All photos by L. Kasimu Harris.
Tiffany, a hair salon owner from Slidell, Louisiana, explains between drags from her cigarette that she sees herself in Donald Trump.
“I’m that type with nothing to hide,” she says. “I am so jazzed to see him.”
Tiffany stamps out her smoke as we board a charter bus shuttling rally-goers from a faraway parking lot to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport’s main hanger. The crowded cabin is surprisingly quiet as we ride past a tarmac full of private jets and commuter flights. Outside, a man hawking roadside Trump memorabilia turns around to grab more supplies from a crate, revealing a shirt back that reads, “Finally, Someone with balls.” We disembark the bus and part ways—the majority heading towards the line for the metal detectors while I and a few sheepish others walk farther down the avenue towards the Speed Racer gas station and convenience store. The top of a tuba peaks above the hood of a parked car in the distance.
Apart from an occasional flurry of warmup horn notes, it’s just as expectant and muted amidst the protestors. People admire one another’s picket signs and costumes, snap photos of the scene, and text latecomers the location of the second line parade’s starting point. Quay Frazier goes over last minute route changes with two other men while cradling a saxophone slung around his neck.
“It started out as a joke, but…if you can’t denounce the KKK, then you’re against me, you know?” he says.
Frazier moved from Arizona to study music at the University of New Orleans ten years ago, and has lived here ever since. He, along with friends Etienne Stoufflet and Travis Laurendine, organized the event practically on a whim, but were surprised by the instant support and enthusiasm.
“It’s been remarkable. The day after I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real,’” remembers Frazier.
Traditional New Orleans second line parades are often associated with jazz funeral processions, during which initial dirge music makes way for quicker, more joyful standards. The event is rarely if ever employed for political or protest reasons, a fact that’s not lost on Quay and the other bandleaders.
“To a lot of New Orleans jazz musicians it didn’t make sense, because we use it for celebration. But in terms of what we can do, it’s worse to just say nothing,” he says. “This is what I can do—walk down the street and play some good music to show that this kind of hate speech is not going to affect us.”
For Frazier and the others, Donald Trump’s message doesn’t simply ring hollow, it ignores the foundations of the country’s culture.
“Jazz music controls everything here. This is black American music. This created America.”
“We should get going. Tim has a gig at 5:30,” another musician informs Frazier as a snare drum counts off the first song while the protestors cheer the start of their trek back towards the rally.
In New Orleans a proper second line occupies at least one lane of traffic, with commuters expected to wait out the dancing, singing attendees. Friday afternoon’s rush hour is no exception, although drivers seem less annoyed than perplexed at encountering a parade this far outside of the city proper. The crowd, now well over one hundred, turns onto the main drag, the rally’s neutral zone now in sight. New Orleans police run their sirens in quick, staccato wails, directing stragglers to stay off the main road, but the band keeps its tempo all the same.
As the group coalesces under tree shade, rally attendees waiting in the security lines stare onward, most of their expressions masked by sunglasses blocking the dusk glare. A few stop on their way into the hangar, pausing to tap toes and nod heads along with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A small woman in a white pants suit and pearls, her bleach blonde hair immaculately curled, smiles at the protestors chanting, “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA.” A college student waves a fuchsia poster in our direction. We don’t build walls. We build levees.
“It’s very entertaining,” Dani, the woman in the pearls, observes. She, like Slidell Tiffany, supports Trump all the way, but only recently. “I was never a big fan until this past year,” she says. Dani works in the pharmaceutical industry, and explains that she sees firsthand the mismanagement, price gouging, and rampant unethicality. “He’s the only one promising to fix the sector, and I think that’s very important. Now, I don’t agree with what he said last night,” she clarifies, referring to Thursday’s Republican debate during which Mr. Trump assured voters his penis size was “not a problem.”
“He’s got to reign it in, but I like that he’s so unpredictable.”
We watch the brass band form a dance circle, with protestors taking turns dancing across a t-shirt featuring the Republican frontrunner’s face. I ask Dani what she thinks of the second line.
“It’s so interesting to have the band. It’s so New Orleans, you know? This wouldn’t be anything without it. They have the right to do this, just as I have the right to see Mr. Trump. I’m open to them if they’re open to me.”
Raised voices float above the music and drumming from a few feet away. An African American woman sporting a “Make America Great Again” cap points at a dreadlocked man giving her the middle finger.
“Give me one solid thing about Trump being a racist,” she shouts. “One solid thing.”
The man rolls his eyes.
“This is like some Twilight Zone shit,” his friend mutters nearby as they walk away.
“What people don’t understand is that this is still a white man’s country,” the woman, Monica, tells me. “Forty-three Presidents, they all white. Bill Clinton was more black than Obama to me.”
Monica remembers earlier in the week when she tried to get medication for her son with autism, only to find that the drug wasn’t covered under Medicaid any longer.
“I went to Walmart, and I done spent three hundred dollars. And I’m broke…We ants on an ant pile, that’s how tiny we are to them. I’m born and raised Ninth Ward, and you know no ward goes harder than the Ninth Ward.”
She looks back at the second line attendees.
“They’re idiots. Let me tell you about that. You know about the second line? They leave their marijuana cigarettes all over the place. They piss and shit all over our plants. They enjoy themselves, but afterwards, we don’t enjoy ourselves. So guess what, I’m kinda over the second line.”
Before leaving for the rally, she tells the small crowd now gathered around her that she doesn’t worry if Trump is racist.
“At this point, I don’t even care. There’s so much other shit going on with them immigrants. It’s out of control. The Mexicans in the hood, the government don’t even get it. They don’t even get that.”
The buses have stopped the shuttle service, so both rally goers and protestors have to walk the half mile back to the parking lot together. The breeze shifts, and the music fades away, replaced by another voice.
“Wow. This is amazing. Thank you. What a crowd.”
In the distance, through the hangar’s open doors, Trump waves to his supporters. His private jet is parked outside the terminal, its engine turbines slowing down. No one outside heard his arrival over the music.
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