In the damp solemnity of an overcast day, and against the typical drone of downtown Tulsa, over one hundred people gathered in silence. Carrying nothing but brooms, mops and buckets, clad in matching blue t-shirts and surgical masks, these demonstrators clustered densely against the glass façade of the city’s ultra-modern seat of government.
They stood as an advance guard, because they knew someone else was coming.
Though Tulsa’s city hall might like itself transparent – both in its architecture and its governance – there are those who would prefer to blot out this participatory model. Some would rather a divisive opacity, excluding on the basis of race, religion, nationality, and a host of other antique identifications used to bar a person from American identity. Indeed, this sentiment coagulated in Tulsa and, for one morning, clogged its city center.
On Tuesday, the vehemently Islamophobic group Act! for America held a demonstration in Chapman Centennial Green Park, after which the attendees marched five blocks to city hall and demanded entry to the mayor’s office. Their purpose? To petition the reinstatement of Police Captain Paul Fields, who was suspended for his outright refusal to attend a community meeting at Tulsa’s Islamic Center, claiming that it violated his First Amendment rights.
In the wake of Fields’ punishment, Act! for America has flippantly thrown around patriotic rhetoric, its supporters in Tulsa lamenting a “violation of their civil rights” and citing a purported anti-Christian bias in contemporary politics. At the rally, its executive director Guy Rogers stated that:
“This is all about respect for the constitution, respect for the rule of law, and it’s about respect for the rights of a law enforcement officer who was given an unlawful order.”
That is to say, an officer being asked merely to attend a meeting hosted by Muslims is unlawful.
Despite its posturing, Act! has repeatedly demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the “rule of law” while it chisels its own unconstitutional image of the United States. Act! has been one of the primary lobbying groups for so-called anti-Shariah legislation aimed at curbing the rights of Muslims; these laws are repeatedly struck down on constitutional grounds, by the way.
Act!’s founder, Brigitte Gabrielle, has also made the claim that “radicals” have been incubated in American mosques, then “have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department.” Gabrielle was also cited in Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto, which he released shortly before killing 76 people in an attempt to rid Norway of Islamic influence.
Despite Act! for America’s ignorance, despite its flimsy understanding of constitutionality and protections under the law, the demonstrators waiting for them at city hall said nothing. Instead of attacking its weak conspiracy theories and malicious commentary, they chose to disavow confrontation and quietly claim their rightful place in the city’s forum.
Altogether, this courteously afforded Act! for America the constitutional guarantees they so eagerly deprive from others.
Appearing under the auspices of Tulsa’s Say No To Hate Coalition (SNTHC), a grouping of 18 city organizations committed to “preserving the fundamental freedoms of all people, engaged in what they refer to as a “Sweeping Away the Hate” event. According to Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice at YWCA Tulsa (just one of Say No To Hate’s member organizations), these actions involve people arriving with cleaning supplies, waiting respectfully through the opposition’s event, then symbolically cleaning the site of the prejudice for which it had been a venue—an act which she aptly calls “re-consecrating” the location.
In literally “sweeping,” the gesture does more to re-appropriate the space than any shouting match could ever accomplish.
Say No To Hate’s reserved exhibition certainly seemed a capable converse to the teeming, standard-bearing cacophony of the Act! rally, where the petitioners were invited to shout any number of hostile epithets in a no-holds-barred caricature of patriotism. One Act! Adherent mistakenly joined the SNTHC event, and in realizing his misstep shouted at the participants, referring to the placid demonstrators as “jihadists.” He then stomped off to enlist with his compatriots.
All the same, Say No To Hate remained unperturbed, acting with a resolution only experience can bring. After all, the coalition has been operating for over two decades to unite civil servants, volunteers, organizers, citizens of all faiths, ethnicities, and ages—all of whom remain well invested in an inclusive sense of justice for Tulsa’s citizens.
Their efforts were rewarded.
When Act! for America arrived at city hall, it was allowed to hand over its petition, but was turned away shortly after. No one in the organization had arranged for a meeting, and the mayor remained reticent on any topic involving the petitioners’ demands: “The City of Tulsa is involved in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Paul Fields, a captain of the Tulsa Police Department, and cannot comment further.”
In the midst of the ceremonious exchange, SNTHC carried out their demonstration, garnering enough attention for a front-page photo in the local paper, Tulsa World. With reporters, demonstrators, city officials, and onlookers sifting through the clamorous gathering, Say No To Hate did well what it set out to do—reveal how one might carry out its namesake.