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Occupy NOLA Has 2 Words for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the National Football League: Our Streets!

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Remember this day! The ACLU defends Occupy NOLA member’s plans to hold signs in the Clean Zone.

“Money is not more important than constitutional rights, despite what Clean Zone would indicate.”

“Your Tax Dollars Working to Help the Rich Get Richer”

“Super Bowl XLVII – Sponsored by Corporate Greed”

Under the Clean Zone Ordinance and Guide established by the City of New Orleans, holding banners and signs with the above slogans in the Clean Zone during Super Bowl week would have been prohibited and punishable by a $500 fine and 6 months in jail.

Because no members of Occupy The Stage (or Occupy NOLA) are official NFL sponsors, and none of our proposed signs, flags, or banners contain any NFL branding, one of us asked the Court to intervene preenforcement and protect the First Amendment Rights of the citizens of New Orleans.

Occupy The Stage refused to stand by and watch this violation of citizens’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  Moreover, the Clean Zone, which included most of the CBD, all of the French Quarter, most of the Marigny and many of the surrounding neighborhoods is traditionally a public forum.   The streets, along Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s imaginary “Verizon Super Bowl Boulevard,” belong to the people of New Orleans.  The City, through the Clean Zone Ordinance and Guide, had effectively established two classes of speech: permitted NFL-branded speech and excluded non-NFL-branded speech. This censorship was simply unacceptable. Moreover, the Supreme Court has noted, “the loss of First Amendment freedoms, even for minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976). The National Football League’s attempt to control the content of signs and other public media in the Clean Zone is not in the public interest, despite Mayor Landrieu’s claim that Clean Zone Ordinances would enhance the quality of life. One need only visit the Super Bowl Hosting Committee’s website to learn about “Verizon Super Bowl Boulevard.” NFL branding has already invaded the city.

Members of OTS discussed the Clean Zone’s obvious violation of our First Amendment rights at an January 8th Occupy NOLA General Assembly; we proposed outreach and action, including  making our own mobile signs in the form of T-shirts since mobile signage attached to one’s person is prohibited in the Clean Zone.   We stenciled, cut, painted, and wore our “This Shirt Is Illegal” T-shirts, spreading awareness about the Clean Zone regulations.

After attending a community meeting about zoning, we got in contact with the ACLU, eager to discuss this obvious violation of the right to free speech.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana behalf of an Occupy activist and a street preacher, on January 24, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted in part a temporary restraining order. The The City wants nothing to do with this case, and has offered some pretty tremendous concessions in order to get rid of the activist and the preacher (plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit).

On January 24, 2013, the Clean Zone got a little smaller.

The Temporary Restraining Order limits the Clean Zone to an area near the Superdome, where the game will be played Feb. 3. Banners, flags and signs without NFL branding are permitted in the French Quarter, the Marigny, and the whole CBD south of Loyola.

“Even the Super Bowl isn’t an excuse to suspend the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman in a statement. “The founders of our country didn’t intend our rights to be suspended for a football game” The Gambit reporter Charles Maldonado quotes in ACLU sues city over Super Bowl “Clean Zone” UPDATE: Judge grants temporary restraining order, city can only enforce signage bans directly around Superdome.

The ACLU of Louisiana’s suit against the City of New Orleans was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans. Copies of the Complaint and related documents are linked below.

The City has currently offered some tremendous concessions in order to get rid of the lawsuit. They will amend the ordinance to reflect that all of its provisions apply only to commercial speech. The ACLU of Louisiana explained described the Plaintiff, Tara Jill Ciccarone, as “ideal” because she wanted to protest in the “Clean Zone” (or anywhere illegal). She would not have been able to work with the ACLU without the support of members of Occupy The Stage, who were eager to form a human billboard with her but were unwilling to get arrested.

This is a big victory, but not a complete one.  Issues at stake include:

  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Unfair Restrictions on Taxi Drivers
  • Mardi Gras Krewes Losing Money Due to Super Bowl! The thousands of dollars some Mardi Gras krewes are losing because Mayor Landrieu has  “asked” them to parade a week early so that “the focus stays on football”, and the $300 million renovation Michael Patrick Welch describes in  “How the Super Bowl Screws New Orleans
  • 6 Million Tax Dollars at Work! Even more disturbing is the 6 Million Louisiana tax dollars that were spent by the Super Bowl Host Committee to divert attention away from New Orleans’ problems and make sure the world sees NFL branding. “In order to fulfill all of the obligations of the bid, the Host Committee needs to raise $12 Million through public and private sources; $6 Million publicly from the State of Louisiana, and $6 Million through private corporation sponsorship.” ~ New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee
    The Host Committee explains that a portion of this money will be spend on “Recruiting and managing 8500 volunteers [UNPAID WORKERS] for Super Bowl week” Call the here: 504-525-5678
  • NFL’s  non-profit status Despite the fact that it is a $9Billion/Year Industry, the NFL Commissioner and Owners continue to enjoy status as a non-profit organization.
  • Petitioning Congress Congress: Revoke the Tax-Exempt Status of the National Football League

Occupy The Stage will see you in the clean zone from January 28th until February 4th.

Expect us.


Supporting documents:

Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans – Complaint

Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans – Memorandum for TRO

Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans – Exhibit 1 – Ordinance

Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans – Exhibit 2 – Guide

Photo by jdlasica under Creative Commons license

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