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This Land is Your Land...Or is It?: Occupy Oklahoma City Sues in Federal Court to Fight to Keep the Commons

 

Having spent the better part of two months as an embedded reporter with Occupy OKC's camp in Kerr Park (aka Poet's Park) I have often praised both the city and police department. Oklahoma City's occupation has so far managed to avoid the mass arrests and police brutality seen in other cities around the nation. In my opinion, this is largely due to the group's respect for the park and city ordinances, as well as the city's respect for the First Amendment. I frequently pointed to OKC as a model city, setting an example for how a local government and occupiers can peacefully coexist.

So imagine my surprise upon learning that the City of Oklahoma City recently refused to accept the group's $55/day permit fee. Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry told Occupy OKC that not only were they being evicted from Poet's Park, all city parks would be closed to them. Protesters were further informed that anyone remaining in Poet's Park after curfew would face citation or arrest, effective immediately.

The word was blasted out in urgent text messages, Facebook posts and Twitters: “EVICTION IMMINENT! Please come to Poet's Park NOW!”

Occupiers Jay Vehige (carrying flag) and Army veteran Jaymie Johnson rally to keep the park. Nov. 28, 2011.Occupiers Jay Vehige (carrying flag) and Army veteran Jaymie Johnson rally to keep the park. Nov. 28, 2011. (photo courtesy Garrett Fisbeck, "The Vista")

6:40 p.m. – an emergency General Assembly is called to decide whether to leave the park voluntarily or standoff with police. Occupier Jay Vehige speaks first:

“Mic check!”

Crowd: “Mic check! Mic check!”

Jay: “I've been arrested twice already and I'll do it again if I know people are with me. I'm not afraid!”

Crowd: “Not afraid!”

Jay: “Clearly (crowd repeats) They've lied to us before. I bet the police officers are suiting up for battle right now. So let's be real. The time has come for us to make our stand. Will we cower? In the corner? Or will we stand against tyranny? We will not allow them to continue to infringe upon our rights. We will stand in solidarity with our brothers and our sisters until our grievances have been redressed by our government!”

The GA's decision is unanimous to stay. Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary Jaymie Johnson stood up and announced, “I've signed up to get arrested. I've already called my fiancee and told her what to expect. I contacted Capt. Byrne (of OCPD) myself and asked him if we'd be evicted from the park and he said no, we wouldn't be. He lied to me. So now I can't trust the city, I can't trust the police department. Right here, right now, we're taking a stand. All of these people out here are the 99% and so are you. And whatever happens, if I get arrested, I will smile when they take my picture.”

Britney Shantel-Guest begins passing around a sign-up sheet for those who are willing to be arrested. Each volunteer is to fill in their full name, phone number, and emergency contact information. Those assembled are assured that anyone arrested will be bailed out of jail.

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