BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
TULSA – On Saturday, about 11 a.m., a lone man, appearing to be on the sliding side of middle age old enough to be some child’s grandfather, walked slowly across Denver Avenue to the Bank of Oklahoma event center. He carried a handwritten cardboard sign, “Resistance is Patriotic.”
He was the first of a group that would swell to hundreds within a couple of hours. They would march through downtown in front of banks, international corporation offices, the Tulsa World, and any number of businesses. He and his fellows were making their attempt at letting the city and the world know – they were, as they call themselves, the 99%.
This several hundred had, through Facebook and Twitter, formed “Occupy Tulsa.” They were marching to not only voice displeasure with the economic status quo, but in solidarity with the nearly 30,000-member Occupy Wall Street movement which has maintained vigil in New York over a month.
For the previous seven days organizers held meetings and smaller demonstrations denouncing the federal bank bailouts of the previous administration, the flow of jobs to off-shore and Third World labor reservoirs, the enormous bonuses paid to corporate CEOs who cut American jobs in favor of Third World labor.
But, most specifically, the discontent in the street is directed at the U.S. Supreme Court and its ruling that corporations are not only citizens, but citizens allowed unlimited donations to political campaigns. They were also angered at the ideological deadlock in Congress created by the new breed of Tea Bag politicians who seem to place ideology above public welfare.
From a vantage point at the entrance of the BoK center it was easy to see streams of people walking several blocks to join the main body of the Occupy movement. They came in twos and threes, young mothers with children in strollers, the elderly helping each other from the distance parking lots, the union workers, college students, the tattooed and Oxford shirt buttoned down.
As the group grew and the bull-horned speeches began it became obvious this group did consider itself, the 99%. It was also obvious, as stated in the 1976 movie Network, they were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
Chanting “We are the 99%,” “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” the several hundred began moving eastward down Third Street. Even once on the move their ranks began to swell, and with an incredible discipline for a group who had never previously assembled, they remained on the sidewalks and observed traffic lights. More than once drivers parked their cars along the route and joined the marchers.
The noticeable police presence was minimal. Marked patrol cars moved along with the demonstrators, appearing to be more in a traffic rather than crowd control capacity. This was not true in other cities where police and demonstrators became involved in confrontations resulting in arrests.
As remarked, this was Tulsa – the home of the apathy riot.
There was a brief stop in front of the IBM building. Marchers were provided water bottles and a short respite while speakers exhorted the group to remember that the Saturday march was only the beginning.
Occupy Tulsa, as with the hundreds of other groups across the country, plans other “action” such as flash protests at various banks and corporate institutions. The crowd cheered and the march moved on toward the Center of the Universe.
A chant echoing the Vietnam era, from which there seemed to be a noticeable representation, reverberated at one point, “Make Jobs Not War.”
Once at the Center of the Universe, near the old Tulsa Union Depot, the group was again treated to solidarity speeches and told to be ready for future actions. “Solidarity, 99% and jobs” were the key words for the day.
The crowd left as quietly as it had gathered. The movement, however, appears to remain.
What could only be described as irony: The Tulsa World chose this particular weekend to run a 2 ½-page laudatory – beginning on the front page above the fold – about Bank of Oklahoma founder and president George Kaiser, his bank and philanthropic organizations.
The paper’s second section lead story was about the dedication of the new National Guard Armory.
The demonstration story landed on the second page of the third section. The first page of that section was a full-page furniture advertisement. The demonstration story was coupled to a story about how one of the global Occupy demonstrations had turned violent – in Rome.
A quick glance at the World website comments about the Kaiser story revealed that not all Tulsans were as excited about the BoK patriarch as the Tulsa World.
Just where the Occupy movement goes from here remains to be seen. However, if they can put a few hundred people in the streets of Tulsa on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, with no mainstream publicity while competing with football, they may well be on to something, especially with BoK thrown in their face the next morning.
Watching this mixed group of Native Americans, African-Americans, union workers, moms, dads, students and the just-interested called to mind Simon and Garfunkel, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…”
There are no subways in Tulsa, but this particular sunny Saturday afternoon a group of several hundred had joined with the world to break the Sound of Silence.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer, providing both essay and video commentary. His latest book, Martian Llama Racing Explained, is available at http://www.richardfricker.com.