PiP

Travels through Oklahoma

My recent Power in Place (PiP) travels through Oklahoma spanned from Valentine’s Day to Presidents’ Day (extremely fitting since PiP was conceived from my passion for political parity).  In 5 days with much driving in-between, I was able to photograph and interview 9 female politicians and 4 nominees.

I was moved by the overall support, and respect they all shared for one another, regardless of party affiliation.

Booking the various electeds, I sent invites to a diverse group of female politicians. I was aiming for a range of age, race, party, and geographic settings. Not only was my vision fully realized by the Oklahoma women I featured, but I was moved by the overall support, and respect they all shared for one another, regardless of party affiliation.  Often, the legislators would ask who signed onto the project and when I recalled the list, they would recount virtues rather than cast aspersions on character.  To me, this is a hallmark of what makes women in politics so necessary.  We are not weaker, or less scrupulous– –rather we are (on the whole) apt to appeal to civility over disparagement.  During this polarizing time, I see the potential of women in politics as a beacon of hope pointing to a more measured dialog at the governing table.

 Power in Place enjoys spotlighting “firsts”––women electeds achieving historical milestones ––like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color from Massachusetts to go to Washington.

 

Here are the PiP Firsts this month:

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Cherokee Nation Councilwoman Mary Shaw

PHOTOGRAPHED by the stream that runs into the lake near her home in Broken Arrow, OK

FIRST shoot of 2019 and my first Cherokee Nation woman featured.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was learning from Mary that she taught Chief Wilma Mankiller (the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985) how to use a cell phone.

 

Cherokee Nation Councilwoman Janees Taylor

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Saline Courthouse by the Spring House, Locust Grove, OK

FIRST participant to bring along 10 other women (now that’s devotion) to her shoot wearing the most brilliant traditional Native American dresses.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was being surrounded by the swirl of colors from women of the Pocahontas Club and feeling the love and support the women share for each other.

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Tulsa City Councilwoman Crista Patrick

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PHOTOGRAPHED at Tulsa State University

FIRST whimsical portrait in a theater costume department, where a rainbow of clothing options hung above us & they doubled as a lively backdrop to match Crista’s personality.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was when Crista and her nominee, Stasha, told each other why they appreciate the other during the interview. Their relationship is clearly built on trust, respect and mutual gratitude.  So beautiful to witness this amongst women of different generations.





State Representative Carol Bush

PHOTOGRAPHED at the cycling trail head of the Gathering Place in Tulsa, OK

Not my first shoot that incorporates bicycles into the office holder’s place of special meaning but my FIRST attempt to capture the spirit of will, dedication and strength of Rep Bush, who started an all-female cycling club, which has grown over the years to 200+ riders.

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SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was witnessing the friendship that Carol engenders.  Two cycling girlfriends showed up to lend a hand (and their bikes) on a damp, cold and dreary afternoon.  They were more than accommodating and happy to help, even though their fingers were frozen to the bone throughout the shoot. 

Norman, OK Mayor Lynne Miller

Photo: Steve Sisney

Photo: Steve Sisney

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Bizzell Memorial Library at Oklahoma University

FIRST shoot conducted entirely in whispers.  The Mayor chose the library’s Great Reading Room as her setting. It’s one of those traditional “old school” elegant study halls where any minor sound reverberates tenfold. So I had to be extra quiet directing Lynne while photographing her. 

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was the admiration I felt for Lynne for entering public service after retiring from teaching.  She is able to serve her community with wisdom and experience.

 

State Represent Ajay Pittman & (Mom) State Senator Anastasia Pittman

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Oklahoma State Capital Building

FIRST mother & daughter elected duo for Power in Place. What a treat!!! Often legacy politics is a father-to-son hand down, but these two courageous souls bucked the national trend. 

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SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was realizing that these two women are not only mother/daughter, but they are each other’s best friend, to the point where they would finish each other’s sentences.  What made me chuckle the most was how physically they were in sync. Without any prompting from me, they would cross arms at the same time.  In addition, when they first walked into the building, I mistook Anastasia for Ajay.

Oklahoma State Representative Nicole Miller

PHOTOGRAPHED at her home in Edmond, OK

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Even though Rep Miller was the 2nd person on our Oklahoma roster with the last name “Miller,” she earned her individual distinction of being PiP’s FIRST female office holder to pull off a flawless mid-air split. She requested to be photographed with her son (who also inherited Nicole’s athletic prowess).  So I suggested they jump around on their backyard trampoline. 

The shoot was also, PiP’s sweatiest portrait session due to all the physical exertion.  I had Nicole and her son repeat many of their airborne poses, so I could get the framing just right.  Bar none, the SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was beholding the joy that Nicole’s son brings to her. 

 

Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert

PHOTOGRAPHED on the steps of Oklahoma County Courthouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve shot in front of a courthouse, but it was the FIRST shoot on which an elected official brought along her sister to personify their shared passion for criminal justice reform. As children, Carrie and her sister experienced first-hand the whims of a system that punishes those with metal health and substances abuse issues. Luckily their family received the support they needed, but they’ve seen too many people fall through the cracks.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was being in the presence of a newly elected woman public office holder, who is absolutely energized by the possibilities of her new role as a public servant.  Carrie’s positive disposition and dedication to the job makes one believe in the possibilities of government to change lives for the better through dedicated advocacy.

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Oklahoma City Councilwoman Nikki Nice

PHOTOGRAPHED at her alma mater, Northeast Academy in Oklahoma City

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Not only is Rep Nice genuinely nice, she is an ardent champion for her community.  Her ward has always been her home, and, as a young woman, her high school was the center of her world.  Nikki is the FIRST in her family to attend Northeast Academy, a school whose court-mandated integration in the 70s led to a racially diverse student body.  As her mom always suspected, Nikki flourished magnificently at Northeast, even though initially she didn’t want attend a magnet school.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was getting to know a humble, genuinely honorable soul.  She does not put on any pretenses and her radiant smile makes one feel at ease.  I also enjoyed hearing about her days as a radio personality before she ran for office.

 

Izzy Barry interviewing Commissioner Carrie Blumert, CK Morris interviewing Representative Nicole Miller, Stasha Cole interviewing Councilwoman Crista Patrick and Emily King interviewing Representative Carol Bush

Izzy Barry interviewing Commissioner Carrie Blumert, CK Morris interviewing Representative Nicole Miller, Stasha Cole interviewing Councilwoman Crista Patrick and Emily King interviewing Representative Carol Bush

When I left Oklahoma, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Not only was I impressed by the women office holders, I was also inspired by the amazing young female nominees.  So a big shout-out to PiP’s Women on the Rise, who not only assisted me during the portrait shoots but who also posed insightful interview questions to their nominators.  It is these young female students that will help bridge us toward a more equitable society.  So THANK YOU-- Izzy Barry, CK Morris, Stasha Cole, and Emily King--you are the BEST!!!!

 

Living History with Washington State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos

Before my interview with Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, I admit I wasn’t completely knowledgeable about the tragic history of the Japanese incarceration camps. I knew the incarceration was a great stain upon America. As a nation, we denied 120,000 people of Japanese heritage (the majority of them were citizens) their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. Naively, I thought everything was neatly sorted out: reparations were made, the government officially apologized and the Supreme Court must have ruled it unconstitutional to incarcerate Japanese Americans without due process. However, as I dug deeper, I found that the story is far more complicated, especially the Supreme Court component.

Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos at her place of special meaning  –  Keiro Nursing Home, Seattle.

Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos at her place of special meaningKeiro Nursing Home, Seattle.

With the headlines of the legality of a Muslim registry and the Japanese internment camps cited as a precedent by Carl Higbie, a Trump surrogate during his presidential election campaign, I decided to reexamine Representative Santos’s interview in 2015, when she posed for her Power in Place portrait. Her maternal family (mother and grandparents) had been forcefully relocated to an incarceration camp in 1942. As a child, Representative Santos grew up with the sense that a great injustice had been committed against her community. Sorting through her interview, I started to realize that this incredible woman was a witness to the post-incarceration rebuilding and healing of her community and the legal battles to follow. As she put it: “History unfolded and I happened to be there, like the Tom Hank’s movie Forrest Gump, where he's getting to be a witness throughout history. I was a Japanese American female Forrest Gump, in this case." 

History unfolded and I happened to be there, like the Tom Hank’s movie Forrest Gump, where he’s getting to be a witness throughout history. I was a Japanese American female Forrest Gump, in this case.
A group of Japanese-Americans arrive at the Manzanar incarceration camp carrying their belongings in 1942.   

A group of Japanese-Americans arrive at the Manzanar incarceration camp carrying their belongings in 1942.
 

 As much as her parents shielded Sharon Tomiko from the family’s economic and psychological repercussions of incarceration, she grew up feeling the continued discrimination toward Seattle’s Japanese-Americans. “People in the community were very angry about being mistreated, not heard, effectively patted on the head and told to go away.” Combined with early civic engagement and a personal call to action, Sharon Tomiko was part of a larger community discussion "about how do we get a place at the table.” It first began as a fight for redress—obtaining an official governmental acknowledgment that a great injustice was perpetrated upon her fellow Japanese Americans by incarcerating them during World War II.  "Seattle achieved renown for having organized the very first Day of Remembrance in the country. As a high school student, I was able to galvanize my fellow students to help organize and volunteer at the event. We were, collectively, as the organizing committee, very surprised at the overwhelming response we received from the greater Seattle area. We thought we would be lucky to have ten/twenty cars show up, but a caravan stretched several miles long from Seattle to Puyallup, which was the first assembly center where they assembled all the Japanese Americans,” for mass detention.

Later on in college, as a student of history and specifically governmental and constitutional history, Sharon Tomiko's senior project focused upon the coram nobis case of Gordan Hirabayashi.

Gordan Hirabayashi   was one of only three Americans to defy the U.S. government's incarceration of     Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Gordan Hirabayashi was one of only three Americans to defy the U.S. government's incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Since Gordon Hirabayashi is a Seattle person, his coram nobis case actually took place right downtown, in our federal courthouse.  So as a college student, I was able to watch history unfold.”

Gordon Hirabayashi’s initial case was heard by the US Supreme Court in 1943. He had openly defied Roosevelt’s imposed wartime curfew upon Japanese Americans. His resistance challenged the very premise of the executive order of exclusion, as well as deportation and incarceration. At the time, the Supreme Court’s decision focused around a narrow legal interpretation of the necessity of allowing curfew policies if our national security is threatened during wartime.

In 1982, newly unearthed documents suggested that US government officials did indeed hide evidence that demonstrated there was no true military reason for Roosevelt’s exclusion order.  Thereby, Japanese Americans were denied due process under US law when they were forcefully deported to camps.

US Supreme Court never had the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of the policy of Japanese American incarceration. Thus, technically, the wartime exclusion order still stands today.

Using a writ of coram nobis (a legal order allowing for a correction in judgment of court cases when new information surfaces that proves key evidence was concealed during the initial court proceedings), Hirabayashi’s case was reopened by US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In 1984, his conviction was subsequently overturned. As a result, his case never made it back to the US Supreme Court, thus the high court never had the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of the policy of Japanese American incarceration. Thus, technically, the wartime exclusion order still stands today.

President Reagan signing the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

President Reagan signing the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

Sharon Tomiko and her people’s fight for redress wasn’t in vain. To compensate the victims who suffered gross injustice and hardship caused by wartime incarceration, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 when she was in graduate school. It was a formal presidential apology to every surviving US citizen or legal resident immigrant of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during World War II. The Act also provided a provision for a public education fund to prevent a future recurrence of forced incarceration and the loss of one’s inalienable rights. Two governmental agencies were established to implement reparations payments to eligible individuals. 

Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos never forgot the lessons of her community’s trials and tribulations. To this day, she remains a vocal advocate for her legislative district’s diverse population. In particular, she holds special regard for the elderly—“the immigrant Japanese pioneers who, with nothing more than just hopes, came to the United States, like so many other immigrants and found that there was opportunity here. But because of rampant racism and discrimination, the dreams for opportunities were really not theirs to be able to reach and achieve. These elderly pioneers managed to still work very hard on behalf of their children’s opportunity. Their resilience, the lessons that they imparted to their children, and ultimately to their grandchildren, is why I've been able to succeed, and become a voice for those who are under-represented. Most importantly, I try to serve as a reminder to my colleagues about the deep meaning of the Constitution and our obligation, not just by words, but by real actions to continue to hold its relevance for future generations.” 

Thank you, Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, for imparting your family’s historic and personal narrative to Power in Place. Your story isn’t a relic of the past. It is as relevant as it was in 1942 and 1988. I’m reminded to stay vigilant and never assume that civil liberties are unassailable or guaranteed by our courts and government.  The suppressed history of transgression against freedom must always be unearthed and understood as a warning for future generations who believe in true democracy.

For further study & understanding the history of the Japanese American community and their World War II experiences, Rep. Santos highly recommends Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project www.densho.org