Oklahoma Laborfest was held at the Lyric Theatre Auditorium in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District on Saturday night.
“Oklahoma Speaks” was inspired by the Howard Zinn production “The People Speak” on the History Channel in 2010 which featured writings from historical documents written by people active in grassroots movements throughout U.S. history. “Oklahoma Speaks” included a selection of historic texts written by Oklahoma’s public leaders, grassroots activists, writers and everyday people who worked for the good of Oklahomans past, present and future. The aim of the program is to not only educate the audience and remind working Oklahomans of their state’s history, but to honor these great women & men who gone before us & made a path for us to follow as we continue their work for the goals of labor.
The program included music by local performers, Mary Reynolds & Louise Goldberg, & The Red Dirt Rangers in between the readings. Of course, we sang along to Wood Guthrie’s “Union Maid,” “Hard Travellin’” & “I Ain’t Got No Home.” But also to Florence Reese’s “Which Side Are You On,” Merle Travis’ “Dark as a Dungeon,” the traditional “Ezekial Saw the Wheel,” as well as other labor anthems.
The selections we read were from the writers in the Oklahoma Federal Writers Project (WPA), Wood Guthrie, Kate Barnard, Oscar Ameringer, Agnes “Sis” Cunningham, Will Rogers, John Steinbeck, Eli Jaffe & others. The readers included scholars, poets & writers, labor activists, students, even a pastor. The writings included political speeches, oral history, sermons, humor & personal stories that brought tears to the eyes. All the historic documents were researched, selected & arranged by Rachel Jackson, with help of Jim Bligh, Bryan Jackson, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Matt Barnett & Karen Chapman. There are photos of each of the readers on my Flickr! site.
It was a moving, thoughtful & rousing event, with laughter, tears, songs & righteous anger at poverty, greed & injustice. One of the goals the organizers did not mention for this event was to energize us in continuing the on-going work that lies before us to change the world to one of justice, equality & compassion. I’m hoping the spirit I felt in that auditorium, in fact all festival-long, will continue, at least until another such event helps to enliven me again.
Labor omnia vincit!