On June 6, the City Council reviewed and approved the “clean zone” for Essence Fest. Much like Germany’s “purity law” (which governs the brewing of beer in Bavaria), “clean zone” has an ominous ring to it. “Clean zones” refer to designated areas around festivals or sporting events (such as French Quarter Fest, or the upcoming 2025 Super Bowl) where street vending is strictly limited in order to privilege event-approved vendors. However, “clean zones” have grown in the last few years to encompass much of downtown New Orleans. At the meeting, many of the commenters remarked that Essence, which is not based in New Orleans, is overreaching by attempting to control economic activity in a city where it is a guest. The Council voted to shrink the clean zone, but did approve the zone to encompass the French Quarter, CBD, a part of the 7th Ward, and the Convention Center. The Council also resolved that the City would be responsible for enforcement, rather than Essence, and that existing permitted activity on sidewalks would not be suspended. However, breaking the clean zone laws still can carry criminal penalties of a fine or even jail time.

The looming police state cast a shadow over the meeting: In one instance, three members of the public—Bryon Cole, Rhadell Cole, and Sean Myles—were violently arrested when they verbally harassed two other attendees attempting to submit comments before the Council, in regard to a permit for a bed and breakfast in the Bywater. As they were arrested, they were defended by a pro-Palestinian activist and the woman that the Coles had interrupted. In another instance, police attempted to take the microphone away from a commenter speaking in support of the New Orleans City Council passing a ceasefire resolution, in response to the genocide and forced starvation of the Palestinian people. The following are a selection of comments presented in-person to the Council in response to the “clean zone” ordinance.

I want to say this is not a matter of trademark infringement and copyright infringement, in terms of my opposition to this ordinance. We have state, city, and federal laws that protect intellectual copyright 365 days of the year. This is a matter of restricting economic activity that occurs every day in our city. I’ve been impacted by this two years in a row. They filed a lawsuit against me [last year]. So maybe that’s not the intent, but that’s how it was exercised. Businesses are excluded in how they can operate. There are also constitutional concerns: Businesses are limited in how they can advertise, limiting how they can communicate with the public, additionally, creating public participation areas, so if I want to protest, Essence can tell me where and when I have to protest. That is a violation of constitutional rights.1DJ J. (Baldwin & Co)

I’m born and raised in New Orleans—St. Augustine High School, Tulane University, served in the United States Marine Corps for 22 years. I love this city, and this is not to downgrade or belittle Essence in any way, shape, or form. But I will ask, and for now, it’s a rhetorical question: Who is in charge of the City of New Orleans during the week of Essence Festival? Is it the mayor, in conjunction with the City Council, representing the citizens of this city? Or is it Essence?2Melvin F.

Thank you. [speaking to Essence representative] You come into the city at a turbulent time, a lot of entities coming in trying to control things and everything, but that has nothing to do with today. A perfect example of a clean zone that worked was Jazz Fest this year. People were able to sell everything but alcohol and everybody’s making their money. And that was accomplished because they adjusted and scaled back their clean zone. With this clean zone, I see y’all shrunk it a little bit, but the problem is [it] says all permits are suspended for business in the City in front of enclosed buildings. I’m a Jackson Square artist. All the artists on the sidewalk—it’s basically saying we’re suspended from doing that and if it’s in there and gets approved it could be enforced. And with third parties enforcing things, they may not know the intricacies. Somebody just can come and say, “You can’t sell on the sidewalk,” through July 1st through the 8th, which is a big, big time frame.3Reggie F.

I’m disappointed in the way this meeting is taking place today. We had asked to make a presentation here today, and we were told “no.” This is a very serious issue, these clean zones are under serious review all over the country, with the question on the legality of them and the constitutionality of them. If you look at the City charter, you, the City Council, have the exclusive power to legislate. That legislative power cannot be delegated to a private company. What this ordinance does is give a private company [power] to approve what is a lawful act and what is an unlawful act. You are giving authority to Essence, on advertising they have exclusive power! You let them do a presentation, and you told us there would be no presentation!4Mary H.

For the most part [of] what we’ve seen, trickle-down economics does not work. We have a lot of people coming in and making money every year, and for the most part that money does not go to the small business. With all due respect, for the most part this is foolishness. Essence is a guest in our city. All of the Council people up here are married. There is no way in the world that you will allow me once a year to come into your home and set rules for what goes on with you, your home, and your children. If I am serving Pepsi products, and if Pepsi wants to come in and partner with me and do an event, I should be able to do that [Essence is sponsored by Coca-Cola]; because I pay taxes, I pay rent, or I pay a mortgage 365 days of the year, not just the two weeks or so that Essence is here. It’s overreaching.5Kevin G.

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illustration by Sadie Wiese

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