The Roosevelt Hotel: Aid & Comfort to our Enemies

Roosevelt Hotel -- illustration by Erin Wilson

Ever since New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel re-opened in 2009, an endless series of big-oil executives have been meeting there. This is especially frustrating because the Roosevelt Hotel was the historical hangout of Huey P. Long, our beloved outlaw Governor “who took on the Standard Oil men / And whipped their ass / Just like he promised he’d do” (as sung by Randy Newman).

It’s frustrating, but it’s not surprising. These days, the Roosevelt is owned by the NYC-based Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, itself a subsidiary of Hilton Worldwide which is in turn owned by the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm founded by the former chairman of Lehman Brothers. As readers of the now-defunct Times-Picayune recently discovered, the history and legacy of our region’s local institutions don’t mean shit to the money-mad Manhattanites who own them.

During a Roosevelt-hosted oil executive conference in January 2012, a flash mob of a couple dozen people dressed as Huey Long convened outside the Roosevelt and serenaded the hotel’s unimpressed doorstaff. It was gentle theater, perhaps fun for the participants, and harmless in every sense of the word. On November 15 of that year, however, a group of activists organized around Keystone XL went inside one of the hotel’s ballrooms and held up protest signs in the middle of a Joint Energy Industry Association luncheon.

When they were asked to leave the hotel, they did so, but an overzealous undercover state police officer who’d been posing as hotel staff chased after them. He jumped in front of the car two of the activists were in, preventing them leaving, and detaining them– under dubious legal pretense– until NOPD showed up. Once NOPD finally arrived, this bellhop bad-ass badgered the reluctant local police into arresting not just the two detained protesters but also two journalists recording the protesters’ arrests! The four were charged with criminal trespass, jailed, and then had their charges dropped, but not before their pictures were sent to the FBI. That’s how this fucked-up system works. One of the arrestees, a member of New Orleans’ Occupy and a dedicated Livestreamer, livestreamed her own arrest– her videos and her own written account can be seen on the web at

While the arrests are unfortunate, the November action was an encouraging sign of escalation: the year began with activists singing & speechifying on the sidewalk and wound down with activists inside the Hotel’s ballroom, disrupting an oil industry luncheon.

On March 17, 2013, a group called River Delta Resist! took it to another level. The Roosevelt yet again hosted oil industry scumbags, this time the Howard Weil Energy Conference, “one of the premier investor conferences in the energy industry.” This time, the vehicle-blocking shrimp boot was on the other foot: right outside the Roosevelt, River Delta Resist! blockaded the vehicles that were transporting the murderous, greedy executives of Transocean and other big oil corporations to dinner, shutting down the street for nearly half an hour before the police arrived… at which point the road blockers, attired in festive St. Patrick’s Day green, melted back into the crowd like Robin Hood vanishing into Sherwood Forest. And River Delta Resist! wasn’t done– once the various executives finally got to their dinner destinations, the restaurants themselves were invaded. The enemies of the people can no longer hide.

On this most recent occasion, there were no arrests. Clearly, the Roosevelt’s corporate ownership can expect increasing tactical sophistication and increasingly daring disruptions of oil-industry events going forward. Big Oil has long ago worn out its welcome in Louisiana. If the Roosevelt’s owners foolishly insist on continuing to dishonor the Roosevelt’s legacy and the legacy of Huey Long, if they continue to shelter the enemies of Louisiana in their bosom, they will find out, to quote Newman again, that “what has happened down here is the winds have changed…”