(Chris Chaos, AKA Christopher Lane Dennis | All photos by Eric T. Styles)
Residents gathered at the corner of Bourbon and Canal streets Saturday to protest COVID-19 restrictions that have kept some French Quarter bars and music venues shuttered since March.
About 40 people showed up at 3 p.m. near the intersection, with many wearing masks and there was even some social distancing involved. The protest was organized through a Facebook event page created by radio personality “Chris Chaos,” AKA Christopher Lane Dennis, and Shawn Williams, also a radio personality and local musician.
“I have been watching friends of mine suffer from this lockdown against tourism and the attack on music, music event(s) and music venues, clubs and bars,” Dennis said. “[The French Quarter is an] eye lash from being taken and turned into something that no one will recognize.”
The page was removed, however, for unexplained reasons shortly before the protest was to begin. Dennis said he received flak from “bullies and shamers” on social media, although he didn’t go into specifics.
The Quarter Rat reached out to Williams, but has not heard back. We will update the post when we do.
Updated, 9/25/20, 5:24 a.m. CST: Williams got back to The Quarter Rat and clarified that she did not organize the event, but was instead invited by Dennis, and backed out upon learning of his ties to a “pro freedom” radio show called Battle of New Orleans and after she experienced a backlash on social media.
“I thought people that were anti-opening up the city were just trying to detour people away from protesting, but it wasn’t that, it was Chris’ work with that show,” Williams said.
Dennis denied any allegation, claiming he and Williams were both harassed online.
“I knew the tactics that these kind of people use, the playbook has been used multiple times,” Dennis said. “No more bullying us into silence! Open the (goddamned) city already!”
Despite the turn-out, The Quarter Rat showed up with pizza boxes modified into troll meme faces to hand out to protesters, which they graciously accepted. The boxes were created by Eric T. Styles and left over from a similar event that occurred several years ago.
If you managed to get and keep a pizza box, you now have a limited-edition collector’s item.
Coronavirus-related restrictions enacted by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell in March closed indoor music venues, restaurants and bars, except for take-out only, although the latter two were allowed to open their doors as part of a phased reopening process that started in mid-May.
The closures have impacted the local hospitality and tourism industries and its workers. More than 1,700 hospitality and entertainment employees in the French Quarter were laid off since March, mostly hotel workers, according to Louisiana Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act notices.
In addition, many bartenders, restaurant staff, live musicians and other hospitality workers have lost work due to the closures.
Bars without food permits and outdoor pools were allowed to reopen with 25% capacity in mid-June when the city entered Phase 2.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order on July 11 closing bars statewide and two weeks later, on July 25, a ban on to-go alcohol issued by Cantrell went into effect following a spike in coronavirus cases, preventing some bars from operating entirely.
Cantrell announced several options for those who face financial hardships due to lost work, including access to food and medical supplies for hospitality workers, utility bill assistance, rental assistance and a $100,000 gig worker relief fund.
Several other local organizations have set up programs to support unemployed hospitality worker including, but not limited to, the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
Eric T. Styles and Todd Aurand contributed to this report.
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