I attended the last two days of the three-day Oklahoma Laborfest August 25-27 in Oklahoma City. I was stunned!
On Friday night when I got there, they showed two movies: "Salt of the Earth" and "Matewan." They are astounding, even if you have seen them before!
Saturday morning started off with an excellent march down NW 16th Street to the Laborfest area. Under the shade of a canopy, they put on music, speakers, art shows and even original artists painting while the rock band was blaring. The union music was outstanding, with new songs I had never heard. I still like the traditional songs best, and I couldn't have found better presentations of them! Brother David Lee, a regional Director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) gave a rousing talk that so full of calls for solidarity with other unions, community groups, civil rights groups, religious groups, and all that it sounded like Jobs with Justice had written the speech. They couldn't have, nobody could have, delivered it better than him, though!
There was plenty of down-to-earth Oklahoma music, but they put on highbrow stuff, too. Once, they had people reading poetry in Spanish and English while a famous artist created a beautiful painting right in front of us!
The Oklahomans are making headway in defending public employees. They are also fighting back successfully against right-wingers who penetrate city councils with anti-union methods, according to a short talk by activist JD Thompson. Thompson also slings a mean guitar and led quite a bit of the musical input.
A woman named Rachel C. Jackson was apparently the genius behind the cultural content. She selected a play and some readings from Oklahoma Civil Rights history. The readings were presented by some of the older people there who had actually contributed a lot to this same history. In between, beautiful music came from a 4-woman musical group and one really outstanding older Native American (and blues) musician.
The Laborfest is a project of the Central Oklahoma (Oklahoma City) Central Labor Council.
Back home, I remembered that we had no sooner finished our Union Song Revival than people started bugging me to organize another one. If we do, we really need to study what they did in the Oklahoma Laborfest. They have set a new standard!
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