Inauguration Day in The Big Easy… Dancing to reclaim the streets in Trump’s America… Rallying cries in front of City Hall… Six-foot vagina in the nightclub… Hope in the dark…
“New Orleans is a glorious mutation.” — Anthony Bourdain, quoted on the marquee of The Joy Theater, Canal Street.
In the beginning, the coffin holds hopes and dreams. It’s half past ten on the morning of Donald Trump’s inauguration. New Orleans is hot and sticky and only getting hotter. In front of the arched gateway of Louis Armstrong Park, the open casket is filling up with notes from mourners putting their fears for the next four years into words:
“I am scared my future as a woman is over.”
“Equal rights are not extra rights.”
“RIP: Free Appropriate Public Education”
Watching over the couple of hundred protesters is an eight-foot papier-mâché Statue of Liberty, a tear streaked down her cheek. A group of older women pose in front of it, chanting: “Upbeat and defiant.” At eleven o’clock, the marching band strike up a mournful tune and Lady Liberty is lowered into her resting place.
The parade sets off down North Rampart Street and soon the music becomes celebratory, like Live And Let Die told me a New Orleans funeral should be. (“Whose funeral is it?” “Yours.”) Umbrellas and parasols punch the air. Just as in a film, people run out of their houses to join in.
Cops on motorbikes clear the route, blocking the traffic on busy Canal Street to allow the procession to pass down the main road past the front of the Ritz Carlton. People are still joining the parade, whether for the politics or just the marching brass, but not everyone is impressed. In front of the Marriott, a big man in an even bigger blue t-shirt turns to his buddy: “Like the dude isn’t going to give his inauguration speech because of a few protesters!”
A little further down the road I meet Jeff Saunders, a volunteer with The Next Right Thing, the group who organised the funeral. He explains why the big blue man was missing the point:
“Most of the people I’ve talked to in the crowd are talking about getting more involved in local politics. There’s no negativity at all. People are feeling energised.”
The procession stops for a while on the Moon Walk, the riverside promenade created in the 1970s by Mayor Moon Landrieu. Just before one in the afternoon there’s an announcement to the waiting crowd that they’re “not gonna throw her in the drink”. Instead, the flowers from her casket are distributed to be thrown symbolically into the river. They drift away on the brown murk.
Lowering Lady Liberty into the Mississippi wouldn’t have been quite in keeping with the mood of the day. Americans are a naturally optimistic people, and they’re big on symbolism. Another announcement is made:
“We’re going to keep marching. The band will start playing ‘Didn’t She Ramble’, because she did, didn’t she? She had a good run. As we walk towards Frenchmen Street her arm will go back up and her torch will be lit. She will rise again!”
Going down Decatur Street, just in front of the statue of Joan of Arc, the parade meets its first vocal Trump supporter. He’s the archetype, the Platonic ideal of a Trump fan in acoordinated colour scheme: White ‘Trump’ t-shirt, red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat. White arms, red face. Tiny stars and stripes waving above his head. He chants: “Trump not hate! Trump not hate!” The funeral procession responds only by vigorously dancing at him.
Later on, another man shouts: “Let’s hear it for Donald!” but these were the only two individuals I heard protesting the protesters all day. This is not all that surprising. While Louisiana backed Trump, giving him 1,178,638 million votes, only 24,292 of those came from New Orleans. By contrast, Hillary pulled in 134,000 votes from the city. One New Orleans voting precinct didn’t receive any Trump votes at all.
Political puns have made me cringe ever since ‘Bliar’, but grudging respect to the lady with the ‘Hair Twitler’ sign for wringing three puns out of two words.
The funeral procession comes to a halt at Washington Square Park around two o’clock, but this is not the end for Lady Liberty. “She’s still alive, we just need to fight for her!” someone shouts.
It’s not even the end for the day. Statue and coffin are taken across town to Duncan Plaza, in front of City Hall, where the day’s main protest rally begins at three. On the way, teenage drug dealers mingle with the couple of thousand protesters heading into the park. Their sales pitch suggests they’ve either misunderstood the purpose of the rally or are mocking the anti-capitalists:
“I got those Donald Trump bags. Smoke this shit and it’ll get you rich.”
On stage in Duncan Plaza, beneath a banner reading ‘Power To The People’, fifteen different speakers explain in turn how the issues closest to them will be affected by Trump entering the White House. Housing. Health. Mass Incarceration. Immigration. The environment. The list goes on and on. The repeated message is one of solidarity: “We are here to inaugurate our own unity.”
Worst sign of the day: “1984 — Orwell Rising From His Tomb — 2017.” Poor old George. Fight Franco and try to warn people about the rise of surveillance fascism and they still treat your name like a zombie dictator’s.
The rally becomes another march, many times the size of the funeral procession. As it passes the Sheraton, the windows crowd with hotel workers on their phones filming the crowd’s chants: “No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA.” I see Lady Liberty pass by in her coffin again. Sure enough, her flame is now glowing orange again.
After seven, walking alone down Frenchmen Street, I pass a man with a soundsystem hooked up to the back of his bike. He’s playing a rap tune on a loop that just repeats the line: ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’ I ask him what it is. He says: “It’s called ‘Fuck Donald Trump’.” Someone else passes and high-fives him.
Sun down, yellow moon. They’re throwing an ‘Anti-Inaugural Dance Party’ at Poor Boys Bar on St Bernard Avenue. On Facebook they quote the writer Michael Ventura, who wrote during the Reagan era:
“It can be a beautiful thing to dance all night during evil times.”
When I first walk in, I notice a woman sat at the bar with a Guy Fawkes mask in front of her. Earlier in the day, someone with a Guy Fawkes avatar responded to my tweet about Lady Liberty’s jazz funeral:
— Anonymous America (@KORANISBURNING) January 20, 2017
I mention this to her. “People are anti-government from all sides,” she says. These days, everyone wants to burn down parliament.
There’s a stall in the corner of Poor Boys being manned by a woman in a six-foot vagina costume. She is Amy Irvin, founder of the New Orleans Abortion Fund. I’d seen her earlier at the jazz funeral too. “It’s protest, but it’s a satirical protest,” she says. “This is very New Orleans, it’s very us. Trump’s policies threaten all of us, and this is a way for folks who are supporters of these issues to come together.”
I ask her about the work she does at the NOAF and she explains, with memorised statistics and figures, exactly how limited abortion access is in Louisiana. I nod and scribble notes, trying to ignore the fact that her face is poking out from between cushioned labia.
Outside, there’s another stall where a woman is giving away free trigger locks. These are padlocks that you place around your gun to stop your kids picking them up and accidentally shooting themselves. I tell her it’s mad she lives in a country where these things are needed. She doesn’t smile.
On the final stall I meet the fabulous Nathalie Nia Faulk, the spokesperson for the New Orleans LGBT Community Center. After she tells me about the work the Center does, I ask her about Trump. She’s not concerned.
“We’ve been in this fight already. We’ve been organising. Nothing’s changed. I’m not scared. Trump doesn’t worry me. We’ve been doing this already, and now we’re going to do it better and we’re going to do it stronger.”
After the jazz funeral, the rally, the march and the party, I tell her it seems to me that today isn’t just about Trump. When I was a teenager and marched against the Iraq war, I might have been naïve to believe we’d actually stop the war but I don’t think I was the only one who thought that’s why we were doing it. This is different. Nobody actually thinks they’re going to impeach Trump today. Rather these marches are about the protesters themselves turning to one another and saying: ‘Look, I know we’ve been complacent but we’re in for a fight now and I’m here for it.’
Nathalie nods enthusiastically, and says:
“Isn’t that glorious, though? People are actually getting involved. At some point, people were saying: ‘I don’t vote, that doesn’t fit me.’ Half of our generation were like that. At some point we all have to come together, and I think these demonstrations are that place, right? If you vote, that’s cool, if you don’t vote, that’s cool, but we all know that this is not okay, so what are we gonna do about it?”
I expected fear and despondency on Inauguration Day. Instead there was jazz, and dancing, and a lot of people telling each other it’s going to be alright. ‘Trump’s in the White House?’ says New Orleans. ‘We’re on the streets.’
Laissez les bon temps rouler.