For weeks, the editorial page of The Oklahoman has mocked and sneered at the Occupy OKC participants and the entire Occupy Wall Street movement, employing demeaning, sarcastic right-wing rants to make its points.
On Wednesday, an editorial published on NewsOK.com (“Continued overnight stays in Kerr Park would only hurt Occupy OKC cause,” Dec. 14, 2011) about the local protesters dropped the silly snark, for the most part, and offered its sanctimonious advice for Occupy OKC: Leave the downtown Kerr Park encampment for the good of your cause.
Of course, the editorial was published as the Occupy OKC protesters were actually already breaking camp after a federal judge’s ruling that they had to leave the park at night because of city park regulations. The Occupy OKC argument was essentially that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . .”.
That The Oklahoman should now be a source of advice for the OWS movement is about as absurd as it gets. This is a media outlet that, at least in its editorials, has made it clear it favors the interests of big corporations and the wealthy-or the 1 percent-above anything else. This has been the newspaper’s modus operandi under the Gaylord family and now apparently under the ownership of Philip Anschutz.
Perhaps worse than the unwanted and self-serving advice, though, is the newspaper’s failure to even remotely understand the local and national protests, which are sure to continue through the winter and erupt in full force during the spring. That’s the fault line between establishment media outlets and the OWS movement. If the movement can’t be presented as a list of points in a press release, then corporate media outlets are going to marginalize it. But this is a beginning of a movement, here and elsewhere, that might never lend itself to the artificial rhetorical frames still widely practiced as “journalism.”
There are two points of misunderstanding in the most recent editorial about the OWS movement in The Oklahoman.
First, the editorial claims Occupy OKC participants “do indeed have a right to ‘stand up for what they believe in a public space.’ But the First Amendment doesn’t say that other rules or laws don’t apply.”
But the First Amendment also doesn’t say the right to peaceably assemble IS subject to all “other rules or laws.” Kerr Park’s hours are not, to be obvious, specifically a part of the constitution. The key word here is “peaceably.” One basis of the Occupy movement is to occupy, to be redundant, in both an actual and symbolic sense. It says, We claim this space because it’s ours as citizens. We’re going to live here. We want a voice in making “other rules or laws.” Of course, the temporary or even permanent suspension of some “other rules or laws” is valid when there are pressing social concerns presented peacefully by a widespread, national movement.
It’s difficult to imagine that our country’s forefathers would have considered a small park’s hours of operation more important than peaceful protest.
Second, the editorial asks why the protesters chose Kerr Park and not some other public space. The answer to that, at least from my perspective, seems obvious. The park was donated to the city by the long-gone Kerr-McGee Corporation, a once prominent oil and gas company in Oklahoma City that was sold in 2006 and became part of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation in Houston. In a sense, because of the nomenclature, a historical, now non-existent corporation “occupies” the park 24 hours a day. What better place to protest the outsized role corporate money and influence plays in our political system?
As I’ve written before, once the Oil Age comes to an end, companies like Kerr-McGee will seem like a blip on the city’s and state’s history. Let’s hope that the expression of valid protest and the exercise of free speech will live on and that maybe one day Kerr Park will be known as Occupy Park.