Peace Activists, Pipelines and Primitivists: A Very Brief Visit to Oklahoma.

I was not in Oklahoma long enough to form decent opinions of the place. We were there for two days, and most of that was spent on the road. The landscape was strangely familiar to a frequent Adelaide to Melbourne traveller. The fields and rolling hills could have been transplanted to Tailem Bend or Keith with no incongruity (this applied to parts of Texas, too, I discovered). David reminded his audiences there that (white) Oklahoma was the major beneficiary of the Homestead Act. It showed. Like South Australia, it was classic European settler country. Weird.
The Oklahoma people I briefly met had a similar cultural reserve to Adelaide residents too. In part, I think, they were just not sure what this random Aussie was doing there, and didn’t have time to find out. So they largely gave me feedback on David’s show. The gig in Tulsa was held at the Unitarian meeting house, which made me feel right at home. Unitarians are very ecumenical and civilised. The building becomes a mosque on Fridays, and also hosts a goddess circle. And it houses the offices of Tulsa’s local peace activist group, most of whom were at the gig. Tea and biscuits (sorry, cookies) were served. A very nice man informed me that David was his new favourite songwriter. The gig organiser put us up for the night, and very kindly let me rave on about Finnish-American Wobblies and how cool they were. It was a good start to the tour.
Most of the audience in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City consisted of seasoned lefties and activists, so the opinions were enthusiastically positive. With one highly amusing exception, in Oklahoma City.
Before we proceed, listen to this song:

If you don’t laugh, skip the rest of this story. It will be wasted on you.
We arrived in Oklahoma City in time to join most of the audience for dinner before the show. As usual, I eavesdropped on the conversations as I ate, and learned that many of them were seasoned peace and civil rights activists. (David told me after the show that he had talked to some former members of the Black Panthers during intermission). Just after we started the “show” part of the evening, a group of scruffy anarchists walked in. They ignored the seating and went to stand at the back of the room, like any juvenile delinquent, I guess. None of them were over 25. The song above is in David’s current set list anyway, but I’m pretty sure he changed the planned order around after they trooped in the door . He immediately launched into it. The seated audience laughed. The feral children had a different response, as I discovered. Much to my amusement.
Turns out that most of this crowd were part of a direct action campaign against the Keystone Pipeline. When David’s first set ended, one handsome young man got up to promote the campaign, looking pointedly at David when he stated that THEY were committed to direct action tactics. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I suspect you have missed the point, or not done your research.” That particular young man took the time, after the gig, to overcome his natural prejudices. I liked him. Not so the other young man I met when I joined some of them outside for an intermission smoke.
Most of these earnest young people had not seen me arrive with David. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but to them I was just another member of the audience, maybe a bit younger and therefore slightly less alien. We exchanged pleasantries. Then an even younger boy wandered out. He could have been a poster child for Food Not Bombs or some such. And his comment on the show was “Well, actually, I am a better anarchist than David Rovics.”
I laughed. Everyone else nodded earnestly. “Oh dear,” I thought to myself. “He’s serious. And he is being taken seriously too, at least in this group.”
I participated in the conversation for a while, largely to present a different point of view to these evidently overawed kids. I made some pointy jokes about sectarianism. He told me that the only song of David’s that he thought worthwhile was “St Patrick Battalion.” He seemed slightly offended when I told him he was in a majority there; it seems to be everybody’s favourite song. But I decided any real mind-poking was pointless when he informed me, quite seriously, that his real purpose in joining the pipeline coalition was to assist all the other activists involved to overcome their bourgeois (he actually pronounced it as “boojy”) limitations and convert them to the true righteous path of primitivist direct action. I politely said goodbye and went back to the gig. I’m pretty sure he left.
In the end, I was amused only because I was just passing through. If I’d been a member of that coalition, I would have had to step on him, and that sort of thing annoys me. I told David the story as we drove off. And that, as far as I was concerned, was Oklahoma City. A good gig, and a reminder of why I have a very limited tolerance for the “radical fundamentalist”, as Jello Biafra likes to call them.
If I’m going to stick to my 1000 word rule, I’ll have to write about Dallas next time. You’ll enjoy that story. I met a great many activists there who had a sense of humour.

3 comments

  1. Kalen · February 10, 2014

    Hey, I was at that show! Found your blog because I was trying to find a setlist (of sorts) because there was a song about the Homestead Act that I’m wanting to know the title of and this came up in the google search. Spot on about some of the OKC radicals — they are a bit much in terms of getting real work done but they are enthusiastic and, mostly, have good intentions. But don’t give up on Oklahoma just yet, there’s good people doing good work here. We have populist roots that run deep here and if the activists can get together, I think we can have some real change!

    • Anarchomuse · February 10, 2014

      Hi, I’ll admit I was a bit cranky about sectarian behaviour when I wrote this post. I met some wonderful activists in OK, both in Tulsa and OK City, and was very impressed with the experience and commitment of the audiences there. Most of those young anarchists were great, really nice… and I agree, there’s a great radical history in your state. (I’m a scholar of the IWW and there was a very active bunch of Wobs in the oil fields of Oklahoma in the 1920s, for example…)
      I think the song you’re looking for, if you mean a David Rovics song, is “Landlord”. He introduced it by talking about the Homestead Act being caused in part by the NY rent strike (the subject of the song).

  2. Anarchomuse · February 10, 2014

    Here’s a link to the song, you can download it from here: https://soundcloud.com/davidrovics/landlord

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