Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Stampede at the monument

Think back with us for a moment. Back to the olden days of, oh say two years ago. All the talk of the town at that time was about Confederate monuments. Remember that? Maybe you can. I know it seems so silly now.  Anyway, at the time, some of our friends in the pro-monument camp included among their complaints to us a concern that removing the statues would not only erase history but also cause undue injury to our vital tourism industry.  Remember that? Really, it was a thing. Here, for example, were speakers  addressing the City Council at a 2015 public meeting on behalf of the Monumental Task Committee. They had heard from our friend Billy Nungesser about this very issue.
Billy Nungesser called Monumental Task Committee. Said he wanted an economic impact study on the decrease in tourism that could result after monument removal
Of course that didn't go anywhere because, well, Billy Nungesser.  But the argument was carried elsewhere by callers to radio programs, writers of letters to the editor, commenters upon websites, and like feeders back to the various media. Won't somebody think of the tour guides? Whatever would anyone come to see in New Orleans anymore after General Lee was removed from his pedestal?

Here was an interesting fact provided by a pair of UNO professors who wrote in one day. At one time, the monuments really were touted as tourist draws. At the time they were installed.
Ironically, they also reflected great concern for how New Orleans was perceived by the rest of the nation. Civic leaders at the turn of the century saw Confederate reunions as opportunities to boost the city’s burgeoning tourist industry. They actively recruited Confederate veterans organizations and sponsored cemetery tours and parades down Canal Street with brass bands. Such reunions were part of the city’s reinvention as the brightest gem in a fictional “Old South” and rivaled Mardi Gras in the numbers of visitors drawn to the city. 
Back when the Ex-Confederate market was hot, the city's civic leaders and business community were themselves pretty hot for a piece of it. Nowadays, their feelings are slightly more mixed. It's true that many "civic leaders" remain firmly pro-monument. We were recently just treated to yet another round of clever opining from them via their Carnival processions.

Oh the poor monuments
Knights of Chaos float 2017

And, of course,  the philanthropists who run the Monumental Task Committee are already on record.  But it's a mistake to think that this is a full representation of the sentiments of the business community in our dynamic New New Orleans of the 21st Century.  Before you judge them all as unreconstructed confederates, consider also that some of them are quietly non-committal.

Actually, it's the latter group that had the mayor so frustrated last week when he complained at length to Advocate reporters that nobody was stepping up to help him. Stephanie Grace backed him up on this in her Sunday column.
Plenty of people showed up to voice support for the move at several public hearings, including the City Council hearing that culminated in a 6-1 vote in favor. But Landrieu noted that business and civic leaders have been awfully quiet.

Some surely oppose the move, but it's hard to believe they all do. People who work in tourism and other outward-facing fields are a pragmatic bunch. They have to get how the monuments' presence undermines New Orleans' image as a tolerant, modern city that celebrates its diversity.

That's not just a theory. Quite a few local business leaders actively fought state legislation targeting gay and lesbian people in recent years, and were rewarded with the relocated NBA All-Star game after North Carolina passed discriminatory laws. Don't any of them see the same arguments applying here? Landrieu insists they do, but have told him they are reluctant to get involved, even though their words could help defuse some of the ugliness of the situation.

Landrieu's also right to call out some of the people who insist the works should stay on display but have done nothing to make that happen.
Okay well point taken about the "pragmatic bunch" working to snag an NBA All Star Game last year.  But the silence on the monument question suggests that these tourism magnates  may not, in fact, "celebrate diversity" all that seriously. It's fine as long as they're reaping the monetary benefits of wokeness. But what happens when The Market is less clear in its moral guidance?

A Times-Picayune story published this week tells about a striking discrepancy in fees charged to large tourist-facing parading organizations vs those charged to more traditional neighborhood second-lining groups.
(Tamara) Jackson is the president of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force, which represents 27 of the city's 39 clubs. She said the city gives financial breaks to some parades, such as Mardi Gras krewes and celebrity memorial events like those held after the deaths of singer Prince and actress Carrie Fisher. Meanwhile, traditional second-lines that are part of the cultural backbone for many African-Americans in New Orleans are burdened with much larger fees that threaten to tax them out of existence, Jackson said.

She laid out three examples from the 2016 parading season.

One was the Bowie second-line. It was expected to attract nearly 1,250 people to the narrow streets of the Vieux Carre, but instead drew close to 5,000. The city charged organizers $650 for a police escort. Less than a month later, the Krewe of Bacchus rolled down St. Charles Avenue, drawing hundreds of thousands of people - and paid only $1,000 for a permit and nothing for police.

But when Jackson's group, the VIP Ladies Social Aid and Pleasure Club, marched through Central City joined by nearly 500 people along the route three weeks after Mardi Gras, their bill from the city for their police escort was $3,225.
The parade fees are too damn high. That is they are high for the less white, less privileged, locally focused organizations.  Let's see what business leader Clark Brennan thinks about this. 
Clark Brennan, captain of the Krewe of Bacchus, said his and other Carnival organizations have gifted police with gear to help during Mardi Gras, and that the parades help attract millions of dollars in tourism revenue for the city during Carnival season. That economic impact, he said, justifies the low fees for even the largest super-krewes.

"That's why the laws are the way they are, because Mardi Gras as a whole is bringing millions to billions of dollars to the city of New Orleans. So, just like when the Super Bowl comes to New Orleans, there's tax incentives. So yes, the city says, 'We'll give you free police,'" Brennan said.

"The thing I go back on is, what is Mardi Gras doing for the entire city of New Orleans compared to Joe Blow's social aid and pleasure club just talking about their neighborhood? I don't know the economic engine, and I don't think there is one."

Boy howdy do we love to celebrate our city's "diversity" and the immeasurable contributions of its "culture bearers" when we're selling the scene to visitors. But when we're actually distributing the benefits of our heavily commodified folkways, the cultural economy exhibits a peculiar sort of hierarchy.

Maybe we shouldn't look to our tourist-facing business leaders to settle our public policy disputes after all.  Mitch is already clearly frustrated with the way they've left him hanging.
Throughout the process, details about various contractors involved — or believed to be involved — in the removal process have been spread on social media, sometimes including home addresses and other personal information. That has caused problems getting the equipment and contractors needed for the job, Landrieu said.

“There’s 100 cranes in the city right now. Did you know we’re having a hard time getting a crane right now? Do you know why?” Landrieu asked. “Because people have been calling these folks saying, ‘If you do that, we won’t give you any more business.’ "

The first designated contractor on the job quit early on after receiving death threats. The owner’s Lamborghini later was torched in his company’s parking lot.
We're all still mourning that Lambroghini, of course. (Some of us were never convinced that incident actually had anything to do with the monuments but we'll leave that be for now.) But are the 100 Cranes really being stayed by the threat of a sustained pro-Confederate boycott? Mitch can't say this explicitly but there's probably a lot more pro-Confederate sentiment out in the business community than anyone wants to admit. Because he often counts a lot of these people among his own donors and allies, it's no wonder this has been so exasperating for him.

To be fair, we're all pretty tired of it by this point and it's time for this process to come to a close.  Everything the mayor said to WWLTV about it in this story is correct.
The public voiced their opinion through the commissions that voted on this, through the city council which had two hearings on this as I believe. The matter's been vetted through both state courts and federal courts. So this is about as constitutional a process as you can get.
Mitch went on to remind us that, "the Civil War is over," although with the exception of maybe President Trump, most of us probably had a firm grip on that already.  The more pertinent point, though, is that the monuments dispute is over.  We won.  There's nothing left to do but Take 'em Down. Another way to say that is it's now all over but the shouting, of which there is plenty.

It turns out the imminent demise of the monuments has finally spawned something like that Confederate tourism market so many were only recently pretending existed. It's probably not quite what our fabulists had in mind, though.
The city of New Orleans surrendered early during the actual Civil War, after the Confederates left it poorly defended. This time, though, reinforcements from far afield have arrived to hoist the battle flag.

“I will chain myself to that son of a bitch before I let them tear it down,” Wilford Seymour said Thursday, waving a hand toward a statue of General PGT Beauregard mounted in a bronze saddle. “By God I will ride that horse myself.”

Seymour had driven overnight from Arkansas, as soon as he got word that the city of New Orleans was pulling down some of its Confederate monuments.
The visitors are, for the most part, burn outs and drifters give or take a few Lost Cause LARPers with extra vacation time. They're here to spend a week or so sleeping under the stars with Davis and Beauregard, wave a few flags at Jazzfesters, maybe grill some hot dogs. They aren't  much to look at. And word on the social media has it they aren't the most pleasant customers.  But once the carnie circuit heats up again back in Dirt Heap, ArklahoTex or wherever, they'll hop the next boxcar out of town and we can get on with this business.  In the meantime it's probably a good idea just to ignore them.

Instead, people are doing this
The "monument defenders" who have been camped out at the Jefferson Davis statue on Canal Street in Mid-City were met by dozens of counterprotesters late Monday night, who staged a theatrical arrival, Les Miserables-style, on the back of a truck waving RESIST flags. On the side of the truck was a sign reading "FUCK OFF NAZI SCUM."

The counterprotesters arrived with grilling equipment and a music system, ready to throw an impromptu barbecue and karaoke dance party on Jefferson Davis Parkway, but were deterred by about 30 New Orleans Police Department officers who put the kibosh on the barbecue. As the monument defenders gaped, the counterprotesters managed to perform one song, "Head Like a Hole" by Nine Inch Nails ("Head like a hole/Black as your soul/I'd rather die/Than give you control") before the spectacle turned tense, with open-carry monument defenders facing off against the counterprotesters, who shouted their local bona fides as they climbed the Jefferson Davis statue.
I'm not exactly a get-these-hippies-off-my-lawn type. In fact I'm generally a proponent of chaotic disruption in political dialogue. Even the most incoherent demonstration can be useful at times.  In this case, though, it's difficult to understand what purpose is being served. Other than spectacle, that is.  Hippies vs Hobos on Monday Night Monumentball. Of course we went to check that out. There's a bar right there on the corner.

Monument confrontation

The crowd was estimated at about 200.  If I had to guess, I'd say it broke down to about 10 to 15 Confederate squatters vs maybe 50 to 70 antifa protesters. The rest were either reporters or just gawkers like us standing around drinking beer.  What we saw there was everything Gambit describes above followed by a series of scrimmages where the opponents shoved their way across one another's lines in attempts to steal flags from the other side. At the conclusion of each play, the captured prizes were then set on fire.

Burning Confederate flag

This went on for a few hours until one too many bottles tossed prompted NOPD to put an end to things. The police put everyone into timeout on the other side of the street while they encircled the monument with barricades. For a while we thought they might be preparing the space for an actual demolition crew but that never materialized.

NOPD perimeter

After that, it just got kind of boring. Some of us had another drink or two. But when the police captain on hand "swore to God" to reporters that nothing else interesting was going to happen, we took them at their word and went home to bed.

That's all well and good for entertainment. But it's still not serving any purpose besides reminding us it's well past time for this to end. The semi-homeless carnies camping out under the statues aren't delaying their removal. As we saw Monday night, police can easily shoo them away at any time.  The antifa protesters aren't doing anything to expedite the process. From the looks of things, they mostly just enjoy kicking hobos.  It's a strange way to behave, though, when your side has already won. As Mitch explained, a deliberate democratic and legal process has run its course and been decided in our favor. The moment doesn't call for further upheaval. It should be a time for celebration.

In fact, as we pointed out the other day, it's actually the mayor who has been behaving as though the anti-monument side lacks legitimacy. The secretive late night roll out of the long delayed demolition of the Liberty Monument sent the wrong message.  Further delay now only serves to embolden the Lost Causers. I would say something like, "If you want to protest something, protest that," but the Take Em Down people have actually been already doing this.  A rally in Jackson Square back in September was intended to jar the process out of a perceived inertia.  There is another event planned at Lee Circle this coming Sunday aimed toward a similar purpose. Organizers are billing it as the Toppling Party the city has refused to grant us.
While white supremacists gather from many states around confederate monuments in OUR CITY, the mayor nor council has still not publicly called for its own ceremony to honor the historic occasion of 4 monuments to slavery coming down.  Even the conservative governor of S.C. had a public ceremony to remove the confederate flag. Cowering in darkness offers no safety or protection, it is shameful and being questioned by world wide media.

What does this say to Black youth?  What does this teach white youth?

All eyes are on New Orleans.  It is fitting that during Jazz Fest Week the people have our voices heard.  Not just on the monuments, but for racial equality and economic justice for those who built New Orleans, whose heritage is leveraged for profit and who are being displaced.

In the name of the good people of New Orleans, in honor of our civil rights veterans who fought for decades for their removal, in appreciation of the Black community, elders and youth Take Em Down NOLA is issuing this call for everyone to come out!

The mayor would do well for himself to come out and give this event some support. Somebody in Mitch's circle got some 2020 Presidential buzz about him planted in the New York Times this week.  Some have suggested, it's been a goal of his all along to co-opt the Take Em Down movement's accomplishments to further embellish his own national profile.  I think there's some truth to that but his conspicuously silent allies in the business community have made that awkward for him. The Greater New Orleans Foundation's new building is right there on Lee Circle, by the way.  If any of the business leaders are in the office on Sunday, maybe that would be a good time for some of them to finally weigh in. What a relief that might be for everyone.

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