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New Orleans settles Super Bowl "Clean Zone" lawsuit

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Karen Dalton-Beninato, co-founder of the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, emailed the Daily Dot to share a story about the Clean Zone, a free speech-free zone set up in New Orleans for the Super Bowl—limiting the right to post signs and fly flags to the NFL and its sponsors—and fought against by Occupy and Anonymous.

“We just walked the Quarter and the hustlers are omnipresent,” she said. “Just saw a guy in front of ESPN's Jax Brewery set in full ‘U.S. Fun Police’ uniform. It's a hustle where they give you tickets for having enough fun then try to get a tip. Told him he was very close to the Clean Zone and he said thanks and skedaddled.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of several plaintiffs, including an Occupy member, and last week the judge overseeing the case put a restraining order in place that pushed the parts of the city subject to the zone back to the area around the Superdome.

Yesterday, the city and the plaintiffs reached an agreement that will last through the Super Bowl on February 3. There will be no restrictions of any kind on any non-commercial speech, including banners, anywhere in the city, according to coverage of the suit by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

But the Clean Zone still applies to any commercial speech, and it has been restored to its original, extremely expansive area, encompassing the Central Business District, the Marigny and the French Quarter.

And the whole thing has left a bad taste behind in the mouths of New Orleanians.

“It's another attempt to reign in some more un-city permitted activities,” New Orleans guitar player and Dr. John sideman John Fohl told the Daily Dot.

“The city is big on that now. Clubs have to have music licenses, dudes selling beer and mixed drinks and bar-b-que out of their pick-ups at second lines have to get vendor permits, etc. These things tend to favor the more established and better connected... This same behavior has been going on here since the city's founding in the early 18th century. Of the literally hundreds of times the more established and better connected have tried to regulate trade like this, they keep having to do it over and over because nobody's paying any mind.”

New Orleans musician and producer Quickie Mart agrees that the problem is perennial.

“New Orleans was born of prostitutes and pirates,” he told the Daily Dot. “I don't expect its politicians of today to be any greater than that of its past. Louisiana's corrupt government will get in bed with any company as long as the price is right, and the NFL is no exception. It doesn't surprise me and neither does the lack of local outrage with such a blatant attack on our civil rights as ‘free’ Americans. New Orleans civilians have become a society of fatalists that have adapted a ‘never mind, no matter’ approach to all of the pink elephants that exist down here, and to me, this is no different. The establishment of the ‘cleanzone’ is to falsify the notion that the NFL is ‘sharing New Orleans with the world’ when it in truth is whoring out the culture, entrepreneurs, and citizens like cheap prostitution.”

The grassroots group Occupy, in conjunction with the established ACLU, struck back against one such attempt to govern in the interest of a large commercial concern (and its defenders would point out, in favor of the economic in-flow such a group can bring to a city). Its success, though limited, temporary and conflicted, was in the end a success, however qualified.

But although the rest of the world may not be a fatalistic (or as fun) as our brethren and sistren down at the logical conclusion of the Mississippi’s argument, no one can believe that dinging one oil tanker heralds the end of drilling. Perhaps that is a little cynical. If so, a beer and a band will take the edge off. That may be New Orleans’s biggest lesson.

Photo by Tom Pumphret/Flickr