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

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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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