Government & Politics

Occupy New Orleans protest draws large crowd and mixed reactions

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer, and photographer Andy Cook |

Four hundred protesters marched Thursday afternoon in solidarity with a loose national movement, which began in New York City under 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 page to see a set of 16 photos from the protest.

Protesters gather outside Criminal District Court on Tulane Avenue. Photo by Andy Cook.

Louie Ludwig with his distinctive placard, a reference to Huey Long's "share our wealth" program. Photo by Andy Cook.

A protester holding statistics on CEO pay as the march moved down Tulane Avenue. Photo by Andy Cook.

A protester rallies marchers by chanting slogans on Tulane Avenue. Photo by Andy Cook.


From Lafayette Square, the group was headed to Duncan Plaza, 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 in Lafayette 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 at Loyola University trained 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.


The crowd, which numbered at least 400, gathers at Lafayette Square. Photo by Andy Cook.

Protesters standing on the base of the statue of Congressman Henry Clay in Lafayette Square. Photo by Andy Cook.

Rev. Jim VanderWeele holds up a placard in Lafayette Square. Rev. VanderWeele had just returned from the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Andy Cook.

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 in Lafayette Square, and the predominantly white crowd sang Bob Marley’s protest song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” as it marched down Poydras 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 in Lafayette Square with an attorney’s number written on his arm, a sleeping bag for the Duncan Plaza encampment 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 that Occupy Wall Street is 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.

“MacKane,” who said she occasionally reviews music for Where Y’at Magazine,  had brought along her own handwritten manifesto to ensure that she, at least, was clear about her beliefs.

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 hereBy 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. 

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  • Jim McCann

    This movement is young and fledgeling, and will have growing pains, no doubt, but the diseases in our current system are real and are being identified and attacked by well-meaning, thoughtful people. The Mainstream News Media has ignored these problems for too long. No wonder many people are perplexed at this protest. They have been led to believe all is well in the world so long as your favorite NASCAR driver wins the race. We’re waking up. The News Media should wake up, too. There are some awfully good stories you’re missing.

  • I was so proud of all of the protestors today and pleased to be there. Matt Davis wanted to know our ages when he interviewed us–and we were pleased to divulge them–because MSM is framing these nationwide protests as having appeal primarily to disaffected youth. Nothing could be FURTHER from the truth, and it is of the utmost importance that we refute that misleading and deceitful claim! We are ALL the 99% who have been disempowered, disrespected, and disenfranchised by government.

  • michaeltmartin

    Mr. Rebstock: Step one is recognizing that there is a problem. Don’t put the cart before the horse with talking of solutions. Solutions to what, exactly? That’s what today was about.

    This is a fluid and flexible process of clearly identifying problems and then solutions through the General Assembly process. Also, it’s just plain ignorance to think that those of us involved are not actively working on solutions to problems that we’ve already self-identified.

    The beauty of the Occupy…movement is that it cannot be put into one box and dismissed; it stands at the confluence of our society’s ills and derives it’s strength from its multiplicity and diversity of ideas. The next big step, in my opinion, is to assure that the diversity of ideas (and class/race) of the movement expands are truly represents “the 99%”, to use the language of the movement.

  • Elizabeth Steeby

    Thanks for reporting. I agree that this version of this movement is in its early stages. However, it’s inevitably drawing from the important community work re: fair housing, unemployment, incarceration, domestic violence, corporate exploitation (BP anyone) that’s been going on in the city for a long time. We’d do well to incorporate those activists and workers into this new surge of resistance to ongoing systemic failures. Without that, it won’t be relevant for very long in our city. That said, even though this crowd had a large percentage of young white people, we should be careful not to assume white people with dreadlocks or diverse crowds singing Bob Marley are “trustafarians,” or privileged kids just there to look cool. This inevitably dismisses the valid political frustrations of this group as simply fad-ish. This is the same quick dismissal echoed in much of the media coverage. It also risks erasing the members of the crowd, including people of color and people of various ages (as you point out) whom I saw representing unions, orgs devoted to housing rights, developers of urban gardens, etc.

  • Matt Davis

    Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth. I agree that stereotypes like the word “trustafarian” tend to come across as dismissive, but I was very careful in the report, to employ it in a way that recognized that it is indeed a stereotype that much of the media coverage of the national Occupy movement has used to undermine the validity of the protests in readers’ eyes. At the same time, in this specific context, my editors agreed with me that it was appropriately employed:

    “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 in Lafayette Square, and the predominantly white crowd sang Bob Marley’s protest song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” as it marched down Poydras Street.”

    Still, I do very much appreciate your comment, your willingness to engage me on the issue, and I am sure that I will reflect on what you have said before I use the word again in the future, particularly in our ongoing coverage of this protest movement. You are also right that there was a diversity of perspectives represented at the protest, and with that in mind I tried to quote as many different people as possible so that the audience could get a balanced flavor of what went down.

    As well as commenting here and adding to the discussion do, please, everyone, consider signing up to answer the questions at the Public Insight Network about your impressions of the protest. We are very keen to engage our readers on this issue.

  • Nina Nichols

    Thank god all of those unemployed young people were able to go out and protest. The rest of us are working harder and harder to stay alive and don’t have the time to march. Noblesse oblige, that is what privilege is for.

  • Jules B.

    I guess this is my week to quibble with the generally excellent Lens.

    There were two white guys with dreadlocks that I saw there, both known to me. One teaches music in a grade school, and the other is a full-time short-order cook.

    To suggest, or imply, or hedge that these men are somehow “trustifarians” strikes me as a little lazy and unfair. I mean, why not ask them? Both are friendly and approachable people. I have met trust fund-endowed young people in New Orleans, and while there are a few who choose to make their lives in the Marigny’s bohemian milieu, none of them are dirty or dreadlocked.

    Of course there will be people who aren’t paying attention, who don’t understand what’s going on and dismiss the movement as “hippies.” There are also many who say we’re european-socialist paid agents of the new world order, or undercover Obama supporters looking to distract the public from the president’s failures. I guess I don’t understand why you would elevate to “print” the ignorant and incorrect assertions of those who aren’t there (#markmayhewdouchebag being a prime example), especially without authoritatively addressing whether or not those assertions have any basis in truth.

    May we examine the word itself for a moment? “Trustifarian” is a word based on the assumption that punks and squatters must in fact have some significant outside source of money. Using the term, at its root an attempt to slander those living differently by accusing them of secret hypocrisies, merely exposes the user’s unworldliness and lack of imagination.

    Believe it or not really IS POSSIBLE to live, and be happy, without much money or the status symbols of capitalist success (although white skin sure as hell helps).

    To me, the word “trustifarian” is inherently ignorant, the same flavor of ignorance that leads many right-wingers to accuse protesters of having been paid to show up and protest. The accusations, implied or articulated, are a sad window into how benighted some folks’ worldview is– they can’t conceive of anyone being motivated by anything but money, or a life centered around any other value system.

  • Matt Davis

    Jules: Thanks for expressing your opinion and adding to the discussion. I don’t really have much to add to my comment above about the use of the word in a reporting context, but I do appreciate your being willing to engage about it here.

    From a style point of view, whether or not these gentlemen were indeed trustafarians, a friend did say to me earlier that regardless, from a style point of view, she felt that “white people sporting dreadlocks is just wrong.” Still, there are many differing opinions on this point and my own feelings on the matter are hardly relevant to my role as a reporter.

    On a related note The Times-Picayune, I noticed, referenced “malodorous youths” in its story on the protest. And I’m very interested to hear what you think of that term in the context in which it was employed:

  • Jules B.

    Then maybe your friend can write about that, or show up at the general assembly with a sign addressing the issue. There’s room for everyone’s opinion.

    I do appreciate you taking my criticism in such a sportsmanlike way. As for McCarthy, he’s a callow prick chained to a dying dinosaur, but I think we all knew that already.

    I wonder if he was talking about the former TP employees I spotted at the rally… heaven knows it’s been a bloodbath over at Howard Ave the past few years. I am surprised that seeing his colleagues’ careers mowed down like cordwood and decades-long writers ushered from their desks in tears hasn’t galvanized a little more empathy in B-Mac for the Hoi Unempolloi, but I suppose young turks like him are pretty well armored by self-regard.

  • Matt Davis

    Jules: I hold both Brendan McCarthy and The Times-Picayune, for the most part, in extremely high regard and don’t see the need to resort to personal attacks here. Indeed, one of the few flaws, in my opinion, with The Times-Picayune’s operation is its failure to adequately moderate discussions in the comments sections of its stories to prevent racism and incivility from becoming a distraction. I formed that opinion having attended a panel discussion on the issue last November, which I covered elsewhere:

    Politeness suggests that you probably owe Mr. McCarthy an apology for calling him what you did, and I’m sorry that he’ll have to read it here, but it’s up to you. Still, I do hope that you and future commenters on this story will do their best to keep the discussion on a civil and respectful plane from now on.

  • Michael Dominici

    We too often forget that we’ve had to fight for everything we now take for granted in this country and that left alone, those in power that we expect to be ethical and fair, left unchecked will behave in the most corrupt manner imaginable. We have been force-fed a bill of goods in this country for so long that we’ve been tricked into thinking that even questioning the actions and intentions of our leaders elected or otherwise is treasonous, Anti-American, and aids the “enemy” -well, it’s interesting that no matter what side of the political fence you’re on one thing is clear, our enemy is here. Our government, our economic system, and ‘our’ way of thinking has to radically change. We need more direct representation and the technology exists now that we should be able to vote on issues in a survey form online, anywhere. It might be able to be corrupted and manipulated to some degree but no more so than the systems in play now. Our ‘representative’ democracy is a farce and every election cycle we take the bait and cancel out the results from the previous election thus ensuring more gridlock, confusion, anger, and a free-for-all for the politicians and their corporate masters.

  • Beverly Rainbolt

    Nina, sorry but I have a full-time job and took a hard-earned vacation day to be there. My husband took time from his self-employment. My daughter was there on her lunch hour as were at least two other people I know. And as for young–HA. I’m 60 years old. Did you not see the picture at the top of the article of the three generation of Senters? Did you not read the article in which at least five of the eight-to-ten people interviewed stated they are employed? Perhaps you could drop your clearly hard-held stereotyping and just listen. Some of us are working hard at jobs AND change. We have much more in common than not.

  • Hello Michael Martin,
    Let’s educate one another. You mention step one. Is this another 12 stepper? I tried dem before. Anyway, can you join me in chapter 9 number 6 titled Resentment in the classic, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. This will hopefully explain my point of view of this whole conversation. While you are at it, enjoy this read! It has broaden my awareness in all areas of my life!