Chanting “We demand a moral budget,” three dozen protesters with the Poor People’s Campaign blocked a downtown Baton Rouge intersection for about 15 minutes Monday afternoon.
Nine protesters were arrested by Capitol Police and taken to the state Department of Public Safety's station behind the State Capitol. The group had a lawyer on hand.
The first person arrested was Ken Broussard, of Lafayette, who also was ejected from the Capitol last week for disrupting the state Senate proceedings.
Can't see video below? Click here.
“The budget that passed and the governor vetoed, still stripped and hurt the poor people most,” Broussard said before the rally. “What, no food stamp program?”
He added, “We are calling for the budget to be fully funded and for the Legislature to find revenue.”
Broussard, a former high school teacher who is retired, said being arrested will “call attention and change the dialogue here.”
They blocked 4th Street, which leads to the State Capitol, at North Street, along which several state agencies have their offices.
Can't see video below? Click here.
State workers from the Louisiana Department of Health and the state Department of Children and Family Services poured out of their offices to watch the scene.
The nine arrested were taken to the Department of Public Safety’s office behind the State Capitol, charged with obstructing public passage and released, said Mary Yanik, senior staff attorney for New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. They will be expected to return for an as-yet to be scheduled hearing before the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. The misdemeanor carries a fine of not more than $500 or up to six months in jail or both.
The Louisiana Poor People’s campaign is part of a national effort – similar protests were scheduled to take place at 35 state capitols – and was called to highlight voter suppression of African Americans and the poor. It is patterned after the Poor People’s March on Washington in May and June 1968, which was organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and after his assassination, was carried out by the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
"It's unfortunate that we haven't made any progress since Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign. In fact we've taken a few steps back," said Harold John, of New Orleans, one the nine arrested. "I think poor people are feeling that no one cares about them, so I think it's incumbent on those of us who do have a platform to speak up on their behalf."
Before the march, Louisiana protesters spent about 45 minutes outside the State Capitol Monday listening to speakers criticize Israeli border action, racism and what they view as tone deaf state lawmakers when it comes to state budget priorities. The group demanded an end to gerrymandering, which protects incumbents by ensuring their districts overwhelmingly include like-minded voters, and a demand for a higher minimum wage.
But in Louisiana, the budget is still a major issue, said Ben Zucker, of New Orleans, a member of the protest. Legislators last week passed a $27 billion operating budget with deep cuts to state services, which Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed late Friday night. Lawmakers are reconvening in a special session Tuesday to grapple with Louisiana's $648 million shortfall for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The state budget, as passed by the Legislature, disproportionately burdens the state's poorest disenfranchised citizens by dramatically cutting basic and essential services, Zucker said.
"We have more than enough resources to help the folks in our state, but instead we spend so much money on prisons that do not rehabilitate, high rises that people cannot afford to buy, and giving tax cuts to the wealthiest businesses that create fake job growth,” said Jasmine Bogue, a protestor from Baton Rouge.
Leaders also vowed to make their presence known when the Legislature starts the special session.
Will Sentell of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report