Demonstrators demanding congressional legislation on unemployment protest outside U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy’s office Sept. 1. (Photo provided by Step Up Louisiana)
Orville Lowery, 69, a self-described “country boy from Arkansas” is no stranger to protest and activism. In the 1960s, he protested against segregation and Jim Crow laws. In the 70s, he protested the Vietnam War. And today, he says that fight is against the government’s inaction in the face of a pandemic.
“I always hated bullies,” Lowery said. “And this economy, this virus, this system of governance, it’s all a bully. And I don’t like it, and I’m going to express my displeasure.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, 10 unemployed workers were detained by the New Orleans Police Department after they stopped traffic by sitting on Poydras outside of U.S. Sen. N. John Kennedy’s office in downtown New Orleans. The 10 were demanding that Congress pass legislation to help unemployed Americans. According to a press release from Unite Here, a hospitality and restaurant workers union in New Orleans, such legislation is crucial “while rent is due, food needs to be put on the table, and basic expenses have to be met.”
“We need to stand up,” Lowery said the day after last week’s protest. “If we don’t express our rights, it’s cowardice. You have to be willing to sacrifice something in order to be willing to make a point.”
“It’s not like I’m a street warrior or anything, if I feel like I need to say something, I don’t mind saying it,” Lowery said. “I just came here as a citizen really. And most of the time, I just muster up enough courage to say something.”
Mandi Wood, an active member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union for theater production workers, helped organize the Poydras Street protest.
Wood was designing the lighting for Loyola University New Orleans’ rendition of “Cabaret” in the spring when the production was cancelled because of COVID-19. She has been laid off since then.
She said Americans are struggling to put food on the table and pay rent and that expressing her anger at the government for ignoring their plight “worth being arrested for.”
“Folks are starving and dying because they don’t have these benefits,” Wood said. “The best I can do is help to put pressure on these politicians that are supposed to prevent these things from happening.”
Step Up Louisiana, an organization for ”for economic and education justice in the South,” also helped organize the protest.
According to a press release from the group, activists in 24 cities across the country staged protests Sept. 1
“Senator Kennedy, do your job! Senator (Bill) Cassidy, do your damn job!” Juan Cruz, a Step Up Louisiana member said. “It is a serious struggle. This isolation and quarantine that we have been in. I’ve been reading the press and I’m weary. But this has energized me! This has pissed me off.”
The activists who blocked traffic on Poydras Street were not arrested by NOPD but were issued summonses to appear in court.
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