NEW ORLEANS – The “Occupy Wall Street” movement came to the Big Easy on Thursday, but its expression of varied and often clashing political messages quickly turned difficult.
As about 500 New Orleans protesters marched, complete with a small brass band, from Orleans Parish Prison to the Federal Reserve and then inside City Hall, one activist told The Daily Caller she heard shouts of “Kill the cops!”
With tensions running high between police and protesters outside the prison, marcher Buick McKane said she had no interest in provoking law enforcement. She told TheDC she was there to advocate for “small, transparent government.”
McKane was not the only one to defy left-wing agitator stereotypes. With a “Tax the rich!” chant a block ahead, an anarchist named Mary cried “The state is violence! End the Fed!”
Reflecting on the crowd’s more socialist sentiments, Mary said: “That’s alright. … People don’t understand. They get confused.”
Outside the prison, protestors denounced both the size of the American prison system and what they said was local police corruption. One scandal that attracted some focus was a 2005 police shooting that killed two people and wounded four more — all unarmed — at New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge.
Marcher Rosanna Cruz tied the prisons to Wall Street and bank bailouts, telling TheDC that “Wall Street is where all our money and resources are going … people who can’t find jobs all go into the underground economy and from there they wind up in jail.” (RELATED: Organizer admits to pay ‘Occupy DC’ protesters)
Ultimately, police and protesters managed to keep the peace without arrests or pepper spray. Even when one man heckled marchers and yelled that they should “go home,” protesters told the police that “he’s entitled to his opinion.”
The heckler, Michael Nohrenberg, told TheDC he was exasperated by a protest culture that he saw as an expression of laziness. Someone, he said, should “make them go out and work and get jobs. They want all this free stuff!”
Chants of “tax the rich” and signs reading “Tax the 1%” were hard to miss, but some protesters were light on specifics. Many called vaguely for more “progressive” taxation to shift the burden from the lower classes. Currently, about half of American wage-earners pay no income tax.
Those who offered specific solutions most commonly cited the “Tobin tax,” a sales tax on financial transactions such as stock purchases. About half of American households own shares of stock in one form or another.
During an open-mic time in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, a bullhorn passed between speakers wearing Ron Paul stickers and others sporting shirts claiming that “Housing is a human right!”
After several consecutive speakers plugged Rep. Paul, the Texas congressman, as “the only one” seeking to end the Federal Reserve system, several in the crowd became restless and started booing and chanting, “Ron Paul sucks!,” and “End Capitalism!”
One marcher worried aloud that the Ron Paul contingent would not “fight for people’s needs, repeal free-market policies and end structural racism in America.” The crowd Thursday was predominantly white.
Protester Matt Freimyth held a sign that said “Ron Paul is not the answer.” He told TheDC, “This is the wrong environment to be campaigning for any politician.” He was, however, sporting a “Brees for President” sticker. Drew Brees is the New Orleans Saints quarterback.