Amid racism and shootings, labor fights back

TULSA, OK. – Over the weekend of Friday, Apr. 6, a series of shootings in Tulsa’s Greenwood area has once again raised concerns over escalating racial tensions. The shooter was described as a white male whose targets were six African Americans from the neighborhood which was also the central location of ‘The Tulsa Race Riots,’ in which Tulsa Whites massacred Blacks with impunity – a massacre that took place almost a century ago, but still remains fresh in the minds of many.

So far, of the six victims, only three have died of their wounds. And while local news media are downplaying the possibility that the shooting spree was racially motivated, people in the area have, over the last year, noticed and marked increase in racially motivated criminality and intimidation. As one white Phoenix street resident who goes by the name Pete stated, “members of the [Ku Klux] Klan were squatting in a big run-down house on my street for months.”

A local Greenwood business proprietor also reported that members of the KKK had made a show of their presence when an entire KKK family began frequenting his shop wearing Klan t-shirts.

Another young resident, a black man identifying himself as Leonard, has been active in the North Tulsa black community and Tulsa labor movement and told PW that, a few months ago “a man in light colored pick up pulled up to my house and started shouting ni***r at me over and over.”

Other activists from Occupy Tulsa have consistently reported strange coincidences in which Tulsa’s progressive activists and leftist participants in Occupy began receiving harassing letter signed “United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” These incidents began to increase with frequency after so-called R3 activists (supporters of the Ron Paul campaign) with ties to Oklahoma’s John Birch Society and fringe elements of the Tea Party began stacking meetings of Occupy in Oklahoma with their people.

Other left-wing organizations, such as the Tulsa chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World, have reported R3 activists and John Birch Society members infiltrating and disrupting their meetings for several months.

The racist challenge, seemingly driven by the fringe elements of the Tea Party in Oklahoma under the guidance of John Birch Society and KKK, has been met by an even more powerful show of black-white solidarity, driven primarily by progressive leaders in the labor movement.

One of these labor leaders, who has requested to remain anonymous, claims that independent researchers working closely with the labor movement have uncovered ties to the several racist organizations from American Renaissance and KKK, fringe extremists in the Tea Party, and the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, which is led by key figures of the John Birch Society.

One John Birch Society member, Oklahoma State Senator Brogdon, illustrated how thoroughly extremist groups have infiltrated Oklahoma’s state government when he advocated the formation of a Tea Party militia calling itself, The Oklahoma Defense Force, which is comprised of a militia group, previously known as the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia and members holding membership in various white nationalists groups and other right-wing extremist organizations.

Such organizations have been making their presence known with increasing audacity. In several small towns, racist groups have been tossing stones wrapped in letters signed by the UWKKK have appeared. In Oklahoma City, the American Renaissance neo-Nazi organization has left copies of its newsletter at several business owned by non-whites. In other parts of the state, neo-Nazi organizations, such as the National Socialist Movement have been increasingly active after leading out-of-state NSM members took up residence in Oklahoma.

In an atmosphere of heightened tensions, the Tulsa police are taking pro-active measures to apprehend the perpetrators of the most recent series of shooting attacks, but many have lost confidence in police efforts due to the consistent presence of ultra-right elements in and around law enforcement circles.

Labor leaders, community organizers, and civil rights activists are calling for public meetings to address these circumstances and are hopeful that police and community activists can diffuse mounting tensions.

As racial issues continue to plague Oklahoma, especially since the intensification of right-wing anti-Obama rhetoric, many are recognizing the need for putting labor at the forefront of the fight. In Tulsa, the newly formed Labor Policy Institute of Oklahoma has produced a new publication Understanding Racism: What it is, and How to Fight It (A Labor Perspective) to raise consciousness around these issues and build solidarity between labor and civil rights groups.

According to civil rights activists in the area, copies of the book are available through the Civil Rights Committee of Tulsa’s AFSCME 1180. According to a key union organizer, many labor leaders and AFSCME union members have taken a leading role in reversing the racist trends across the state. A leading example took place just last week, not far from Tulsa in Muskogee, where AFSCME played an instrumental role in mobilizing the election turn-out for several victorious progressive candidates, one who happened to be an NAACP leader.

At present, there have been two arrests made in relation to the weekend’s shooting attacks. However, regardless of whether or not the perpetrators have been caught, it is clear that the struggle against hate in America has developed a critical new front in Tulsa – a struggle in which labor continues to play a critical role in uniting Blacks and Whites against racism and the senseless violence it perpetuates.

Photo: Union members rally on the south steps of the Oklahoma state Capitol. The solidarity of the labor movement is often seen as the key to fighting racism.   John Clanton/AP