Protest should focus on Lafayette Square — and 2nd Harvest Food Bank

On Thursday, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement wil come to New Orleans. It’s inspiring to see people gearing up to act locally about national economic-justice issues that can seem far removed from South Louisiana but have a tremendous influence on our well-being. However, the current plan can be greatly improved upon. Indeed, the New Orleans affiliate has an unexpected and unique opportunity to ally itself with Second Harvest Food Bank, a local anchor of social welfare, an opportunity that should not be missed.

On Sunday, a “General Assembly” gathered at Washington Square to plan for the Oct. 6 march and beyond. Attendees voted to route the march from Tulane and Broad down to the Lafayette Square home of the Federal Reserve. But instead of agreeing to settle in at this symbolically appropriate shrine to federal monetary policy, the group plans to move on and pitch its camp at Duncan Plaza in front of City Hall.

The City does plenty of things worth protesting, but it isn’t responsible for financier-friendly bailouts, income inequality, or high unemployment. Moreover, this particular mayoral administration should be recognized for its slow but steady work reforming questionable contracting practices. Camping out in Duncan Plaza will dilute the protesters’ message, and undermine their credibility.

Lafayette Square is the proper home for the protest. It is the front yard not only of the local branch of the Federal Reserve but also of the federal courts, including the almighty Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is also far more visible to people working in the energy and legal sectors, whose employers represent the biggest local contributors to the status quo targeted by the protest.

Members of the General Assembly were rightfully concerned about disrupting the popular Harvest the Music weekly concerts, held on autumn Wednesdays in Lafayette Square. But if the concert is a legitimate concern, it’s also a great opportunity.

The Occupy New Orleans protest could double as an innovative fundraiser for the food bank, which is Harvest the Music’s principle objective. This would be a fine way to signal common cause with the social welfare organization, and could set an admirable precedent for other Occupy protests around the country. It would open the door to co-existence with the music series, and that would make the demonstration far more visible to the typical New Orleanian whose support the protest should be trying to attract.

The next Harvest the Music concert is six days after the march. It would be interesting and poetic to see how much money the protesters can raise for the region’s hungry while standing up against extreme inequality nationwide. I bet if protest organizers reach out to Second Harvest in good faith, they’ll have a shot at securing a strong advocate should they need one. Who knows, maybe Trombone Shorty, who is playing the next concert, is an “Occupy” advocate himself. That would certainly make for one funky, “Only in New Orleans” protest.

Alan Williams is a member of Civic Center and the Community Manager at Neighborland.

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  • mf

    I wasn’t at the assembly but I don’t know why they couldn’t occupy the park, and make a weekly stragetic retreat to another location as a show of courtesy to the Food Bank. Lafayette Square really is the bellow of the beast.

  • Jordan


    First, I would like to say that having attended the assembly and listened to all who wished to speak before coming to a complete consensus, I think Duncan Plaza is a good choice. But I would also like to respond to the article as a whole.

    I believe that your piece failed to mention what I felt was the most important part of the assembly, which is the process itself. The idea that has been spreading across the world, from the Middle East, to Spain, to Wall Street and beyond, is that people can come together and solve their problems in a directly democratic way where everyone is equal and can be heard. I think you should have come to the assembly and made your suggestion to the group, or made them afterwards in one of the committees that are communicating via Google Groups.

    I would disagree with your proposal to use the demonstration as a fundraiser for the food bank. There is already a committee creating a grassroots effort to feed everyone who wishes to join us in Duncan Plaza. But for me and many others this is not just about feeding the hungry, it is about creating a system that does not have chronic hunger and joblessness. Like Dr. King once said “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ” Please understand that there were a great many people who were trapped in lives of poverty even before the collapse of the financial sector.

    For many people there, though in the spirit of the general assembly I can only speak for myself, the problem is an economic system founded on the idea that society will benefit most from individuals making rationally calculated, self-interested decisions rather than on the idea that communities can come together and organize to address common needs.

    I believe that capitalism has caused our society to replace moral decision making with personal profit motives. It has led to the commodification of healthcare and housing, energy and security, news and education, food and the land it was grown on, sometimes even the water, the raising of our children, our ideas, our labor, even imprisonment and war, and ultimately freedom itself. Capitalism violates any sense of natural law and the evidence continues to mount that it is not compatible with democracy or even sustainability in the most literal sense.

    At the next general assembly I hope to propose we organize towards an alternative to our current economic system. I hope to see you there.

  • Alan Williams

    @Jordan—Thanks your perspective. There is a lot to respond to, so let me take it point by point.

    1. Process, the General Assembly, Online discussion

    I don’t criticize the process in the article, nor would I. I am criticizing the outcome the process produced. Which makes me a minority voice. I wasn’t at the General Assembly. I don’t know who is responsible for scheduling it, but it is unwise (and almost undemocratic) to have a planning meeting during a Saints game. Camping in Duncan Plaza instead of Lafayette Square communicates a similar miscomprehension of the local context, I believe.

    I did broach the idea to the organizers of the event online. However, I am a firm believer that public deliberation through the media is a good, transparent way to make your opinions well known and understood. Who would read an e-mail this long?

    2. Don’t use this as a fundraise

    I say that a protest movement can “walk and chew gum at the same time”. You can protest the system that creates structural poverty, while working to alleviate the immediate suffering of those in need–those who can’t wait for the system to change.

    Doing so would demonstrate that though the protestors feel victimized by the system, they realize that there are many less fortunate than themselves. It would communicate a much greater understanding of the issue, in my opinion, as well as a sense of compassion–it is a win-win.

    3. Organizing towards an alternative to our current economic system

    I think your organizing effort would be well served by engaging with people that work at institutions like the Second Harvest Food Bank. They have a lot of experience working with the least fortunate members of our society, and if your aim is conceive of a more equitable system, you need to look hard at the needs of those in poverty. A fundraiser for Second Harvest would be a great way to initiate a productive relationship with an institution that has been working for the social welfare for a long, long time.

  • M Styborski

    Umm, somehow I’m missing how a protest rally held tomorrow would be disruptive to a concert held today…