Every year in February or March, New Orleans holds its Mardi Gras, an affair of floats and alcohol, where flashing your breasts earns a handful of shiny beads.
Each parade group is called a Krewe, many of which are named after the Greek Gods. Naturally it was the Krewe of Eris that got my attention.
New Orleans was a dead loss for me in trying to find interview subjects. I couldn’t secure any interviews with members of the Krewe. The person listed as the “media spokesperson” of the Eris Solidarity Crew never responded to my requests for interviews or questions other than a four word reply of “not sure if possible.” He did add me to Facebook however, without explaining who he was, then failed to reply to any of my Facebook messages other than to volunteer at one point that he was too busy dealing with an oncoming hurricane to reply to me. It had been now several months since then so I can only assume that he’s preparing very thoroughly.
What Google and email did not provide me with though, the Goddess did. Josh, who I met in San Francisco, was involved with the parade. As he began to tell me about the event I mentioned that I had been trying to get onto someone about it.
“Good luck,” he said, with a tone that implied I’d need it.
“They’re banned now, can’t even do anything,” he told me, “after what happened two years ago.” He’s been coming to Eris marches for seven years, and every year they get shut down, which he describes as tragically awesome.
The parade came to life in 2005 when it was founded by Ms. Lateacha and Lord Willin; previously members of the Krewe du Poux, who felt they had outgrown their previous group. The Krewe is as much about ideology as aesthetic. While other Krewes are prohibitively expensive to join in, or simply closed to new members, Eris is free, open, and the costumes and floats are all made by the participants. The “Eris Song” was written by a musician called JR who also taught would-be band members to play in the weeks leading to the parade.
While all Krewes are required by law to obtain a permit in order to march, the Krewe of Eris have consistently refused to make requests for permits, preferring instead to express their freedom by marching without permission. The parade is seen by many as an actively anti-authoritarian reclamation of space.
This anti-authoritarianism plays in significantly to the reasons I am unable to get an interview with anyone in New Orleans, Josh explains.
“The anarchist movement is closely aligned with—you might as well call it the Anarchist parade. That’s really what it is,” he tells me.
2006 the theme was Noveaux Limbeaux (welcome to Limbo), capturing the uncertainty that pervaded the city in the wake of the floods.
In 2007 the theme was Planet Eris.
In 2008 the theme was “The swarm,” which included many insect costumes and a 15 foot paper mache decomposing dog carcass that emitted smoke.
In 2009 the theme was The Feast of the Appetites.
In 2010 the theme was Desire and Light.
In 2011 the theme was Mutagenesis, a criticism of the recent BP oil spill environmental disaster, and featured a 60 person marching band. Erisians dressed as water creatures whose environment had been disturbed by the incident. It was here that things got loose. Reports go from pure, unprovoked police brutality, to reckless vandalism and disruption from Krewe members. By some accounts, participants were jumping on cars, throwing rubbish bins and painting cocks on things. Users commenting on websites often jumped to the defense of one party or the other. One one page, user Triangletess claims that they have photos of ten cars graffitied, keyed, or that have hoods damaged by stomping. Another, Leeandra saw a group ahead of the parade smashing bottles, setting off car alarms, and smashing bottles in the street.
The police intervened with the traditional NOPD restraint and sensitivity. By the end of the parade many marchers had been arrested, sprayed with pepper spray, hit with batons or tasered. Brass instruments were damaged, by some accounts, on purpose. Twelve people were arrested. One person filming the events had their phone flung from their hand by members of the police. Another blog claimed to witness police trying to bait a young man into attacking them, and when he wouldn’t, hit him with batons anyway. Another source claims that members of the police force were equally appalled with police behavior, including a failure to see to the injuries of an arrested man. The claims on the blogspot page for the legal defense of the twelve individuals arrested add to this that some of their number were beaten so badly they were hospitalized. The police in turn had tires slashed on their cruisers, and one allegedly was hit in the forehead by a brick. Six officers required medical attention.
Josh talked me through the events.
“It almost looked like a protest, everyone started getting up on the cars. I remember we were outside The Marigny, just outside the French Quarter, we we jumping, we were destroying, because we were outside this restaurant, peoples faces were just like (shows expression). There were 300 of us, maybe not 300 maybe like 250 that year, and they’re just destroying the fucking cars, oh my God! Then once we got to the quarter which was about 7 blocks later—I think we had three marching bands that year, but as soon as we got there, like 100 cop cars just like ‘you need to disperse,’ and so they kept kicking them back to the Marigny, and that’s when things escalated. Started setting fires and throwing—lighting garbage cans on fire, and trying to block the streets, and cops have guns and tasers—”
“Push then back to the Marigny?” I asked.
“Yeah, push them back, the parade always starts right on the Marigny, right on the cusp of the train tracks, and they’re trying to push them back—out of the French Quarter, trying to keep the French Quarter—you know, it’s Marti Gras. But things went horribly that year. I had one friend, she got batoned in the head a couple of times, and she was just watching. But every year it got chaotic. It was two years ago. It was rough.”
In 2012, the theme was “The Trickster’s Ball.” In place of a marching band, was recorded music. The band themselves played at a nearby ball instead. Founders Ms. Lateacha and Lord Willin were not involved. The stated aspiration was to be non-violent and non-destructive.
“Last year they went from Marigny but they marched like two blocks and then they went to a safe house real quick,” Josh told me.
The theme of 2013 was Eris Dawns.
Krewe Member Victor Pizzaro, has publicly indicated that the parade may look at applying for a permit in the future.
Four of the twelve individuals arrested faced municipal court. They were supported by the law offices of law offices of Miles W. Swanson. Four of the revelers were given fines and suspended sentences. One, William Watkins III, was given a jail term of 45 days. Two failed to appear at court.
Member Damien Weaver was awaiting an October 20 ruling on if police violated his right to due process by preventing or destroying video evidence. I’ve been unable to find the result of that ruling.
A 2011 Justice Department review of the NOPD following the Krewe of Eris incident found that the NOPD habitually used excessive force.
Article Edited: 28/01/2017.