This past month, I was able to attend the #J20NOLA rally on Inauguration Day, and the Women’s March the following Saturday. Both gatherings were impressive in their size and scope, especially for New Orleans. They were also both glorious days to be walking the streets of downtown and the French Quarter, a most righteous kick-off to our Carnival season.
I’ve found that in my lifetime, this hasn’t been the most politically active city—at least in relation to other places like D.C. or New York, or anywhere else where there isn’t so much fuckit attitude baked into the culture. But that’s changing. More and more people are feeling the threat of the Trump administration, and hopefully these assemblies—as guaranteed by our First Amendment—only grow in frequency and size.
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of rallies and marches, whether here in New Orleans or in D.C. (where I lived briefly in the immediate aftermath of 9/11): it has mostly been a “scene,” that is to say, a group of dedicated people who show up again and again—but not exactly what you’d call “the masses.” This isn’t meant as a slight to you, honored protest veterans. You’ve been keeping the flame alive through the relatively quiet Obama years, organizing in response to our city’s murder rates, workers’ rights, Black Lives Matter, police abuse, monuments to white supremacy, and so on. Part-timers, weekend warriors, and jane-come-latelys: it’s important to recognize this established work and as the kids say, “get in where you fit in.” But I hope in these times the more militant and seasoned among us can accept what Dan Savage calls “imperfect allies” into the struggle, and into these marches. I count myself in this number. After all, the signs and the speeches are important, but sheer numbers will always deliver the message most effectively.
Protests are inherently messy things. That’s what makes them beautiful. They’re not well-rehearsed or efficient. Speakers can be eloquent or long-winded; cliched or intensely personal. The PA is never loud enough. Signs range from the clever to the remedial. Most people “behave;” others don’t. The rules are few, often open to interpretation. Bring a sign or don’t; chant along or remain silent. Listen to the speaker or commune with the people around you.
My hope is that in the days ahead, more and more New Orleanians—and our brothers and sisters in Jefferson Parish as well—come out to these events and let themselves be counted. This is New Orleans after all, and I dare say our protests are some of the most entertaining in the world, where creativity and joy abound, even as we rage. —Dan Fox