“We will remember our martyrs!” may have been the most striking line from the numerous speeches at the Oklahoma Standing in Solidarity with Charlottesville rally Sunday in Oklahoma City.
Many passionate speakers were given a turn at the mic on the south side of the Capitol building during the event attended by a broad spectrum of people from all ages and various
Until Saturday, deaths from activism on the political Left were thought of as occurrences in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement days.
But the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville after a car deliberately rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters has now added a new martyr on the Left.
James Alex Fields Jr., A 20-year-old man from Ohio with a history of white supremacy activities, is charged with second-degree murder in Heyer’s death.
Statements afterward by some violence-prone groups on the Right cheering her death have added an even darker pall to the tragedy.
The impact has been to add gravity to any decision to protest.
And there was a noticeable deep, emotional fire to Sunday’s rally that hasn’t been there previously.
No other subgroup present at the rally symbolized the transformation of some thinking on the left than the group Red Neck Revolt.
The group breaks from at least some long-standing norms on the Left about the place of violence and the use of weapons.
The national group and its Oklahoma component, called the John Brown Gun Club, advocate for using weapons as an option for self-defense where there may be armed intimidation from radical members of the extreme Right such as Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis.
The group was noticeable at Sunday’s rally wearing all black with a bright red bandana tied around their necks. Among those members we observed, none were openly carrying any weapons.
One member from Oklahoma City, Matt Daniel, told Free Press the group is not predetermined to engage in violence.
He said whether they do “depends on what we are met with.”
“We are going defend our communities. We are going to defend marginalized communities,” said Daniel. “One of my favorite sayings is speak the language that I hear someone speaking. If that language is violence, then I know what language to use.”
He said the group is focused on providing whatever type of resistance is needed to counter fascism, neo-Nazism and white supremacy anywhere.
“With what happened in Charlottesville we need to show that not only will they be turned back in Charlottesville, they’ll be turned back in Oklahoma City and in Tulsa and anywhere in the United States,” Daniel said.
We asked Reverend Jesse Jackson, pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church, what he thought about the Red Neck Revolt group’s emphasis on self-defense.
He has helped lead many peaceful protests and rallies in Oklahoma City, the largest being the Black Lives Matter Rally in 2016.
But he believes times have changed.
“There are a lot of people who have made self-defense a priority in these days just for safety reasons,” said Jackson.
He said even though he is “a man of peace” he is still prepared to defend himself and his family. But he finds the circumstances regrettable.
“It’s unfortunate to me. I don’t think that anything ultimately good can happen we all start drawing guns on one another,” said Jackson. “I would love for us to be able to talk and reason with one another. But that’s not always possible.”
The rally that was organized the morning of the day it happened in Oklahoma City revealed a growing core of liberal and progressive activists Sunday.
Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson said that she and a few others decided to call the Oklahoma Standing in Solidarity with Charlottesville rally early Sunday morning and went to Facebook to start organizing.
Starting at 7:30 that evening on the south side of the Oklahoma Capitol, Dickerson said, “I counted up to about 400 as they kept arriving, then just quit.”