About 75 people showed up Friday for a rally outside the state Capitol to urge Coburn, R-Muskogee, to let the bill advance. They then marched to Coburn’s office in the Chase Building, where they said they would stay outside the building until Coburn changes his position.
Most in the group were college age and many are involved with the Resolve Uganda or the Invisible Children groups.
"We are not going to quit,” said Melissa Fitzgerald, a supporter of Invisible Children and the actress who played Carol Fitzpatrick in "The West Wing” television series. "We are here to make a cry for peace. ... Please, Senator Coburn, hear us.”
As long as it takes’
Mark Nehrenz, of Norman, who graduated last year from the University of Oklahoma and has been involved with working to improve Uganda’s plight the past four years, said many in the group are planning to stay outside Coburn’s office.
"The permit we have says as long as it takes,” Nehrenz said. "After a few days, we’ll start doing shifts until he comes out and gives a plan on how to either come to the table or offer a compromise.”
Coburn has said he agrees with the goal of the Uganda bill, but that he wasn’t going to back off his position that the $40 million authorized in the bill should have an "offset,” or spending cuts somewhere else in the budget to pay for it. As soon as Coburn lifts his hold, the Senate bill passes.
"Dr. Coburn and an increasing number of economists view our national debt as a national security crisis,” said John Hart, Coburn’s communications director.
"Dr. Coburn routinely requires sponsors of bills, such as this one and many others, to pay for their proposed new spending with reductions in spending elsewhere in the budget. Dr. Coburn hopes the bill sponsors will identify budget offsets and work with him to pass this bill.”
Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, recruits children — sometimes to kill their parents — in the areas where the group is active: Uganda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
The bill’s goal
Supporters say the bill would demonstrate to the world that the problem is a U.S. priority.
The legislation directs the administration to develop a regional strategy to eliminate the threat to civilians and regional stability posed by Kony’s group, to enforce the rule of law and to ensure full humanitarian access.
David Criswell of Stillwater and a student at Oklahoma State University and his friend, Quentin Tobey, an OSU student from Edmond, drove from Stillwater to attend the rally. Criswell, a freshman, said he has been involved with Invisible Children since he was in high school.
"There are so many people around the world, especially in Uganda, who are experiencing things we can’t even imagine — children abducted from their homes and so many people that’s been killed,” Criswell said.
Victoria Cabansag and five of her friends from San Bernardino, Calif., drove 24 hours straight to attend the rally.
"We believe that it’s worth it,” she said. "Growing up in the United States we have such comforts and stability. ... I don’t have to worry about people coming in at night trying to steal me, killing me.”
Geoffrey Okot, a member of the Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, told the group his brother has been abducted. He doesn’t know whether his brother is still alive, but he said his only hope of seeing his brother again is if Coburn liftshis hold on the bill.
"Coburn, please listen to my cry,” Okot said.
At this point they've been camped out for just under 71 hours.