On December 13th, 2013, Moriah Stephenson and Stefan Warner were arrested while taking part in a non-violent peaceful protest. The two activists were taken into custody after hanging a glittery Hunger Games themed banner in the open-to-the public atrium of the Devon Energy Center. The activists were booked into the Oklahoma County Jail under the felony charge Terrorism Hoax, which carries up to 10 years in prison. The activists’ arrest gained international media attention due to the severity of the arresting charge. Documents obtained by journalists proved that the Joint Terrorism Task Force, TransCanada Corporation, and the Oklahoma City Police had met together prior to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to strategize ways to prosecute environmental activists as terrorists. The terrorism hoax charges have been dropped, but Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson will stand trial for misdemeanor disorderly conduct on June 30th at 8 am in the Oklahoma City Courthouse. A charge which their lawyer argues is still a violation of free speech.
The glittery banner in question read, “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor.” The banner highlights the disproportionate ways in which oil and gas development occurs, granting power, wealth, and access to oil corporations while disenfranchising communities of color and low-income-rural communities. The reality that “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor” has become even more clear in recent years as Oklahoma’s budget deficit has resulted in funding cuts for public education and public needs programs while continuing to offer tax incentives to large oil corporations.
Warner and Stephenson had no intention of causing panic or alarm, they simply were using free speech to highlight the similarities between The Hunger Games series and our everyday lives in Oklahoma: a small group of people profit off of the resources and labor of many, while exploiting marginalized communities. These activists wanted to highlight at least three primary injustices perpetrated by Devon Energy: 1) Devon Energy is involved in extracting and transporting tar sands oil, the heavy and toxic crude that the Keystone XL pipeline carries from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to be sold on the global market, 2) Devon Energy’s practice of tar sands extraction is environmental racism, most negatively impacting low-income, indigenous communities in Canada and across the U.S. such as the Lubicon Cree First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation 3) Devon Energy lobbies for and receives large tax incentives which have resulted in the disastrous budget deficit Oklahoma is currently facing. In all of these ways the dominance of the oil and gas industry and the failure of the Oklahoma state government to diversify the economy create a situation in which “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor.” These activists’ arrest highlights another way that “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor,” violation of free speech. The odds are not in our favor when the oil and gas industry is protected when environmental catastrophe or economic crisis occurs, but individual residents are persecuted for spilling glitter from a banner. Stephenson and Warner invite community members to be present at their trial on June 30th at 8 AM.