Commentary: New Orleans Can Make a Way for Mardi Gras, but Not for its People?
Why shouldn't we count on a big turn out for Mardi Gras? I wonder if Deborah Mathis has ever been here for Mardi Gras? Does she understand the level of commitment shown by those who do attend yearly? I don't think so. As a matter of fact, the streets have been absolutely packed with tourists, not just die-hard party-goers, but also those who traveled here for the first time because they understand that seeing the spirit of the city first-hand and witnessing our determination to overcome the odds does help the situation. Because of the cutbacks experienced by so many programs, there are now thousands of organizations that have their hands out in need of funding. When someone comes here and experiences what it's like to be in the city right now, they are much more likely to put their money where their mouth is and contribute to the many deserving New Orleanian causes.
You see, self-indulgence and frivolity isn't what's drawing people to come to Mardi Gras this year nor is that it's main draw any year. Mardi Gras is a tribute to life and the resilience and splendor of this great city. It's about being true to what we are--bon vivants with more joie de vivre than people like Mathis would likely know what to do with. That's why folks would come here for Mardi Gras even if there were no houses left standing because structures aren't what made New Orleans. The people, the kind of characters that would wake up at the crack of dawn and dress up in tuxedos bedecked with a million+ sequins or molded-refrigerator costumes or Swamp Monster outfits covered in itchy Spanish Moss and stand in the rain for hours to show their support for the city--they are what makes New Orleans great and they are the reason why people come. Few people leave her claiming that it wasn't even better than they expected it to be.
By continuing our tradition, New Orleans is concerning itself with the people who lost so much here. Who do you think works those jobs at restaurants and bars and hotels when these tourists come? Who do you think rides those floats and sponsor those magnificent balls? It's the people who live here. Even if the city made nothing off of Mardi Gras directly, it would still put money in the pockets of people who are trying their hardest to get back on their feet.
If someone out there in the world feels that the children here need beans, then by all means let them send us some. We'll make a gourmet meal out of them. However, if someone chooses to use their own time and money to go out and buy beads, toys, and other trinkets to give New Orleanian children the opportunity to see that life goes on even after the hurricanes, then God bless 'em for understanding southerners. And if you happen to be one of those people who understand how to mix activism with fun, you can come down and see the parades and also participate in the home-buildings sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, Home Clean-Outs sponsored by ACORN, volunteering at the public hospitals, and all sorts of other activities the city has planned to make use of all the willing extra hands that will be in town.
Now, to answer the question: "Shouldn't the city dedicate every iota of energy, target every appeal and pour every dollar into New Orleans, the hometown, moreso than New Orleans, the tourist trap?"
The city should work intently towards making New Orleans the hometown of a lot more people than are currently residing here. At the same time, it should devote its energy to all that the people here find important and that includes Mardi Gras. It was this culture that produced the first original music form in this country and it is this culture that has kept it alive all the while. It is this culture that continues to churn out the best Jazz and Blues musicians in the world. It's one of the only places in the world where, on any given day, you can just walk down the street without a dime in your pocket and go see free, live music so sweet you'd remember the experience for the rest of your life. It's celebrations like Mardi Gras that keep international visitors coming and spending their Pesos, Rupees, Euros, and Yen despite how unpopular this country is these days. So, if we want to take two weeks out of our year and celebrate the fact that we are still alive, then I think we've earned the right to do so.
If folks like Mathis think we shouldn't worry about stuff we can't use, then I guess we should simply disregard the ill-informed opinions of those on the outside looking in...unless they plan on just giving us the 20 MILLION DOLLARS Mardi Gras is projected to bring in for the city.
So, will that be cash, check, or charge?