First in a series of articles about New Orleans Ferguson Protests. #MikeBrownNOLA
On August 14, I noticed conflicting information about a Ferguson solidarity event scheduled to take place in Lafayette Square, a park across from the Federal Reserve in New Orleans. One announcement called New Orleanians to observe the National Moment of Silence that was promoted on social networking sites with the hashtag #NMOS14. This National Moment of Silence, called for by @feministajones, was announced independently of the Day of Rage protest Anonymous called for. In fact, early on August 14, local and national organizers told me they were concerned the “Day of Rage” Anonymous was calling for would interfere with a peaceful vigil.
Early that morning, I tried to figure out what was actually happening in New Orleans, remembering my early days of livestreaming Occupy events when Anonymous supported "boots on the ground" protests but didn't claim to be organizing events grassroots activists who did not communicate with anons were planning. As a supporter of grassroots activism (as opposed to nonprofit activism or political party recruiting masquerading as activism), I reached out to reliable locals on Twitter and confirmed that a peaceful #NMOS14 was being organized by the New Orleans community and that they did not want it to be advertised as a "Day of Rage." As the only livestreamer in New Orleans, I feel it's my ethical responsibility to describe events as accurately as possible, and was able to receive clarification in the conversation below.
I was even told on Twitter that local organizers were afraid “Anonymous” would show up to rage at the vigil. Part of me laughed because as the captain of an “Anonymous” themed Mardi Gras krewe and participant in many marches, I’ve rarely seen an “Anonymous” presence in New Orleans if wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and holding signs at protests is what “Anonymous” is doing.
Lafayette Square is one of the public parks with Trapwire cameras, and is therefore less ideal for anything but a vigil, so it annoyed me even more that an “Anonymous” person in Canada would try to dictate what was going to take place there.
One would have to spend an unhealthy amount of time on the internet to even understand that the @OpFerguson Twitter account is managed by someone unreliable. Since Commander X's @OpFerguson Twitter account had already been spreading disinformation, I was skeptical of any "calls for action" that account was promoting.
I don’t expect or recommend activists who have managed to maintain a healthy balance between real life and online activity start staying up all night just to figure out what in the actual fuck is going on with “Anonymous” protest pictures and can understand how locals could get the impression that a swarm of angry protesters in Guy Fawkes masks were descending on protests around the United States. Aside from the fact that New Orleans’ heat would prevent the average person from being able to wear a Guy Fawkes mask for any sustained period of time, there just are not very many people in New Orleans who actually care about Anonymous.
I supported the meme being circulated that accused "Anonymous" of co-opting the vigil because local organizers in New Orleans made it clear the Vigil was not an "Anonymous Day of Rage."
When I asked what seemed to be the Twitter account that had initially tweeted the "Day of Rage" flyer about New Orleans to remove the New Orleans location from the flyer, someone with a Guy Fawkes profile picture asked me to send him money via PayPal, which only confirmed my suspicions that OpFerguson was attracting opportunists who were trying to promote their own agendas (not to mention demonstrate zero respect for the 14 anons arrested for DDoSing PayPal (the #PayPal14).
Finally, I stopped even discussing this online because I’ve found debating what people are saying on the internet about protests they don’t attend is a waste of time. I headed to the vigil to livestream it and show support for Mike Brown and ending police violence. I had two phones, one for livestreaming and one for taking photographs, and stupidly wore cowboy boots with thin socks because I really expected a vigil with some type of rally (not a march) to follow.
National Moment of Silence Vigil, New Orleans, LA - Aug 14
At least 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square in the Central Business District of New Orleans on August 14th to observe a National Moment of Silence for Mike Brown. Organizer Chanelle Batiste quickly clarified that the event was a peaceful vigil that would include a moment of silence after a list of victim names was read.
Organizers passed out candles, collected emails to coordinate follow-up activities, and Batiste urged attendees to keep up with the National Moment of Silence Against Police Brutality New Orleans Facebook page and follow @NMOS14NOLA on Twitter to stay involved. Batiste called for media outreach, unity, help supporting protesters in Ferguson by sending protesters bright yellow reflective jackets, assisting with fundraising for a protester hit with a rubber bullet.
Spontaneous "Justice for Mike Brown" March Heads to Eighth District Police Department
This spontaneous march began, pumped with energy and at least 200 protesters chanting “Justice for Mike Brown” and “What do we want? JUSTICE. When do we want it? Now.” I stayed with the front of the march for the most part as the march progressed through the Central Business District. I noted one New Orleans police officer in a familiar unmarked car observing the march, but no police attempted to stop the march or survey it aggressively. As the march neared the French Quarter, people joined it, some with banners and signs, others chanting with their hands up in solidarity.
The group had grown to about 400 protesters as the march crossed Canal Street and headed to the amphitheater on the Mississippi River across from St. Louis Cathedral. After assembling with signs and banners, protesters continued shouting “Hands up! Don’t Shoot” in unison with their hands in the air before rallying.
Members of the anti-racism group European Dissent arrived with a banner with "Black Lives Matter" painted on it.
Mike Brown’s cousin Emily spoke about unity and community building before announcing the march would go to the Eight District Police Department. Someone suggested using the hashtag #MikeBrownNOLA
The demand that Serpas resign resonated with protesters, who began to chant the demand while inside the police station.
During the occupation of the police station, which lasted almost thirty minutes, officers behind the desk remained calm and additional officers did not respond to the protest. At no point did police try to interfere with the protest or ask the protesters to leave the building.
The group then left the police department and dispersed without interference from police. I spoke with Emily for a few minutes outside Walgreen’s as we drank water to quench our thirst. Emily told me she didn’t think marching was enough to solve the problem of systematic racism and police violence, and I told her I couldn’t agree more.
Then, I hurried to my car after shoving a bandana in my cowboy boot to stop a blister from forming on my ankle. It had been a long time since I’d attended such an energized march in New Orleans, and I’d made the mistake of wearing thin socks.
This occupation of the police department, went largely unreported by local news who had attended the NMOS14 vigil earlier. The march itself was a spontaneous protest and in no way was organized by "Anonymous OpFerguson."