As temperatures reached above 100 degrees, Nana Anoa Nantambu sang from a microphone to a growing crowd at Congo Square. Hundreds of people sang along as she led them through "we're gonna stand" and replaced "this little light of mine" with "standing for justice and freedom."
Rev. Marie Galatas asked the crowd to bow its head and pray in silence for Heather Heyer, the woman killed by in Charlottesville, Virginia, during protests against neo-Nazis and fascists rallying in the city to support a Robert E. Lee monument.
On Aug 19, hundreds of people in New Orleans gathered to honor Heyer and victims of attacks in Charlottesville and also challenge city leaders to reconsider Jim Crow-era landmarks with a renewed call for their removal, particularly as the city begins to celebrate its tricentennial. Take 'Em Down NOLA - the latest incarnation of local activists and civil rights advocates demanding the removal of Confederate monuments - organized the Charlottesville solidarity march from Congo Square in Armstrong Park to Jackson Square.
"To the people of Charlottesville, we stand with them," said Take 'Em Down NOLA organizer Malcolm Suber from the steps across from Jackson Square, "and we stand against oppression, we stand against exploitation, and we stand against racism."
Suber reminded the crowd of the significance of the slave trade in the French Quarter where he stood, where people were "kidnapped and sold like used cars."
"That man, Andrew Jackson, was one of the largest slaveholders, and we should do nothing to honor him," Suber said. "We must challenge our friends and neighbors that we, going into our third century, go in without white supremacy, without racism."
[content-1]Take 'Em Down NOLA galvanized local activist groups as city officials prepared to remove four Confederate landmarks, but the group pressed City Hall to look to a list of more than 100 other memorials - from statues to street names - bearing the names of Confederates and slaveholders. "People have been doing this work in New Orleans for a long time," Take 'Em Down NOLA organizer Angela Kinlaw said from Congo Square. "There have been decades of resistance in this place. ... We need to know this history."
Organizer Michael "Quess?" Moore, in laying out rules for safety and how demonstrators can look out for each other, said counter protesters aren't prepared to face or understand intersectionality and the diversity among the demonstrators in the wake of Charlottesville. "They thought this was black versus white. It's actually 'everybody against you, because you suck.'" he said. "Don't engage these clowns."
"It's about us engaging with us," Kinlaw said. "Some people say, 'You're preaching to the choir.' We go a little deeper. We need the choir to practice the things they sing about. ... It's not until the choir steps out the church and the temple and walks and demonstrates their commitments to their beliefs."
This week, Take 'Em Down NOLA unveiled an ordinance it plans to propose to the New Orleans City Council "mandating the removal of white supremacist, Confederate and racist memorials."
Following Charlottesville, cities across the U.S. have moved quickly to remove Confederate memorials and Jim Crow-era landmarks, the existence of which recently attracted national attention as New Orleans spent more than two years debating their public placement in the city. Civil rights activists have called for their removal for decades, but a renewed effort from Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2015 and subsequent votes from the New Orleans City Council and city commissions sought their removal over several weeks earlier this year.
Meanwhile, as New Orleans demonstrators prepared to march through the French Quarter, Boston police estimated 40,000 protesters took to the streets in that city, vastly outnumbering a group of white supremacists who planned to rally there.
"It's our time to take a stand," Suber said. "It's our time to say these racist, white supremacist fascists do not represent the goodwill of the people of this country. We have to carry out our part."
[content-2]On Aug, 18, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) announced traffic advisories for the French Quarter "in response to planned protest activity" and reminded demonstrators that "firearms and masks are prohibited at protest events. Those found to be in violation will be placed under arrest and charged appropriately."
Only a small handful of counter protesters - some armed and wearing camouflage flak jackets and helmets - stood behind barricades on Decatur Street outside Jackson Square. According to NOPD, they "responded to police warnings and moved the firearms."
At the protest, NOPD made no arrests and reported "no major violence" after demonstrators left the area. NOPD on horseback separated shouting matches.
In a statement to Gambit Aug. 18, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Press Secretary Erin Burns said, "We respect our citizens' constitutional right to assemble and exercise free speech, and we ask that any public demonstrations remain peaceful and respectful. NOPD will be present and is well trained to use the highest standards to protect people and property while ensuring the law is followed. They will continue to take necessary precautions to ensure public safety."
Two days after refusing to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists who organized in Charlottesville Aug. 12, President Donald Trump said "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups" are "repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But during a contentious press conference this week, he blamed "both sides" for the violence - in which Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove through a crowd, injuring 19 others - and asked whether the "alt-left" has "any semblance of guilt." On Twitter this week, he also condemned the removal of Confederate monuments
The crowd in New Orleans moved through the French Quarter chanting "no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA." Across from Jackson Square, hundreds of people waved signs and cheered for speakers - which included hospitality workers, cab drivers, and a Native American woman who spoke against Jackson and his role in the Indian Removal Act - who huddled on the steps, each one filled with demonstrators.
Kinlaw urged NOPD to keep counter protesters at bay. "We've never been out here to do damage to human life," she said. "But unfortunately, white supremacists always want to use threats of violence. ... I promise you, police, we're not the problem today." [content-3]