Thursday, December 08, 2005

Meet the Boys on the Battle Front

Meet the boys on the battle front.
Meet the boys on the battle front.
Meet the boys on the battle front.
Oh, the Wild Tchoupitoulas gonna stomp some romp.
--The Wild Tchoupitoulas

Like two tribes of rival Mardi Gras Indians, the forces for and against Mardi Gras 2006 are spying each other out and getting ready for battle.

The conflict pits the traditional boosters of Mardi Gras, the parading krewes and the city’s tourism industry, against some of the people of New Orleans who are more worried about when they might be able to return to their homes, or if there will be jobs and schools for them if they do.

The man who speaks for mainstream Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Guide publisher Arthur Hardy, spoke up less than a week after the hurricane and levee failure, calling on Sept. 6 for carnival to go on.

Hardy, who has been publishing his guide for 30 years and is one of the foremost experts on Mardi Gras, [told WWL-TV] next year's celebration is also important because it's the 150th anniversary of the first formal parades in the city.

"I've heard some people say we can't do it," Hardy said. "But it's a very significant anniversary and I can't imagine it going unmarked without some kind of parade. It's in our soul to have Mardi Gras."


The Informants carried the first news of possible trouble when the subject of Mardi Gras was first broached in September by Mayor Ray Nagin, still only a few weeks after Hurricane devestated 23,000 square miles of teh Gulf Coast, and laid much of to waste.

Following November meetings between city officials and representatives of the parading Krewes, a six-day schedule of parades was proposed by Nagin hether

Immediately, some critics charged the city could not afford to spend time and money on Mardi Gras when ninety percent of the city was in ruin. At the same time, the Krewes were disappointed that Nagin was proposing such an abbreviated season, suggesting that the celebration was too important both to New Orleanians and to the local economy, to curtail it so significantly. Nagin ultimatley relented and extended the window to eight days, to include two weekends so more krewes might be able to parade.

Then the city's premiere black Mardi Gras organization, Zulu, threatened not to parade unless they were allowed to follow their traditional route, which includes runs through predominately black neighborhoods on Claiborne, Orleans and Galvez.

Mardi Gras has long been a sore spot in race relations in the city. With the exception of Zulu, krewes are largely clubs for the white middle and upper class. If the New Orleans of the future is to be a better city, I think not only should Zulu be allowed to follow their traditional route, but that Rex should show his royal face on Claiborne and Orleans and Galvez Avenues.

But the real trouble was still out on the Front, far away from the Big Chief. The two tribes first clashed when Mayor Nagin traveled to Atlanta, GA for one of a series of town hall meetings with displaced residents.

On Dec. 3, angry Katrina survivors told Nagin they didn't think the city should be spending scarce funds on the police and sanitation costs of carnival.

"How can we be having Mardi Gras and we aren't even there?" Gaynor said, adding that it was a shame to have such a celebration in the wake of so many lives lost and so much uncertainty," displaced New Orleans resident Betty Gaynor told Nagin at this town hall meeting in Atlanta.

This one small paragraph turned into a firestorm. Some of the critics are planning demonstrations against the idea when the New Orleans Saints travel to Atlanta on Dec. 12 for a Monday Night Football game against the Falcoms.

[M]any community activists — particularly leaders of poor, black neighborhoods that were destroyed by the floodwaters and have sat virtually untouched ever since — have turned against the idea, the Los Angeles times reports.

"We're not against Mardi Gras. We're against their priorities," ChiQuita Simms, a displaced New Orleans resident who is organizing a protest, said of city leaders


But white Mardi Gras' Wild Man Hardy asked in another Times-Picayune article, "If we canceled Mardi Gras, would anyone who's homeless suddenly have a home? Would the levees be rebuilt? We can't erase Katrina simply by erasing the celebration."

That same article outlines how corporate sponsortship, long a taboo in carnival, would be allowed to help get the krewes rolling again. No advertising would be allowed on floats, and the branding seen on college football bowl games would not be allowed.

The opponents in Atlanta, mostly black and working class, are people from the same communities that spanwed the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Sadly, with the current lack of housing and jobs and schools, particularly in the Indian's own neighborhoods, it is likely that this key part of carnival may be sadly reduced come Feb. 28, 2007.

But as I reported in late September some tribes are promising to be back. The Wild Magnolias, (like the Wild Tchoupitoulas) are famous outside New Orleans for their recordings of Mardi Gras Indian Music.

On their web site, Big Chief Bo Dollis promised "We'll be back for Mardi Gras 2006, with brand new suits!"

Hey-pocky-way!

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