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. [cont’d.]