Uneasy Riders

Protesters and politicos came by bike and motorcade, respectively, to President George W. Bush's May 21 fundraiser in Old Metairie.



Steven Andrews brought along his pet mouse, Mouse. "Don" wouldn't give his real name, but he came equipped with a cornet and an alto horn. Frank Dorothie showed up with several copies of a map showing a highlighted route to the Old Metairie home of Trip and Lisa Ludwig -- hosts of a $25,000-per-couple luncheon that netted guest of honor President George W. Bush more than $2 million.

On the morning of Friday, May 21, President Bush addressed LSU's graduation ceremony, giving a mostly apolitical speech extolling the traditional values of hard work and listening to your mama, plus thoughts on the potential ascendancy of hard-drinking C students. Bush received six standing ovations, three before his speech began. Later that day, I-10 was shut down as Bush's motorcade drove downriver to Metairie. Andrews, "Don" and Dorothie -- along with 26 other bicyclists and a Loyola University professor on roller-blades -- were waiting.

'The small pack of 30 protesters assembled in loose affiliation with Critical Mass, a nation-wide movement that places bicyclists in rush-hour traffic. In Chicago, Critical Mass rides can bring thousands to Lakeshore Drive, shutting down traffic completely. In New Orleans, Critical Mass rides of 20 to 50 riders assemble in Jackson Square around 5 p.m. the last Friday of every month. Taking to the streets of the French Quarter and CBD, local rides usually exude a party-on-wheels feel, complete with music, cheers and post-ride drinks.

'On May 21, the riders met at 11 a.m. at the intersection of City Park Avenue and Canal Street. Directed by Dorothie's map, the group followed City Park Avenue until it became Metairie Road. The group remained unified, staying together in one pack too large for drivers -- honking in frustration behind them -- to pass. Some bikers played Don's horns, others banged on white buckets attached to handlebars.

'When the group arrived at the intersection of Nassau and Northline streets -- a serene stretch of shade from live oaks and stately homes -- a line of Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies indicated they'd arrived. "You gotta move those bikes! You can't stop here!" shouted the deputies, as the group stalled for a second. Seconds later, deputy Michael Brocato shoved 24-year-old Erin Howe while she sat still on her orange Schwinn, which featured a poster reading, "Bush's Policies = Global Terrorism."

'"I'm here to peacefully express my dissent," Howe said, adding that the officer's actions didn't bother -- or surprise -- her. Brocato declined to comment on the incident.

'Heeding the order to keep moving -- and not allowed within 200 feet of the Ludwig home -- the group continuously circled a 50-foot-long stretch of neutral ground, chanting "No more Bush! No more war!" Showcasing a colorful mishmash of tattoos, hairstyles, clothes and protest posters, the protesters stood in stark contrast to neighborhood residents. "Get out of our neighborhood!" shouted a woman driving a Volvo station wagon with three children in the back. "Go f--king home!" yelled a college-age man in a white Chevrolet Yukon. A teenager walked past and asked, "Why are y'all such a bunch of f--king faggots?"

'A trio of women quit their game of tennis at the nearby Metairie Country Club when they heard the protestors' chants. Still attired in all-white tennis outfits, the women brandished fresh posters proclaiming, "We Love Bush." All three women declined to give their names or comment and were soon escorted by a Secret Service agent to stand in front of an ABC-26 news camera.

'"Even a little dissent makes a difference," said protestor Joshua Perkins, sporting a T-shirt with "Bush is a war criminal" scrawled in black marker across the front. "I'm here to tell these people that support the president that they support war and a criminal regime."

'By now, the group was off the bikes. Most stood in the neutral ground. "We need to figure out what we're doing," one member said. "This shit is majorly lacking organization." With that statement, they began walking their bikes closer to the Ludwig home, stopping at the police barricade.

'Conroy Bodden, 22, a chauffeur for a neighborhood resident, watched the protestors from a sidewalk. "These people need to see the video of that American getting his head chopped off," he said, referring to the execution of Nick Berg by a group with suspected Al Qaeda links. "If they watched that guy getting killed like that, they wouldn't be out here doing this."

'The day also marked local activist and former state senate candidate Jason Neville's 25th birthday -- and his graduation from the University of New Orleans with a degree in urban planning. Neville commemorated both events by joining the protest, dressed in black suit, black tie and white shirt, with a handmade "Bush/Cheney Free Speech Zone" poster around his neck. '"I really don't know what the effect of a protest like this is," Neville admitted. "All it seems to do is further polarize people. These Old Metairie people, they're saying to each other and their kids, "Look at these punks. They're freaks. These are the people that don't like Bush.'"

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