New Orleans has recently seen some of the largest protests in the city’s modern history — with thousands of people taking to the streets daily to demand systemic change, including defunding police and money for housing, healthcare and jobs. These protests are the visible manifestation of grassroots organizing that has been going for decades and did not stop with COVID-19.
This video highlights just a few of the many organizations that have built and organized for this moment — even as the city was under quarantine — culminating not only in mass protests, but also direct action that seized an empty home for housing homeless community members.
For years, the New Orleans Peoples’ Assembly has been working to “flip the budget,” to defund police and reallocate this money towards essential needs and rights. When New Orleanians took to the streets to demand justice in response to police violence locally and nationally — including the killing of welder and musician Modesto Reyes — The Peoples’ Assembly was among the organizations leading daily protests.
In New Orleans and across the country, Black trans women have been disproportionately targeted by police violence, and face discrimination in employment, housing and health care. The House of Tulip, a new organization founded by veteran trans organizers, seeks to provide housing for homeless members of the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities.
Beginning days after the quarantine, a new collective named Southern Solidarity began organizing mutual aid to support those in need. As a mutual aid organization with an abolitionist analysis, they go beyond providing support, to challenging the systems that make people homeless and hungry. They have been part of all the organizing featured in the video, led by affected communities and working to build power and liberation.
On May 5, sanitation workers working for Metro Service Group (the “hoppers” that ride in the back of the trucks and pick up garbage) formed a new City Waste Union and went on strike for hazard pay, PPE equipment, a living wage and safer working conditions. Their struggle has pulled in support from across the city, including DSA New Orleans, Stand With Dignity and many other organizations.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Citizen Relief Team formed among homeless communities to organize for housing and protections. Working with musician and organizer Cole Williams, Rev. Gregory Manning and civil rights movement veteran Curtis Muhammad, the group began demanding hotels make housing available. They then moved on to protesting at City Hall before recently seizing an empty housing to provide homes to those who still are on the street.
New Orleans has a reputation for music and festivals, but the culture of the city has always been rooted in struggle, especially Black-led resistance. From the 1811 uprising to end slavery to fighting for the right to return after Hurricane Katrina to today’s movements, there would be no New Orleans culture without the struggle for freedom.