Today at 1pm, the first parade of the season is set to go off same as years prior now that the City has temporarily backed off of its recent threat to cite unlicensed vendors at the second lines. Negotiated by the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force, the City’s advisor on Cultural Economy Scott Hutcheson has agreed to suspend enforcement at today's Valley of Silent Men parade. While its unclear for now how long the suspension will last, Task Force President Tamara Jackson says her organization is working with the City via Hutcheson to find a solution to allow vendors to continue working the parades. “He and staff are coming out (today) to get an idea how the parades navigates so they can think about how to enforce. He’s never been to a parade and I’m gonna be with him, showing him how everything goes.”
This effort to negotiate on behalf of second line parade vendors is just one of several initiatives the Task Force is working on to help build bridges between the social aid and pleasure clubs, local government and the rest of the city.
In previous years, the Task Force board was comprised solely of members of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club community. This year however, the board sought to include members outside of the SAPC community to help them expand across race and community lines and broaden their appeal to a larger audience. In place now for three months, the new board is comprised parading members as well as of a sundry of professionals that include a civil rights attorney, an event planner, a CPA and a photographer. Most readily recognizable is former councilman Oliver Thomas who is helping advise the Task Force on negotiations with the City on various fronts including enforcement of vendor ordinances.
Jackson says she first learned about the vendor issue when she was contacted by the NOPD who reported that several Uptown neighborhood associations were complaining about the trash left behind by the second lines and the accompanying unlicensed vendors, the latter being seen as cutting into the profits of bars and convenience stores along the parade routes. The City says it has a duty to protect business owners interest. But the current laws that exist for street vendors were not crafted with the second line parade model in mind. Jackson explains, “Mobile trucks can’t follow the parade, they must be stationary. And they have to have running water. We have vendors that sell BBQ off the trucks and we know they don’t have running water. The walking permit used for Mardi Gras vendors was offered as an alternative. But they have to go two blocks ahead of the parade. Our vendors usually follow us - they’re not in the front.”
“I agree it should be contained and controlled but I don’t think it should be totally taken off second line route, says Jackson. “Many (vendors) use vending as a source to supplement their income; some are club members that use this as a source to supplement their club income.” Nonetheless, the Task Force president says she’s encouraged. “I feel like the City is really trying to work with the cultural community to make sure that our culture is not negatively impacted by the administration’s changes.”
Another focus of the Task Force is their public safety initiative. In the past year, the parading community was heavily impacted by violence. Jackson rattles off a list of community members recently impacted by murder: “Yarnell Dorsey of the ‘Single Ladies’, her brother was murdered; Brandon Franklin from TBC (brass band); Richard Anderson from the ‘Single Men’ had a nephew murdered in Central City; (rapper) Magnolia Shorty was ‘Miss VIP’; ‘Divine Ladies’ member Valerie West lost her son; Jeremy Galmon was the son of an ‘Uptown Swingers’ member.”
“The Task Force has to step the game up,” says Jackson. “Some incidents happened on route of travel of the parades and it was attached to the culture. We cannot afford it. Our culture is under attack by government leaders. The African American community is most impacted by violence. So our theme this year is ‘Second Line for Peace’ and we’re declaring the parade route as ‘sacred ground’. We’re asking the community, bar owners, and neighbors to be supportive. Please do not use our event to settle scores. We’re willing to go in neighborhoods beforehand and, if there are issues, we’re willing to help with that.”
Other proactive measures to prevent violence include the Task Force meeting with police prior to the parades to identify what can be done to have a safer second line. “Commanders in the neighborhoods (with second line clubs) will work with us. Sixth District Captain Bardy is good about ID’ing hot spots. If something is going on in that district, he might change our route a little to make sure the route is safe.”
In addition, the Task Force has for several years now co-hosted peace marches with the anti-violence organization ‘Silence Is Violence’. The parades generally run an hour long in a neighborhood that is hosting an upcoming parade and features a brass band to help memorialize victims of violence in that community.
“Based on the responses we gotten from the community, I think it helps build relationships between the police and the community. Its an opportunity for people to meet the officers and for the officers to support the community, (provides) an opportunity to talk to each other. It also allows us to share with community the evolution of our organization and history of our culture and to know our position that we are not in support of violence.”
The first SA&PC Task Force peace march will be held September 4th on behalf of the Young Male Olympians Social Aid and Pleasure Club. For a list of dates and routes for upcoming peace marches, go to www.silenceisviolence.org