Oklahoma Legislators Follow Advocates When Senior Day Venue Moves from Capitol

Grassroots | May 04, 2018 | by Lisa Sanders

Protesting teachers took over the space at the Oklahoma state Capitol building needed for LeadingAge Oklahoma's annual Senior Day advocacy event. Undaunted, organizers moved the venue -- and lawmakers followed

In Oklahoma City, nine days of protests last month at the state’s capitol building by educators rallying for higher pay and increased state funding wreaked havoc on LeadingAge Oklahoma’s long-standing plans for its Senior Day. Having a presence at the annual advocacy event is always important to “keep our concerns front and center on lawmakers’ radars,” says organizer Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma. And this one, in an election year, was particularly important.

Advocates at Senior Day in a new venue: St. Luke's Church

Brinkley had registered for April 9 event months in advance, but with thousands of teachers in the capitol, she suspected her space on the second floor rotunda would not be freed up for Senior Day. “We hand delivered a letter to the head of the teachers’ group asking for half the day,” said Brinkley, but the teachers turned her down.

Undaunted, she took action. She contacted the 750 pre-registered participants -- seniors, families, aging services providers as well as students -- as well as lawmakers, alerting them to Senior Day’s new venue: St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

Via buses, with wheelchairs and walkers, seniors came, sporting their trademark green Stand Up for Seniors hats. So did elected officials: thirteen showed up. “You’ve got to make every effort you can, especially for our senior citizens, when they’re inconvenienced and can’t get to you,” Rep. Tim Downey (R-Blanchard) told reporters at local TV station News9.

All told, nearly 400 people attended, according to Brinkley. “We may not have the critical mass compared to other groups, and as a result, we often don’t have the voice that they do. But that does not mean that we do not have needs and concerns that should be heard.”

Perseverance and determination helped to get the desired attention: “Our senior citizens are important to us,” said Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, to News9 outside St. Luke’s..

In the end, says Brinkley: “We couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”