On the day the Fourth Reich saw its inauguration, Jan. 20, 2017, Take Em Down NOLA and the New Orleans Workers’ Group, a coalition dedicated to the improvement of workers’ rights in New Orleans, gathered in Duncan Plaza and staged one of the city’s biggest resistance marches against the incumbent administration in the form of J20NOLA. I spoke about Take Em Down NOLA and its relation to resistance work in New Orleans:
Take Em Down NOLA is a multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition of organizers committed to the removal of ALL symbols of White Supremacy in the city of New Orleans, including but not limited to school names, public parks, street names and monuments. This struggle is a part of the greater struggle for racial and economic justice in New Orleans.
Black New Orleans still hasn’t recovered the numbers it once had, but it’s growing and coming back stronger than ever a dozen years after Katrina.
Now you may wonder why, amidst all the manifestations of social injustice, we choose to focus on symbols. Well, it’s simple. Not only do we recognize White Supremacy as the binding glue of all other forms of modern systemic oppression – it’s the middle ground between age-old hetero-patriarchy, misogyny and xenophobia and more recently classism and its manifestations: systemic poverty, mass incarceration, environmental racism, lack of affordable housing and workers’ rights, etc. – but we also believe that from the names of public spaces to the art we use to decorate our city, the external material world reflects the internal psychological one. Or as the ancient Hermetic wisdom teaches us, “As above, so below.”
Take Em Down NOLA is a multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition of organizers committed to the removal of ALL symbols of White Supremacy in the city of New Orleans.
In New Orleans, what we see externally are countless schools named after White Supremacists like John McDonogh, for example, who’s got a statue right here in Duncan Plaza and was the biggest slave-owner in Louisiana history. Yet the most prominent historically Black co-ed high school in the city bears his name. Not to mention major streets like Claiborne, Bienville and Iberville, all named after slave-owners and White Supremacists.
And what we see above us is no better. We look up to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as his monument sits some 20-odd feet high on a street also named after him. We look up to P.G.T. Beauregard, a Louisiana lieutenant in the Confederacy, as he sits atop his horse in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
On the day of the inauguration of the “Fourth Reich,” as Quess? calls it, Take Em Down NOLA and other groups turned out a huge crowd in New Orleans.
We look up to Andrew Jackson, also mounted atop a horse in the most prominent public space in the city, a square in the middle of the French Quarter that also bears his name. We look up to Robert E. Lee as a 12-foot statue of him sits atop a 60-foot pedestal in the center of the city towering above us all. Talk about being under the gaze of White Supremacy. New Orleans is literally inundated with it, at nearly every major corner.
So what lies below the heavens governed by antebellum war criminals? Well, we have the descendants of those that they once governed – still mired in the misery of post-traumatic slavery disorder. Or as my mom used to say, “Them Negroes ain’t moved 12 blocks since slavery.”
Many of us – in ways all too literal – still bear the shackles that our ancestors fought so hard to shake off. Louisiana is the prison capital of the world and predominately Black New Orleans is its number one resource for inmates. So, in a country that locks up more of its citizens than any other before it, that makes New Orleans the prison capital of all world history.
What havoc does that wreak on our communities? Well, it translates into a 52 percent unemployment rate for Black men, many of whom, due to their prison records, are forced to “get it how they live” as rapper B.G. says. As such, undocumented income or more criminality becomes their only means of survival, which of course leads to more incarceration, and the sick cycle continues. This translates to Black women shouldering an inordinate amount of the financial burden in many single parent homes, where 50 percent of Black children live below the poverty line.
Many of us – in ways all too literal – still bear the shackles that our ancestors fought so hard to shake off.
Quess? and other New Orleans organizers are succeeding in bringing many issues into the same mutual support rally, as the faces of these protesters attest.
The whole dynamic isn’t a far cry from the days of slavery and Jim Crow when Black men and women were lynched and separated from their families. One starts to sense a pattern here, as though none of this is being done by mistake. It’s not. The system is working for the purpose it was designed.
For proof, let’s look at how it implicates the descendants of slave-owners. Their hands are just as tied up in this mess as their ancestors’ were. The following case study serves as a prime example: One of the major targets of Take Em Down NOLA (TEDN) organizing has been the Liberty Place Monument. The obelisk commemorates the Battle of Liberty Place where in 1874, a racist white militia, the Crescent City White League, slaughtered Black and white police officers, in rebellion against democratically elected governor William Pitt Kellogg.
Instead of addressing this shameful episode in our history as the crime that it was, the rich white racist elite of the city erected a monument honoring the killers, which still stands to this day. One of the principal groups that helped get that monument built was the Regular Democrats Organization. Founded in 1874, it’s the same group that endorsed Councilwoman Stacy Head’s campaign.
Thirteen months ago, when TEDN successfully pressured New Orleans City Council into voting 6-1 in favor of removing four monuments to White Supremacy, the Liberty Place monument being one of them, Stacy Head was the only member voting to keep them up. Her belief system reflected the way she regards those symbols.
In the end, it’s very clear why we are where we are as a city and as a country. People internalize messages projected upon them … and into them. Those messages become part of a belief system that creates the social and political systems, which govern our lives. When we allow ourselves to be complicit within those systems, when we fail to resist them at every turn, we perpetuate them.
After 150 years of relative complicity with oppressive systems by the oppressed, it’s only natural that we find ourselves living in an environment where tyranny is possible. Where a guy named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, literally named after two of the vilest white supremacists of our past, can be elected the U.S. Attorney General to oversee law and order in America, and where the son of a Ku Klux Klan supporter can be elected Commander-in-Chief, in a system rigged to benefit him, despite the fact he received a minority of the overall votes.
So what’s our duty in this moment? We must do some real internal investigation. We must impeach from our hearts all the vestiges of toxic beliefs that systemic oppression has taught us to believe. All the centuries-old backwash of internalized racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, Islamophobia, transphobia, all phobias, and fear … and fear … and fear must die now.
It ain’t easy work but we have no other choice. The whole damn system is as it always was, guilty as hell. And there can be no piecemeal healing that can address the pervasive sickness that has invaded us all. There can be no silos in our liberation, because if one of us is in bondage, we’re all guilty. Between us, we’ve got enough keys to unlock the chains of ignorance on each other’s minds. Each of us is each other’s responsibility, whatever our respective cages may be. The time for collective liberation is NOW.
Michael “Quess?” Moore is a poet, educator, actor, playwright and organizer with Take Em Down NOLA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.