Occupy New Orleans continues downtown
by: Carolyn Scofield
NEW ORLEANS – Tents fight for shade under the trees and the center of Duncan Plaza is now the hub for Occupy New Orleans.
A week after participants walked through the streets of downtown demanding change, people are carrying on the movement across the street from City Hall.
Dozens of people meet every night to talk about the mission of Occupy New Orleans. After a week, they are still trying to figure it out.
“I don’t know how you could form a message without a movement, because the movement is momentum to bring your message forward,” says Mindy Diez, a spokesperson for Occupy New Orleans. “Until people come together to develop a message, I think they both have to go hand in hand right now.”Occupy movements have popped up around the country. It began last month in New York City, where thousands of people marched on Wall Street to protest social and economic inequality, corporate greed and the influence of corporations on government.More than 500 people are still camping out in Manhattan.The number is much smaller in New Orleans, but Jason Lacoste believes people are beginning to listen.
“Things are starting to happen, we’re starting to get a lot more active and less worried about the little things and details,” says Lacoste. “It’s time to get out there and start doing stuff. Then people would pay attention.”
Occupy New Orleans movement begins with mass protest
Grasping tightly onto signs, sweat soaking their brows and backs, a group of protesters marched through the heart of New Orleans on Thursday shouting, “Whose street? Our street!”
Nearly a thousand members of the Occupy New Orleans movement walked through Central Business District streets as police blocked cars from passing through.
But New Orleans protesters were only a small percentage of a movement that has seen thousands of arrests in cities across the United States.
Occupy Wall Street, held in the streets of New York City, began Sept. 17 and has continued to gain support despite alleged police brutality and mass arrests.
The heart of the movement is dissatisfaction with the current economic state of the U.S., targeting large corporations, wealthy Americans and politicians.
Protests similar to those in New York and New Orleans have appeared across the country in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and even Lake Charles.
Members of the movement often identify themselves as the “99 percent” of Americans who are not overtly wealthy. Many of the “99 percent” have taken their cause to the Internet, posting pictures and stories detailing unemployment and difficulty supporting families.
Members of the New Orleans protest crowd ranged from college students and young professionals to children and the elderly.
Many could be heard chanting “this is what democracy looks like” and denying political affiliation, claiming the movement “is just people coming together.”
The “99 percent” in New Orleans expressed the same outrage as fellow occupiers in New York City, but many localized their grievances to Louisiana. Much of their dissatisfaction was aimed at local politicians like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
LSU accounting freshman Robin Williams carried a sign accusing the energy company Entergy Louisiana, LLC, of unfairly taxing those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Williams said he learned of the movement online and joined because he agreed with beliefs other members had expressed.
One of Williams’ complaints about the current state of the economy is that minimum wage is not sufficient for the youth.
“It’s too low,” he said. “There’s no way someone can survive on it.”
Williams was joined by a large number of college-aged protesters, including Nathan Anderson, LSU political science sophomore.
Anderson said he became involved in the “vague but fluid awakening” because he believes Americans are being robbed of their rights.
“Everyone has a right to an education and a home,” Anderson said, naming student and housing debt as infringements on those rights.
Anderson said he didn’t know what to expect from the protests in New Orleans, but he said it was a “good first step.”
Jillian Chrisman and Sara Mulholland, both seeking master’s degrees in education at the University of New Orleans, said they fear the combination of high student debt and low income for teachers will trouble them later in life.
“I’ll have student debt until I’m 50,” Mulholland said.
The youth have played a large part in the national movement, not only as students but as a generation that will have to deal with a national debt and elders without Social Security, Chrisman said.
“It’s our future we’re defending,” said Genevieve Vegetable, Tulane University public health graduate student. “There’s an enormous burden on our generation.”
Vegetable said New Orleans has felt the “brunt of corporations” in a country where “Medicare is a fantasy.”
Protesters walked to Lafayette Square to protest the Federal Reserve Building nearby. The members took turns speaking to the crowd, including a woman who performed poetry and a college student calling fellow youth into action.
A man with a megaphone began chanting, “Wall Street says cut back. We say fight back.” A trio with a drum, trumpet and saxophone crafted a melody, leading protesters in loud song as workers emerged from downtown buildings to observe the crowded streets.
“We don’t work for the government,” one woman told the crowd. “They are here to work for us.”
The group eventually moved to Duncan Plaza in front of New Orleans City Hall, where they intend to occupy indefinitely.
Occupy New Orleans protest draws large crowd and mixed reactions
According to The Lensstaff writer Matt Davis, four hundred protesters marched Thursday afternoon in solidarity with a loose national movement, which began inNew York Cityunder the “Occupy Wall Street” banner.Like its national counterpart, the Occupy New Orleans chapter of the protest movement, which marched from the Criminal District Courthouse at Tulane and Broad to Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans, has no formal leadership or appointed spokesperson, and arrives at all of its decisions through consensus.The group has attracted almost 5,000 fans on Facebook and on Thursday generated a steady stream of Tweets and photographs under the Twitter hashtag #occupynola. Click on any of the images to look at a larger version, or go to The Lens’s Flickr pageto see a set of 16 photos from the protest.FromLafayette Square, the group was headed toDuncanPlaza, opposite City Hall for a longer-term encampment.
Much of the city’s leadership skipped the march to attend rites for Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, who died last week at the age of 98. The march stepped off at noon; the funeral began at 2 p.m. at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.
News media divided themselves between both events and the march appeared to draw a larger and more diverse group of participants than many had anticipated.
“I haven’t been in a crowd this big and politically engaged since the end-the-war protests eight years ago,” said University of New Orleans Assistant Professor of Literature Elizabeth Steeby.
While many at the march were in their twenties, there were also plenty of middle-aged protesters.
“This is not the country we were raised in,” said Jim McCann, 57, who watched from a lawn chair inLafayette Square, next to Cherie Martin, 61. “This is a fascist regime right now, and the spirit of dissent has gone into video games, into NASCAR, into the bread and circuses. But people are getting back to the issues and the dissent is returning.”
Music publisher Louie Ludwig, 52, in suit and tie, Rayban sunglasses and a fedora, wore a placard around his neck with a picture of former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long and the slogan “Huey was Right,” a reference, Ludwig said, to Long’s “Share Our Wealth” philosophy with its guaranteed social safety net.
Civil rights attorney and public defender Miles Swanson sported a neon-green baseball cap with a logo identifying him as an observer working with the National Lawyers Guild.
“The rumor is that the police waived the permit fees for this,” said Swanson who on Tuesday night atLoyolaUniversitytrained 20 fellow legal observers. Police spokeswoman Remi Braden verified the fee waiver, and said the department has historically waived such fees for first amendment protests.
Carolyn Mayes, who works at a home for women and children, handed sandwiches to hungry protesters in the park.
“I guess I came out to stand in solidarity with everyone who’s trying to change our country and their lives for the better,” Mayes said. “There are a lot of messages here, from ending police brutality to improving healthcare, but I think this is showing how those messages all form part of a larger whole.”
Several marchers were keen to tell a reporter that they were not only gainfully employed but also had thought carefully about their reasons for joining the protest. It was an effort to refute national media coverage which has characterized some of the protesters in other cities as unemployed young people with nothing better to do.
“We have a huge corporate welfare system in this country and it’s harmful to small businesses, and to people,” said Shana Hartman, who works at a nonprofit focused on economic development.
Not everyone was as positive about the march, however. Twitter user @MarkMayhew on the eve of the march lamented its likely dominance by white people, despite the city’s 60-percent African American population.
“I hope i’m wrong but all @occupynola meetings have been overwhelmingly white, until blacks support it, it’s easy to dismiss,” Mayhew tweeted.
Indeed, the march attracted some stereotypical “trustafarians” — a slang term for trust fund-endowed young people given to dreadlocks and other hallmarks of the Rastafarian style. A white man with dreads played the saxophone inLafayette Square, and the predominantly white crowd sang Bob Marley’s protest song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” as it marched downPoydras Street.
John Rebstock, who manages a branch of Rotolo’s Pizzeria at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, stood with two friends in a parking lot on the corner of O’Keefe and Poydras streets as the march passed.
“We were just saying we’re pretty much embarrassed to be in the same city,” Rebstock said. “It’s complaining, it’s not about solutions, and I don’t understand it. I don’t know exactly what their bone is, but I don’t chew on bones. I try to come up with solutions.”
The messages were decidedly mixed.
An unemployed 26-year-old who gave his first name only, Bowen, stood on the base of the Henry Clay statue inLafayette Squarewith an attorney’s number written on his arm, a sleeping bag for theDuncanPlazaencampment and a black and gold banner that combined the Saints team logo with an anarchist symbol.
“I wanted something simple, something visual, something nice,” he said.
But the movement doesn’t lack coherence, Bowen argued.
“I think thatOccupy Wall Streetis a symbolic protest and effective,” he said. “Anybody who says they don’t understand what the protesters stand for is joking. It’s obvious. Total reform of the financial system.”
Nearby, another anonymous protester wore a gas mask, and gave her name as Buick MacKane, after the song by T.Rex.
“It’s hard to breathe in this thing,” she said, before pulling off the mask to reveal black eyeliner and a broad smile.
The Lens wants your impressions of the protest, and has created a query through our partnership with the Public Insight Network asking whether readers identify with protest goals and messages. You can answer the query by clicking here. By responding to the query, you will become a part of the PIN network, which reporters across the country draw on to contact members of the public willing to be sources for their stories. Reporters agree to contact network sources not more than once a month.