Our State song Oklahoma, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, has the words“We’re only sayin’ You’re doing fine Oklahoma! Oklahoma, OK” But Oklahoma is not doing OK.
Oklahoma seems head bent on joining an ever growing list of states, 19 so far, where anti-protest bills trying to stifle protests like the ones against the Dakota Access Pipeline have passed. House Bill 1123 and House Bill 2128 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on February 28 and March 2,2017 and is now headed for the State Senate for its deliberation. Across the county there is this big push to rein in protesters. The push is so unnecessary and un-American. There already exist laws, which ban the conduct sought to be banned.
The bills establish new fines and prison sentences for trespassing at sites deemed “critical infrastructure” like pipelines, water treatment facilities and dams from disruptive protest, like Standing Rock.
Punishments are harsh, starting from a mandatory six months in prison and a $1,000 fine for trespassing, up to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for individuals. Groups organizing such a protest face fines of $2 million. If the intent is to damage equipment, the fine is no less than $10,000, one year in prison or both. If equipment is damaged, a protester is looking at a felony, $100,000 dollar fine, up to 10 years.
Oklahoma Sierra Club Executive Director, Johnson Bridgewater, noted there are already ample laws in place for trespassing and vandalism in the state. “This bill isn’t about that. This is about trying to quell protests and scare people out of voicing their opinions.”
Across America there have been, are, and will be non-violent protests against pipelines, police shootings, politicians, presidential candidates, labor rights, women rights, gay and lesbian rights and many others. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Civil protest is an American way. Peaceful protests have occurred throughout history.
Republican lawmakers in at least 19 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.” They include one that would protect drivers who “unintentionally” run over activists blocking roads and another aimed at forcing protesters to pay up to three times the costs of any damage they caused.
Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union specializing in First Amendment issues, said she had seen occasional attempts to crack down on protests over the years.
“But I’ve never seen a coordinated attack on protesters’ rights anywhere near this scale,” Rowland said. “What all of these bills have in common is they may be dressed up as being about obstruction or public safety, but make no mistake about it: These are about suppressing protests with draconian penalties so that the average person would think twice before getting out on the street and making their voice heard.”
Hopefully, the Republican Party dominated Oklahoma State Senate will reject House Bill 1123 and House Bill 2128 because it will be influenced more by American core values. Americans have always been idealistic people. They set high standards for themselves and holds firmly to ideals that they believe are true, important, and desirable. Even though Americans don’t always live up to these ideals, or core values, nevertheless, they cling to them as a set of basic beliefs on which the American government was founded and continues to operate today. Among those values are individualism, equality, and diversity liberty.
Individuals must be in control of their own lives and be able to make decisions without undue influence from the government or society.
Equality is the value that holds that all people must be treated fairly and with dignity and are able to embrace opportunities for education, economic success, political involvement, and a fulfilling life.
Diversity is the value that teaches us to respect and embrace the fact that all people are unique and important no matter what their race, culture, heritage, belief system, or socio-economic status.
Liberty is the value that proclaims that people should be free to think, speak, and act as they choose as long as they do not offend the freedom and rights of others.
Finally, we should learn from history, the exploitation of people by the powerful will not endure here in America.