Protests, marches, and displays of attention are not an uncommon thing for Oklahoma. Beginning as early as the Boomers, civil unrest has found its way into our fair state. Led by David Payne, these Boomers lined the edges of the Unassigned Lands with demonstrations, encampments, and and protests. Inspired by Boudinot, Payne began his efforts to enter and settle the public domain lands as allowed by existing law. He returned from his job in Washington and returned to Wichita in 1879. On his first attempt to enter Indian Territory, in April 1880, Payne and his party laid out a town they named "Ewing" on the present-day site of Oklahoma City. They were arrested by the Fourth cavalry and returned to Kansas.
Later that same year Oklahoma would see its first coal workers strike. The national Knights of Labor sponsored the first union in Indian Territory when they organized coal miners in 1882. As leader of the coal miners' union in Indian Territory and early Oklahoma, Peter Hanraty stressed negotiation as the means for resolving most labor conflicts, but he recognized that strikes were often necessary. After almost six weeks of fruitless negotiations, Hanraty helped organize a strike. On May 10, 1894, he led a march involving about one thousand people from the Lehigh and Coalgate area to a mine owned by the Williamson Brothers, because work there had continued. Almost fifty women carrying banners were in the lead, followed by nearly one hundred miners with rifles and shotguns. They were followed by the Coalgate Band. Most of the remaining demonstrators, including children, carried clubs. No violence occurred, and the Williamson Brothers agreed to stop work.
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement hit Oklahoma hard. Unfortunately, Oklahoma took part in the grotesque Jim Crow Laws. The Youth Council of the NAACP, led by history teacher Clara Luper, began the lunch counter sit in movement, that would later become a national form of protest. The Youth Council had been to New York City to perform their play, Brother President, for the national NAACP. There the children had their first taste of what integration and desegregation was like. Upon returning to OKC, the children came to their sponsor, Luper, to formulate a plan following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's plan for non-violent protest. The youth council decided on five locations to begin their protests: Katz Drugstore, Veazey’s Drugstore, S.H. Kress, John A. Browns, and Greens. Clara Luper described John A. Brown’s as the Bunker Hill of the sit-in movement. The sit-ins here went on every day for five years. Finally, the movement was becoming an organized community effort, upsetting false assumptions, and old traditions. Luper took the brunt of the white community’s anger about the sit-ins. She received bomb threats, someone broke into her house and burned all her furniture and clothing, and received hundreds of threatening telephone calls.
In 1990, Oklahoma teachers protested and went on strike for better pay. On April 17, 1990 more than half of Oklahoma's 36,000 teachers went on strike closing nearly a quarter of the state's school districts. Chanting and carrying signs, thousands of teachers and their supporters converged on the State Capitol and other nearby state buildings after the State Senate killed an education bill that would have included pay increases. Estimates ranged from 5,000 to 15,000 demonstrators at the capital.The Oklahoma Education Association, the union that called the walkout, said about 20,000 teachers, or 60 percent of the state teaching force, were off the job Tuesday. That's about 4,000 more than the first day of the strike. Ms. Garrett estimated the walkout has affected about 60 percent, or 343,200, of the state's 572,000 students.Teachers are venting their frustration over the Legislature's failure after an eight-month special session to enact a $230 million school reform and tax plan that contains money for teacher raises.
And the protests continue. This year, on January 21, 2017, more than 12,000 women, men, and all manner of Oklahomans took to the state capitol to join in the International Women's March on Washington. Originating as a women's march, the event began to morph to encompass all manner of grievances of citizens from treatment of women, to teacher pay, to LGBTQ issues, to issues of race, religion, and other social and cultural causes. One definitive narrative cannot be pinned down for this march other than it became a movement for those who felt disenfranchised by the state and government. Marches in London, Washington DC, and New York City drew 500,000+ people to the demonstrations. Globally, the marches went off without a hitch, with no violence or vandalism perpetrated. For many Oklahomans this was an important march for them to participate in and to be connected to a greater cause.
The right to protest and peacefully assemble was seen as quintessential to the growth of the nation and right of governance by the people and so it was incorporated into the First Amendment. The First Amendment was written because at America’s inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Our blueprint for personal freedom and the hallmark of an open society, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change.