Crystal Stands Out

October 2, 2013

Crystal Lagrone stands out.

In deep red Oklahoma, she’s a fiery progressive, passionately fighting to win change for her home state.

And at this year’s Camp Wellstone Illinois, she stuck out as the home-schooling, missionary, woman with a deep southern drawl firing up her fellow campers. 

For Crystal, her faith and politics are inextricably linked, “We’re to love one another. I take that as I’m not going to judge someone for living their life. I’m a Democrat because I believe in the power of choice and I believe in the power of hope.”

It’s that sense of community and values that originally got Crystal engaged with politics, “I look around Oklahoma and I see so many people struggling, vital services being cut through regressive policies, and so I look at those and think, there’s gotta be a better way. People should have an opportunity to flourish and live their lives as they chose.”

Last Year, Crystal was working on her first campaign for congressional candidate in her district. The candidate, John Olson a Camp Wellstone alum himself, convinced Crystal to try Camp Wellstone out. So this August she headed to Illinois for the last Camp of the year. And she loved it.

“What I love about Wellstone is that the message is so clear: build relationships through grassroots organizing.” It’s an especially important lesson to learn when organizing a state skeptical of her progressive politics, “We need to do more of that here in Oklahoma, we’ve allowed the other side to dictate who they are. When they try to define me, that’s completely wrong.”

And it’s a lesson deeply connected to another part of her life: Crystal’s missionary work in Estonia, “It’s just so difficult in a place like Oklahoma to get your message out, and to get folks to look beyond the political party. But then Rudy, one of the trainers, told me to view my organizing like mission work: going out and building impactful relationships. That was a big ah-ha moment for me."

For Crystal, the weekend was full of ah-Hah moments, “Camp Wellstone gives you a broad overview of every facet of the campaign so you can identify your strong suits. I went into Camp wanting to figure out how to understand the numbers, I went out knowing how to do that but with a strong knowledge that I’m better suited to working with volunteers and helping with communications. Wellstone gives you an overview but also an opportunity to practice those things and figure out what you’re best at.”

Crystal went into Camp Wellstone hoping to take what she learned back to help her congressional candidate during the next election. But those plans are changing. “I look around and realize that without the right soil, the roots of my candidate’s ideas won’t be able to take hold. Put it another way: people aren’t ready for his progressive message yet at the congressional level so it’s time to focus on organizing at the local level.”

Crystal connected with a friend who started an organization called Voices for a Better Oklahoma. The group focuses not on a single issue but a set of progressive values. Together, they are working with progressives across the state, at the local level, especially women, to build community leaders. Right now they are focusing on a few key state house races and working to change the dialogue so that eventually the whole state will be more responsive to progressive candidates.

"In a state as conservative and as predominantly Caucasian as Oklahoma, we have to empower women on issues that are important to us. We, women, are the best networkers. That’s really where my heart is, we’re going focus on registering voters, continue to work in the community, continue to have that values based conversation that is meaningful to people. And Wellstone Action gave me the framework to accomplish just that. Coming from Oklahoma, I was thirsty for the knowledge of how to better organize my community, and Wellstone quenched that thirst in a big way.

Camp Wellstone was well worth the trip from Oklahoma. If you’re truly passionate about working on a campaign, being a candidate, or organizing your community, you owe it to yourself to get this perspective.”

Whether it’s as a fierce progressive champion in the middle of a deeply conservative state, or as a passionate leader with a deep southern accent at a Camp Wellstone in the heart of Illinois, Crystal stands out.

For us, it’s reminiscent of another progressive who stood out. Paul Wellstone used to joke, “I’m short, I’m Jewish, and I’m liberal.” He stood out in a big way, and spent every day fighting to make progressive change.

So we think he’d be proud of Crystal standing out and standing up, making change, and fighting to turn Oklahoma blue, one values based conversation at a time.