One of the biggest protest marches since Hurricane Katrina — the Aug. 31 "second-line to Save Charity Hospital" — drew an estimated 1,000 people, according to New Orleans police Sgt. Robert Young. The procession also attracted beaucoup media coverage — at a total cost of only $750, according to protest organizer Eli Ackerman, who created the Web site www.savecharityhospital.com.
Ackerman said activists budgeted $550 for the parade, but unscheduled overtime for New Orleans police escorts resulted in preservationists, physicians and activists passing the hat for the balance. With free music by the ReBirth and Hot 8 brass bands, the march to reopen the storm-shuttered public hospital impressed some local media observers. "They got tremendous coverage and it was all free," says Larry Lorenz, the A. Louis Read Distinguished Professor of Mass Communications at Loyola University. "Airtime and print space do not come cheap." Cheron Brylski, who owns a public relations agency, agreed. "For $750, you could get a zoned quarter-page ad in The Times-Picayune or two 30-second ads on WWL-TV's morning news or one day of radio ads," Brylski said. "The march resonated with people, culturally."
The second-line parade attracted coverage from three of four local television stations, three radio outlets, Gambit, The Louisiana Weekly and nola.com, Ackerman said, adding, "The Times-Picayune ran a big photo but not an article. There also is a ton of photography and video making its way onto Twitter, Facebook and into our email inbox."
The modestly budgeted parade-protest also stole the media spotlight from Gov. Bobby Jindal and supporters of the proposed, $1.2 billion LSU/ Veterans Administration replacement hospital. Attorney Mary Howell said pro-Charity activists have not given up the fight against the LSU-backed plan, which boasts support from state and local politicos. "There's a difference when (public support) comes from the heart instead of the pocketbook," said Howell, an organizer of the march. — Allen Johnson Jr.