Oklacon is canceled, and you might want to call Oklahoma’s Tourism Department.

by Patch O'Furr

Oklahoma Department of Recreation and Tourism: 405-230-8303
Direct line to Dick Dutton – Executive Director:  405-230-8414

sounded like a fantastic event. (Here’s interesting coverage from an independent Oklahoma City news blog.)

Now comes sad news that Oklacon is canceled permanently.  The reason appears to involve a tangle of prejudice and bad faith, coinciding with a misbehavior incident.  It came to my attention via Reddit.  More info went out in a final statement that replaces the front page of the con’s official website. I have heard statements from attendees that lead me to share the story, and report their anger and frustration about it.  (Editorial comments here don’t speak for the con.)

Here are points and open questions that stood out to me.

  • Prejudice and bad faith:  Oklacon says that they had a history of cold treatment by park staff.  They report experiences like same-sex couples being asked to stop holding hands. It sounds like the park was looking for an excuse to cancel the con.  If this does involve prejudice at state parks, what about fairness and right to access for taxpayers?   It’s hard to repair that with a direct appeal, because prejudiced people may never be pleased.  It could call for public complaint, and bringing it to the awareness of other authorities.
  • Misbehavior:  The final cancelation is blamed on an incident of alleged public sex between three intoxicated people.   While admittedly bad, does misbehavior never happen among “normal” people at a campout?  (Read the initial news blog link to see exactly what that means.) The con appears to have made appropriate response that offers mitigation because it was first-time, out-of-state members who were banned.  Is it fair to punish everyone else by banning the con itself, too?
  • Charges: Oklacon says that the involved people intoxicated themselves (plural). It also says that “women cannot consent” under the influence. That’s only half true.  Don’t they mean “nobody” can?

I’m suspicious that this didn’t happen with only one intoxicated person, and as parties usually go, they were all drinking together. There’s no proof, but support comes from talk that a “victim” didn’t want the other participants to be charged – and all were banned, not one held innocent. (Imagine the outcry if that wasn’t deserved!) So, if they were all drunk, were they all “raping” each other?

How does that make sense? If the supposed victim considered it no personal violation and this is only about a legal standard… it raises the topic of overbearing prosecution. There’s unreasonable puritanism in that. It’s bigoted to men, and paternalistically sexist to women. It’s almost as silly as charging a drunk person for raping themselves by masturbating.  (People have been prosecuted for exploiting themselves, getting a lot of press about absurd abuse of power.) Everyone’s a criminal with shit like that. It would call for a debate about laws, and in this case, a downgrade to no more than public lewdness.

  • Undermining:  After Oklacon had to leave their original location, they found an alternate (Sequoyah park).  The story indicates that a con attendee with a grudge decided to intervene, and called Sequoyah, leading to a statewide ban from parks and no more con.  Seems like they just couldn’t get a fair break – it was one thing after another with haters.  I’m sure a lot of people are curious to know who ratted and why.  That person would probably be Fursona Non Grata in fandom if their name becomes known.

UPDATE: At Flayrah, crossafliction has a story about the con cancelation. Comments reinforce the absurdity of the “consent” issue, and correct a false impression about the “rat”. There was no grudge, just an innocent mistake. Strike the fourth bullet point.

I’ll leave questions open, because I’m not involved with the con or their local community.  Let’s pass the mike to someone who is.

Reddit user BalooUriza on the misbehavior incident:

“Mitigating factors being:  it was in a privately reserved area, and despite being fairly centrally located within the privately reserved con space, the late night hour and the fact almost everyone was engaged in other activities in other parts of the con space, and nobody except the rangers in attendance at the park outside of the event were aware.. means this was remarkably unseen by the majority…”

On the fallout to the community, and what to do about it:

“…The real victim, ultimately, is Watonga. The chamber of commerce there called it “bigger than Christmas”, amounting to 11% of that town’s annual economy.  To put it in a population perspective to the significance of this in such a remote part of the country: If you scaled up Watonga to be the population of metro Pittsburgh, and Oklacon by the same ratio, the impact would be the same as if Anthrocon grew to an attendance an average 276,150 people, and a total reach of people who have attended at least once of around 1,341,300 people over 12 years.

Now, imagine the sudden-cancellation-of-tourism and subsequent black-balling spearheaded by the state’s tourism department. You can call the Oklahoma Department of Recreation and Tourism’s Executive Office 405-230-8303, and the direct line to Dick Dutton – Executive Director is 405-230-8414.”

I’d recommend a BRIEF, POLITE call. Say you’re sad because some people have felt prejudice, and an entire event shouldn’t be punished for a mistake that got appropriate response.  Mention that you would appreciate better access to parks, and say that you would like to bring tourist money to Oklahoma, but the cancelation makes you choose other events in other states. Ask if the department can help find a new location, perhaps a private one?

BalooUriza shares more about his experience:

“The sudden cancellation after literally planning around Oklacon week for a year (including purchasing a vehicle… and having to cancel vacation plans with the office) has me pretty much livid right now. I’m holding off from picking up the phone until I have a day or two to calm down, regroup and organize my thoughts into an elevator pitch…

It was a memorable convention for all the right reasons, such as Bucktown spontaneously busting out Gangnam Style in fursuit or the giant 20 sided die hitting the one number Daxter didn’t want it to land on, 2×4 Jenga, the game Predator and Prey, the origins of the furry expansion to Cards Against Humanity… Dinners around the campfire, heck, even falling asleep by the campfire. Accidentally dropping expensive stuff in the dark and having it find it’s way back home the next day. Riding out the afterglow mapping the consite for the world. The geocaching contest. The fursuit parades that always somehow ended up in the hottest part of the day. That time I missed getting in the photo because I had to get out of suit before the group shot. Driving four hours through the night after working 12 hours straight, to my first convention since Conifur ended, and the epic sense of impending awesome that espoused. Meeting my boyfriend for the first time. Falling asleep in the sun on the porch (even though the resulting sunburn was not fun). Breakfasts watching Wheel of Fortune with the locals at the Hi Dee Ho Cafe and the head of the Watonga Chamber of Commerce at the Loves just down the street. Having said chamber member tell me that he hoped we never stopped coming to Watonga, how big of a part of the local economy we were, and that it’s bigger than the Watonga Cheese Festival and bigger than Christmas…

As an Oklahoma taxpayer, I’m pissed that the department whose job it is to promote tourism is pushing away an event that has drawn people from at least three continents to a sleepy prairie town – two hours drive by car from the nearest airport with international service, and a two mile drive from the edge of reliable voice mobile phone service – to go camp with us. How else are you going to get people who otherwise might not even know that Oklahoma is a real place that exists, to come find out and experience our state the way we do – and what they’ve been missing out on all their life? Last year’s drama extravaganza aside, ODRP should consider the challenge of being the go-to venue-of-choice for such a large scale event – as a nice problem to have!”