Government & Politics

Occupy New Orleans protesters settle in

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

A week after 400 people marched through New Orleans in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City, about 50 people continue to occupy Duncan Plaza, opposite City Hall.

The group, which has no leaders and strives for consensus in its decisions, voiced a variety of stances during last week’s march, some local, some national. For instance, some want to reform the local criminal justice system, including the ouster of Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas; others aligned themselves with the New York effort, calling for prosecution of those responsible for the financial collapse in 2008.

Protestors meet as a general assembly twice a day to hone their message, which has not narrowed significantly in the past week.

The group is planning a second line Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., to coincide with a global day of action for other Occupy protesters around the world.

Dinnertime at Occupy New Orleans: Nicola Krebill, 31, who works full time for the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, has also coordinated the serving of three meals a day to the 50 or so occupiers for the past week. Photo by Matt Davis

The protest camp has a library, its own composting toilet, and a kitchen and food pantry capable of feeding those among its ranks for several days. They have Internet access, plenty of electrical outlets, and now 17 workgroups to focus on every aspect of the movement, from digital media to sanitation, and security, to the arts.

Nicola Krebill, 31, city farms coordinator for the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, has been using his spare time to coordinate the occupation’s meal service every night. Tired from the effort, but happy about the way things have gone, he said consensus can be exhausting, but that he was happy to be supporting the movement.

Another protester, 29-year-old jazz singer Jo Robin, who insisted she was speaking only for herself, said the entertainment committee is working with a brass band for the second line.

“The celebration of death and rebirth in this city is really important to address,” Robin said. “And the second line is really appropriate for our movement because it’s about the death of our economy and of integrity, but also the rebirth of awareness. And I really think that this is a movement of awareness.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu greeted the protesters cordially the day after they set up last week, and according to one protester, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Jerry Sneed encouraged the group to call the New Orleans Police Department if there is any trouble in the park.

Protesters spoke positively of their interactions with police, who have made no arrests, spokeswoman Remi Braden confirmed. Robin said she thought the administration and police department were adopting a shrewd policy in their  interactions with the occupation so far.

“I don’t think the NOPD can afford to make any missteps in this case because of Danziger, but also in Boston and New York, the thing that has really caught attention is the negative interactions between police and protesters,” Robin said. “And I don’t think the NOPD can afford to get into any more of that.”

Nevertheless the group is still formulating policies about its interaction with the police and media, Robin said. Those discussions take place at the general assembly, which Robin said don’t always go smoothly.

“We’ve got some pretty contentious issues to discuss,” she said.

Another person was more cynical.

“Last night was a disaster,” said writer and activist Delia Labarre. “They couldn’t come up with a clear policy on nonviolence.”

The protest  has attracted some homeless folks in need of blankets, a meal, and a hot shower.

“We need clothes. We need a place where we can get cleaned up. We just have our blankets and our sheets, and that’s it,” said one man, who only gave his name as Larry. His wife, who declined to give her name, sat in a wheelchair next to him, with their dog Cyprus, which snapped aggressively at a reporter.

“To be honest with you, I’ve had enough,” the woman said.

Massage therapist Asher Strunk and unemployed transient Stephanie Visco watched as protesters lined up for dinner. They said they thought the media was looking for a clearer set of reasons behind the protest, but that the breadth of the movement defied such narrow understanding.

“I think there’s a strength in having a multiplicity of voices,” Strunk said. “Because if you do really have a single message, then they can come after you more easily.”

View a Flickr set of images from the protest here.

 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 Public Insight Network, which reporters across the country draw on to contact members of the public willing to be sources for stories. 

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  • Matt Davis

    Also, Alison Fensterstock with The Times-Picayune has created a playlist of “music to occupy by,” featuring a dozen American protest songs. The list includes Gil Scott Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” and Billy Bragg’s “Bush War Blues.”

    “Protest music is as American as the right to public assembly,” Fensterstock writes, adding that the national protest movement has “certainly spawned some interesting conversations.”

    Check out the playlist here: