I grew up in Oklahoma chasing thunderstorms and running barefoot in pastures. I know the smell of a tornado. I know Oklahoma streams and smiles and sunsets and open spaces. I also know Oklahoma heartache. I know what fracking flaring looks like, when the excess natural gas is burned off into the air, sometimes for weeks, months, or years on end. I know what the water looks like after a frack site has wreaked its havoc, and I know what cancer looks like after the water has gone bad and the flares stop burning. I am saddened by the natural gas and oil industries’ greed and disregard for life, and I think it is important to draw attention to Devon’s involvement in fracking and tar sands mining through non-violent, peaceful acts of civil disobedience.
My name is Moriah Stephenson, and on December 13, 2013, I attended a non-violent, peaceful protest at the Devon Energy Building that was intended to draw attention to Devon’s involvement in hydraulic fracturing and tar sands mining. My intention was to hang a glittery banner that was dramatic, pretty, and would highlight the similarities between Devon’s disregard for life and “The Capitol’s” disregard for life as portrayed through the fictional story told in The Hunger Games. I am a waitress, and I am a student at the University of Oklahoma. I had two papers due the weekend of the 13th. After the protest, my intention was to go home and work on papers. I had no intention of going to jail or “scaring” anyone.
When we unfurled the banner and saw the glitter fall to the ground, we immediately felt guilty because we knew the janitor would have to clean it up. There was no panic, and almost immediately Devon employees began touching the banner and taking it down. Our hope was for the banner to stay up as long as possible, not to create any kind of “scare.” As we exited the building a janitor began cleaning up the glitter with a broom. No HazMat. No FBI. Stefan Warner turned to her and apologized for the mess. We exited the building and rallied on a public sidewalk with other protesters. The police arrived and began looking for some way to book us all into jail. The police arrested two of us and booked us into jail under the charge of “terrorism hoax.”
I know the sound of terrorism. I felt the Murrah Building Bombing shake my body; I will never forget. My grandfather, a doctor, provided free medical care for those wounded. I was chosen to paint a tile for the memorial. Calling non-violent, peaceful protesting “terrorism” is an insult to all of those who suffered due to the indiscriminate violence that ensued April 19, 1995. Activism that is attempting to protect land and lives in Oklahoma is not terrorism. Charging us with “terrorism hoax” for hanging up a glittery banner is insulting, inconsiderate, and disrespectful to all of those who have actually experienced terrorist violence. TransCanada Corporation has been encouraging the police to charge environmental activists with varying charges that contain the word “terrorism” in order to scare and silence dissent.
My hometown is older than Oklahoma statehood and is now being destroyed by the oil and gas industry. In rural Oklahoma, where people go to see stars at night, I have seen the brightness of fracking flares dim out the stars. It is heartbreaking to think that we have reached a point in which I could face ten years in prison for peacefully hanging up a banner. Ultimately, this is an issue of free speech. A corporation is using scare tactics to try to silence my story and my voice. If nothing else, it is unfair for TransCanada and Devon to engage the government in silencing free speech through the threat of “terrorism” charges.