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Remembering an Oklahoma civil libertarian


Joann Bell March 7th, 2012

Some people we expect to be around forever. Michael Camfield was a solid presence for civil liberties work and challenges in Oklahoma for so many years.

skycamfield_10-58x14-11cm

Working side by side with him for 17 years, I often said I spent more time with him than I spent with my family. As the “other half of my brain,” we worked daily to meet the challenges of civil liberty violations in Oklahoma. We were a true team with a common cause, and we had fun doing it. 

Michael left us way too soon at the age of 46.

left Michael Camfield

In late October, prior to Michael's passing on Nov. 10, we participated in a workshop for high school students held at the University of Central Oklahoma. When it was Michael's turn to speak about his time as a First and Fourth amendment plaintiff in “The Tin Drum" case, he totally had the students’ attention. He had a way with young people, speaking their language. When he ended his panel presentation with the song he wrote about that case, they really liked it and I'm sure they went away with a new understanding of their First and Fourth amendment rights.  

When sounds of “censorship” were being murmured about the 1979 film “The Tin Drum,” I asked Michael if he was familiar with it. He'd read the book in college and couldn't imagine anything that would stir up the wrath of people to want it censored. We discussed the possibility of the American Civil Liberties Union having to defend the work, so it was decided he should rent the movie so we would be prepared. After renting a video of it in the summer of 1997, he was visited at his home by local police. They had violated the Video Privacy Protection Act by demanding the rental records from Blockbuster. Michael not only stood up for his own rights, but the rights of others to be able to read and view materials without government prosecution. 

There was so much more to Michael than just his work, which he loved. A graduate of Oklahoma City University, he played a large role in the Oklahoma Children's Theatre at one time and loved it.  He was a nonjudgmental lover of people, always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone needing help. His sense of humor is something I will never forget.

Oklahoma is "less" in many ways, with the loss of Michael. I am reminded of my favorite quote, by A.A. Milne:  "Sometimes when the fights begin, I think I'll let the dragons win. But then again, perhaps I won't. Because they're dragons, and I don't."  

R.I.P. Michael David "Sky" Camfield. I miss you, my friend.

Please consider honoring Michael with a donation in his name to North Care Mental Health or Individual Artists of Oklahoma.

Bell is former executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma.
 
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