For peace in Gaza: protestors to disrupt Stitt’s State of the State address
During a nationwide wave of youth activism reminiscent of Vietnam War-era campus protests, Oklahomans Against Occupation (OAO) plans to disrupt Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address, calling for peace and a ceasefire at the Capitol beginning 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 5.
Demands include justice in Gaza, open conversation, and a plea not to be ignored.
Peacefully protesting within legal rights, “we’ll be outside the gallery, chanting, marching. And then after that, we plan on hopefully being able to talk to our senators, the state treasurer and even the Governor, if they allow us to do so,” said Yasmin Abueisheh, OAO’s vice chair of organizing, a high school activist.
For students and college employees alike, universities across the United States are experiencing tension and protests. Supporting causes like the climate crisis, equality, and human rights, youth activism is at the forefront.
During the beginning of her high school activist career, Abueisheh said, “being a minor did not mean that I was any less capable of doing what’s right and advocating for what’s right.”
Inner strength, combined with power in numbers, is a compelling facet showing the power of youth activism.
“Listen to Palestinian youth. They’re the voice of the movement,” she said.
Activism is not easy, as shown by something called organizer fatigue, aptly described in the title of a 2022 article by The Nation, “As the World Burns, Organizers Are Burning Out.” After a worldwide pandemic, climate refugees, and a wave of protests against police brutality, organizers could be feeling tired. However, Abueisheh had a message of hope.
“Don’t let people tell you that what we’re doing doesn’t work,” she said.
“If what we’re doing didn’t work they wouldn’t ban boycotting,” Abueisheh continued. “They wouldn’t censor us on social media.”
Tensions are continuing to grow throughout the country as people watch the Israel-Hamas war unfold on social media. In the last week of January, nonessential White House employees were evacuated while a pro-Palestine protest took place across the street. Presidents from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have resigned during the tensions. At Columbia University, chemical attacks were used against pro-Palestine student protesters.
In Oklahoma, OAO is demanding open dialogue.
Abueisheh said that during the protest, OAO will “demand to speak with Governor Stitt. A lot of the time, state troopers will block off entrances into their offices. And so if that happens, obviously, we will comply and continue marching or protesting in the open area of the Capitol. But we do hope to speak with Governor Stitt and our state treasurer.”
The state treasurer, Todd Russ, has invested over $62.5 million in Israeli bonds. These bonds are a way for the state government to directly support Israel and their efforts against Hamas.
The United Nations continues to pursue a genocide case against Israel while the death toll rises in Gaza. Over 26,000 people are dead, 20 out of 22 hospitals damaged or destroyed, miscarriages are up by 300%, and journalists on the ground in Gaza post images of grief; bodies of children are wrapped in white cloth. People are without medicine and starving. One father waited in ration lines for four days before resorting to grinding up animal feed to give to his five children. Stories like these are far from unique.
OAO is calling for justice and peace. Abueisheh points out that no Democratic or Republican candidates in Oklahoma have yet called for a ceasefire.
The group’s attempts to contact elected officials directly have thus far been unsuccessful. In early January, OAO published an Instagram reel showing their repeated attempts to contact politicians who did not answer.
“It’s a lot of talking without anything getting done and being ignored by our elected officials here in Oklahoma,” Abueisheh said.
They began by knocking on doors, then calling.
“We hit up Stephanie Bice’s office, we hit up Senator James Lankford. That first time we both got no response. James Lankford’s office told me that his office will be open January second and third, and then onwards from there. And so January third, I show up again to talk to Stephanie Bice and James Lankford,” she said.
The second attempt still ended with no contact from either official.
With Bice’s office, “you can, like, call the number before you go upstairs. And so I called, and they were like, oh, no, we’ll come down to you. So they didn’t necessarily want me to go upstairs into the office, which I don’t know if that’s normal policy. But that’s how I was treated,” Abueisheh said.
Two staffers came down and talked to OAO representatives. Abueisheh said OAO “expressed concerns, our disagreement with the representatives, policies, and the language that she was using. And they took notes. And they actually followed up with adding me on the representative’s emailing list,” Abueisheh said.
This was the entire known extent of actions taken by Bice’s office.
“For James Lankford. I went to their office, and no one was there until I pressed the intercom button. And someone on the phone answers like, ‘Hi, how can I help you?’ And I was like, ‘Hey, I’m sure that you guys would be in the office today.’ And essentially, she told me, like, ‘I don’t know who told you that. But that’s not true.’” The staff member then told Abueisheh to check the website, which she did.
“I go to the website, I file a request, no response, call the office again. And they say, oh, sorry, we didn’t get your email, can you do it again. And 20 minutes later, I get a phone call,” Abueisheh said. The worker on the other end of the phone offered to set up a meeting between her and DC staffers, but required an email first. Abueisheh said she sent the email, but still has yet to see a response. These events were now a full month ago and the story they tell is a familiar one among organizers.
Abueisheh emphasized that there is “power in numbers” and encouraged people to speak to their representatives and will be hosting a Know Your Rights event in the near future.
OAO is on Instagram @okoccupation.