural communities working towards self-sustainability in the high Andes, and hike through protected lowland cloud forest to visit coffee cooperatives.

November 16-26, 2013 Venezuela Vive: Community Development and Popular MovementParticipants will have the opportunity to travel to Venezuela with Global Exchange to dig past the headlines and explore the changes occurring in Venezuela, Latin America and the hemisphere as a whole. On a Global Exchange tour to Venezuela the delegation will meet with human rights activists, rural agricultural workers, labor unions, community activists, journalists, and government officials and opposition figures, giving participants the opportunity to see for themselves the unprecedented social change that is occurring at this historic time in Venezuela and the region. There will be additional delegations to Venezuela in January, March, May and November of next year.

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The following guest post is written by Reality Tours summer intern Bryan Weiner. Every summer, Global Exchange hosts a robust intern program, where interns work closely with a staff member and participate in a weekly workshop to gain knowledge and skills. This past Wednesday, the Global Exchange interns joined the Reality Tours staff for a “local” Reality Tours in the Mission, SF.

Mission Dolores Park.

Mission Dolores Park.

Have you been interested in going on a Reality Tour? Do you think that all reality tours require a plane ticket to far away countries? Have you ever thought of doing a Reality Tour in your own neighborhood? This past week, the Global Exchange Reality Tours staff prepared a short and informative “local” Reality Tour so that we could learn more about the social, political, and historical aspects of the diverse, vibrant neighborhood we work in, the Mission District of San Francisco.

The tour began in the Global Exchange conference room where Professor Mike Stanfield of the University of San Francisco gave us an overview of the history of California, San Francisco, the Mission system and the Mission District in particular. While the indigenous tribes of the region mostly avoided the San Francisco peninsula because of the gloomy, foggy weather, the Mission District, being the sunniest part of the city, attracted many diverse people from all walks of life including missionaries and people seeking their fortune in the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, many indigenous groups were brought here against their will and quickly succumbed to European disease, causing the Mission Dolores to live up to its name (Dolores means pains in Spanish). The neighborhood has always been a vibrant, dynamic crossroads that has continued to bring waves of immigrants, shaping the constantly changing face of the community.

The group entering Arriba Juntos - photo by Bryan Weiner

The group entering Arriba Juntos – photo by Bryan Weiner

After the introduction, we ventured out to Arriba Juntos, a community organization that primarily serves the local immigrant community. Marilyn Bunag, Programs Manager, gave us a tour of the grounds and an overview of the various services that they offer. Arriba Juntos has assisted many people get up on their feet, find a job, gain skills, learn English, get off the street and find a place to live. She shared many touching success stories such as the story of John, who was homeless and now has a full-time job at a high-end San Francisco restaurant.

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We left Arriba Juntos and walked down Clarion Alley to see the amazing display of street art that covers the entire alley. Upon arriving to our next destination, the Women’s Building, we saw and received and in-depth explanation of what is probably the most remarkable mural in the city. After pointing out all of the key female leaders depicted in the mural, Development Director Tatjana Loh gave us a tour inside the historic building and told us about all of the important community services offered at the center, such as low cost and free legal services, computer literacy classes, and a food pantry for immigrant families. Upon arriving to the third floor, we were greeted by the throne that dates back to when the building belonged to the Sons of Norway (the building has always been used for community organizations).

The mural on the front of the Women's Building. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The mural on the front of the Women’s Building. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We said goodbye to Tatjana and made our way up the street to our final destination, Mission High School, where a bright and outgoing junior, Connor, showed us the community garden that the after-school program has been working on to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst the students. He also gave us an in-depth description about the school community that has worked together to turn a struggling and often-violent inner-city school into a nurturing place that has become a destination for students all around the Bay Area.

Before heading back to Global Exchange we made one last very important stop… ICE CREAM! At Bi-Rite Market. It was an exciting, informative, and fulfilling day. I recommend you take the time to give yourself a Reality Tour of your own community! You will be surprised at what is just around the corner.

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  • Customize a Reality Tour of your own
  • Are you looking for an internship? Consider joining us to be a part of the internship team for Fall, Spring and Summer positions!

A House Appropriations subcommittee recently approved a spending bill which contains provisions that would impact people-to-people travel to Cuba. The bill has been dubbed the “Jay-Z, Beyoncé Bill” by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who opposes the provision, as it’s timing appears in response to the kerfuffle caused by the celebrity couple’s travel to Cuba in April.

BloqueoIt’s time to end the unfair and unjust travel ban to Cuba!

Eligibility for travel to Cuba has fluctuated during the Obama Administration, with dozens of people-to-people licenses granted in the last two and a half years, allowing U.S. citizens greater ability to learn more about the island. But this bill would threaten to eliminate people-to-people travel and once again restrict travel to Cuba to educational exchanges involving academic study related to a degree program.

Take action to let President Obama know that he took a positive step in liberalizing travel regulations and he needs not only DEFEND these measures but also EXPAND them and grant general licenses for all categories of travel. Your voice will ensure that the White House stays squarely focused on moving U.S. policy towards Cuba out of the Cold War and towards a brighter future that, at the very least, fosters people-to-people ties.

Take ActionTake Action!

Help us urge President Obama to

The following guest post is the final post in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which just ended. Read parts I, II, III, IV, and V of the story.

This Land is Your Land

Stage at Annual Woody Guthrie Festival.

This evening I am writing the last installment for the Radical Oklahoma – Red State Reality Tour from the Pastures of Plenty, just about stage center.  Right now at the 16th annual Woody Guthrie Festival, we’re listening to Griffin House from Springfield, Ohio, singing a song about who & where he comes from.  This is something Woody taught all of us to be proud of.  Sitting here tonight, after two days full of Okemah, in the long glow of a wide sunset, it’s easy to be proud of Oklahoma.

The last two days have been a whirlwind of song.  Hot as it is during the day, folks walking up and down West Broadway here in Okemah are pretty much bound to smile as they pass you on the sidewalk.  All the volunteers that make the festival happen, from urban hipsters to local old timers, love to stop and talk about the man who has inspired it all.  Musicians gather on the streets and play their hearts out.  This festival makes everyone feel good, like they belong, just like Woody would have wanted.

During the festival, the small town of Okemah swells with musicians, folk aficionados, unionists, and Okies from all over the country, both actual and honorary, who come to celebrate the life and legacy of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.

Site of Woody Guthrie's childhood home on W. Birch St., Okemah, Oklahoma. Tree sculpture by Justin Osborn.

Site of Woody Guthrie’s childhood home on W. Birch St., Okemah, Oklahoma. Tree sculpture by Justin Osborn.

Another stop on the Okemah pilgrimage is the site of Woody’s childhood home, on a hill at the intersection of South 1st Street and West Birch.  The house is no longer there, but some of the stones from its first story still stand.  There is an effort to get the home rebuilt, but as it is, this spot, shaded by trees that were in the yard when Woody was a boy, seems to be a perfect and simple tribute.

Local folk artist Justin Osburn lives across the street. He is the artist who carved the only landmark on the home place’s site, a cedar tree trunk inscribed with Woody’s initials, “Okemah,” and “This Land is Your Land” along with a musical staff.

His yard, across the street from the Guthrie home place, is filled with woodcarvings for sale. Justin is full of local knowledge, everything from who-owns-what to god-knows-where.  He can point at any tree and tell you what kind it is, where it comes from, and how it got here.

That’s the kind of knowledge that comes from paying close attention to place, to the lives, histories, landscapes, and cultures that make a particular space happen. Oklahoma is its own set of stories, multiple narratives about and from the same swath of land.  Spending these last few days in the Indian Territory Triangle has taught us to look closer, past what we are told to see, to let go of what we think we know, and marvel at what we don’t.  If you think Oklahoma is homogenous, fly-over country, with little cultural or political relevance, you’d best think again.

Tonight, sitting stage center and listening to the music inspired by Woody Guthrie, I feel that it just might be the most important spot on earth– at least for me.

Rachel Jackson is a PhD Candidate and Dissertation Fellow at the University of Oklahoma in the Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Program, Department of English. She researches and theorizes the impact of suppressed local histories of resistance on Oklahoma’s current political identity. She is from Oklahoma.