Progressive Activist Groups in NOLA


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I’m at a meeting in the middle of Tulane’s campus, where I collapse (a doctor tells me it’s dehydration, but I’ll just assume it’s the power of the Lord), while a presentation rages on about, what else, Brett Kavanaugh, who has now become way more a part of my job than I would like. That smug frat boy, hereafter, occasionally referred to as TSFB.

In a flash, I’m at the corner of Dorgenois and Bayou Road, watching people get their brake lights fixed by Democratic Socialists of America. Another moment, I’m talking to the leader of NOW. In the next I’m doing my damnedest to interview someone with Take ‘Em Down NOLA, except they decided not to come out because of the rain. Zoom, I’m at an event hosted by Lift Orleans.

Such is my whirlwind journey the last couple of weeks, bouncing from person to person and group to group through progressive activist New Orleans. Some of this I can talk about right now, while some of it remains percolating. But in this article, you will find my own informed takes on the various progressive groups in New Orleans, and good news, they’re usually looking for members.  

One of the unsung heroes of progressive New Orleans, Indivisible NOLA, wouldn’t have come into existence without Trump. That’s just a fact. I spoke to Joyce Vansean, founder and a member of the steering committee. She has a Master’s in Education from UNO. It turns out we share an unsurprising number of mutual friends.

“So for me,” she says, “The Women’s March in DC was the first protest I ever went to in my whole life. I was depressed after the election, so I went to the Women’s March, and that gave me hope, at the time, that I could turn all of my sadness into action because of that.”

She continued to research her plan but, “Then the day of the first Muslim Ban, when people were protesting at airports, I found the Indivisible Guide online and started a New Orleans Facebook group and local chapter of it, and it blew up. I had over a thousand people, like immediately, and it took over my life for about six months.”

By the end of those six months, they’d created, “A real leadership team, and had gotten into really very specific purpose and activities…and now we have over 3,000 members.”

Indivisible is not unique to New Orleans, proper. There’s also a chapter on the North Shore and another in Metairie.

Indivisible is a group with a mission:

“Indivisible NOLA promotes civic and community engagement through non-partisan, grassroots activism that centers on inclusivity and intersectional justice. We resist efforts to erode progressive momentum and the institutional framework of our democracy by amplifying the voices of those most impacted by these threats, supporting the work of established activist organizations, and demanding accountability from elected officials.“

Another section says:

“Do the work to build the blue wave. Do the work to stop Trump. Do the work to save democracy. In every congressional district in the country, people like you are doing the work and building power. As we look to November, we’ll knock doors, call our neighbors, and organize to build the blue wave and take back Congress. Join us.”

After 2016, I’m fairly jaded about a so-called “blue wave,” but if it makes them happy, it’s better than being sad.

It’s a very long but specific list of issues that Indivisible cares about, but they include: “Equal rights for women, a rational and humane approach to immigration, affordable access to quality health care, and affordable access to quality education.”

I want to give Indivisible a ton of credit. They do not exist simply as a form of protest or “resistance.” They are a group with a guide on how to run their group and how to win elections, and some branches are endorsing candidates.

I change the subject to #MeToo.

“We definitely support the #MeToo movement and other groups that organize around it…all of these things that are aligned with building equity, “#MeToo, Black Lives Matter, of course, we support,” states Vansean.

Getting to the subject I’ve had to cover no what I’ve been writing about, I ask her for Indivisible NOLA’s view on Kavanaugh, (TSFB.) She tells me about contacting John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, about protests outside their offices. She also mentions a need for an investigation—when we spoke that had not happened yet—Summing it up, she says, “We resist forcefully this nomination.”

Neither of those two gentlemen was likely to be very helpful in this instance, we laughed, BUT, she said of Kennedy, “He was helpful in the Net Neutrality vote.”

Returning to Kavanaugh, TSFB, “This nomination is very dangerous because we feel that it is the way that Republicans are going to get Roe V. Wade overturned, limit women’s access to birth control, erode civil rights…. All the progress that’s been made through the Supreme Court can be undone, by this far right, extremist judge”.

If you want to get an idea of Indivisible media style, WHIV (every Monday from 6-7 PM) and WBOK plays (12:30 AM) “Resistance Radio”.

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It’s 11:00 AM. I’ve been having a little trouble moving since I collapsed. If, in fact, it’s hunger and dehydration, and not a spiritual malfunction, I am willing to make a sacrifice. I have a job to do!

Driving around the corporate behemoth of McDonald’s, I grab 20 chicken McNuggets, a giant soda, and head to Bayou Road where it meets N. Dorgenois, creating a nice little triangle, and a sort of small socialist service station on the neutral ground.  I am surrounded by Democratic Socialists fixing brake lights. I track down Benjamin Hoffman, who has been organizing with the New Orleans branch for about a year. Gesturing around me, he points out the goings on, “My main focus is on these brake light clinics….I’m also one of three of the co-chairs of the Direct Service Committee.”

The Brake Light Clinic is an excellent example of his direct service. A lot of people right now, are campaigning door to door, others are protesting. Watching these folks just helping out, it’s really inspiring: “This project’s been going on for over a year, and it has spread to over forty chapters in the US…we hold this at the last Saturday of every month.”

Talking about his mission: “The main mission is to decrease unnecessary police stops. We feel it shouldn’t be a crime for something to be wrong with your car or be potentially put in the criminal justice system, or have to pay a ticket that you might not be able to afford, just because of a mechanical failure.”

Philando Castile had a broken brake light.

Gesturing around him, “Look how easy it is to change these brake lights. If it was just a safety issue, if this was really about a broken brake light, the police would carry a brake light changing kit.”

I ask him to sum up what his organization is about. “DSA is a national organization. We are not a political party. We are a political organization. Our goals are to build power for the working and the lower class and to take power from the largest corporations and the most powerful and wealthy people and basically give that to everybody.”

About the meetings, Hoffman says, “You don’t have to be a member in good standing to attend meetings.  All of our meetings are listed… Most of our meetings are at St. Bernard at Corpus Christi.” Specifically 2022 St. Bernard Avenue.

It’s been a trip, so far, but I like the people I’ve met, and I’m feeling a little better. Not about the McNuggets, not about TSFB, but about progressives in New Orleans intent on bending the arc of history towards justice. More, next time.

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