Senator John Neely Kennedy's photograph peered out sheepishly from the side of a super-sized cardboard milk carton in front of the Hale Boggs Federal Building Sunday afternoon. "MISSING," said the legend above the photo.
The milk carton was constructed by Step Up Louisiana
, one of several progressive groups who co-organized the protest March 5 to highlight what they say has been a lack of communication and response from the just-elected senator, especially about his position on high-priority issues such as the protection of the Affordable Care Act and the Trump's administration's moves to restrict immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
"You are missing and you are making bad decisions while in office," Step Up Louisiana co-director Maria Harmon said, addressing the absent Kennedy. "We don't serve [legislators]. They serve us."
In front of a group of about 50 people, Harmon called for Kennedy to hold town halls in the state and to open and staff local offices and respond to constituent inquiries. She said Kennedy's office had not responded to outreach about today's event.
Event speakers highlighted a drumbeat of familiar concerns to those following the so-called "resistance" to the Trump administration, but focused on how Kennedy could address their fears. Local entrepreneur Lelia Gowland took the mic to share a personal story about how the Affordable Care Act allowed her and her husband to operate their own businesses and plan for a family without fear of becoming uninsured. She was anxious to hear about Kennedy's position on Louisiana's recent Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Rosalind Blanco Cook, representing the traditionally nonpartisan League of Women Voters, called on Kennedy to reverse a disturbing trend of legislators avoiding their constituents
. She evoked the 50th anniversary of clashes over the Civil Rights movement in Selma, Alabama, and said the League wants to prevent hard-fought voting rights from being rolled back. Several other speakers urged Kennedy to condemn racism, xenophobia and hate crimes, including recent bomb threats to the Jewish Community Center
and assaults on Muslims and other immigrants
Event participants held signs on a variety of themes. One woman's sign featured a series of matryoshka
dolls and called for the senator's support of S.B. 27, which proposes an independent investigation into possible Russian meddling in the recent presidential election. She also brought the sign to Senator Bill Cassidy's recent, disastrous Metairie town hall
Chris Benz, a property manager and former educator, showed up to Sunday's event feeling frustrated with the runaround he says he's received from the senator's office. He says staffers who answer the phone make excuses about the senator's and top aides' availability and don't respond to requests for proof of actions on issues, like signed statements or votes. He got so irritated with the lack of response that he made a Facebook page about it
and made a live broadcast in which he drove by the senator's North Shore home.
Harmon, the Step Up Louisiana co-director, says Kennedy's not too busy to confirm Trump cabinet appointees, but so far has failed to make time to meet with his constituents.
"If Cassidy can do it, why can't he?" she said. "All we can do is keep applying pressure."