Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Brother, can you spare a dime? NO!!

It looks like they will be having Mardi Gras this year in New Orleans. But some people won't be celebrating. People who have been stuck in hotel rooms for months, and whose homes are in no condition to be inhabited, for example.

NEW ORLEANS - Some Hurricane Katrina refugees stuck in hotel rooms and unfamiliar surroundings across the United States are in no mood to party, and they are decrying the city's plans to hold a Mardi Gras celebration in February.

"This is not the time for fun. This is the time to put people's lives back on track," said Lillie Antoine, a 51-year-old refugee stuck in Tulsa, Okla.

City officials announced last month that New Orleans would hold an abbreviated Mardi Gras celebration. Civic boosters say the festivities can help revitalize New Orleans' economy, lift morale and show the world that the city is on its way back.

In addition to scaling the two-week Carnival season to eight days, the cash-strapped city is seeking corporate sponsors for the first time to pay for police overtime and the cleanup along the parade routes and the French Quarter.

Some storm refugees and black organizations say the party preparations are insensitive to the plight of so many displaced New Orleanians.

"I just think it sends the wrong message to have a celebration when people are not back in their houses," said Ernest Johnson, the Louisiana president of the
National Association for Colored People.

At a protest Monday of a few Katrina refugees in Atlanta, where the New Orleans Saints were playing, ChiQuita Simms said reconstruction should take precedence over partying.

"I'm not against Mardi Gras," said Simms, who has been living in an Atlanta hotel with her 14-year-old son. "I'm against their priorities." She added: "What you can do is guarantee me in two months you're going have a Mardi Gras, but you can't guarantee life will be back on?"

Before Katrina struck, the 2005 festivities were going to be one of the most exuberant parties in this party city's history — the 150th anniversary of Carnival parades in New Orleans. Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 28.

The dispute boiled over Saturday at a town hall meeting in Atlanta when Mayor Ray Nagin came under fire from an angry and raucous crowd of refugees for approving a Mardi Gras. Nagin then told the crowd that he had actually been against celebrating Mardi Gras but that tourism leaders forced his hand.

His comments stunned Carnival supporters back in New Orleans.

"He's like John Kerry — he was for it and then he was against it," bemoaned Ed Muniz, the captain of Endymion, one of the city's biggest and most glamorous parades.

Ernest Collins, the city's arts and entertainment director, said that the mayor made his Atlanta comments "in the heat of the moment" and that Nagin knows how important the celebration is.

But three days after the Atlanta meeting, Nagin suggested that during Carnival, hotels should put aside about a quarter of their rooms and an unspecified share of their profits to help bring people back. Hotel and tourism industry leaders were flabbergasted by the suggestion, and accused Nagin of "politicizing" Mardi Gras.

Flabbergasted? Now, I can understand the importance of Mardi Gras to the cultural and municipal heritage of the city, so I believe that resisting the calls to cancel the whole thing is the right decision. But aren't the people more important to a city than any of that? And I don't think that putting aside one quarter of the motel rooms and a portion (which doesn't necessarily even have to be that large) of their profits (a good chunk of which, incidentally would come back on their taxes) would be an unreasonable sacrifice to ask of those who are fortunate enough to 1) be there and 2) be in a position to actually make some money right now, in order to help those of their fellow citizens who have lost everything as a result of the awful events of earlier this year. The extraordinary events of this year in New Orleans are unprecedented, but this latest shows that the 'community leaders' are less interested in making a sacrifice that they could afford (remember, this is only a proposal that they help out with at least a token share of the PROFITS) to help with restoring the community than they are with making sure that they get theirs.

But if those folks are 'flabbergasted' at the thought, then on second thought, maybe it would be wiser to simply cancel the whole thing and spend the money needed to stage it directly on rebuilding and resettlement. Then see if next year they are happy with almost all of their profits.


Amy said...

But, at what point do we have to stop handing out money and help and expect the citizens to start helping themselves?

There is a Baptist Camp in central Texas which opened it's doors and bunks to refugees. They have trashed the camp and don't do anything to help in the town which is paying for their rent, utilities and food.

It wouldn't be anything for these people to be bused into town to help with small jobs. It wouldn't hurt them to help maintain the camp.

At what point does the county Baptist Association stop paying for all of it? At what point do the people get off their bums and do something?

I think the mayor may have a good idea. Get people back into the town to bring money in to the town. Show the world that New Orleans is still there. Show the world that New Orleans is taking care of itself.

The hotels make so much off the revelers that they can afford to give back, BUT, what if the hotel had damage they need to pay off? What if their workers need assistance. Why can't they give to them?

Just a few thoughts.

Eli Blake said...


Get people back into the town to bring money in to the town. Show the world that New Orleans is still there. Show the world that New Orleans is taking care of itself.

Exactly. Bring the people back into town. All of them. Then you COULD close down the camps in Texas and elsewhere. And the mayor's proposal was to have 'New Orleans take care of itself.' I don't understand why the business community (which is lucky to even have a Mardi Gras this year) has a problem with that.

As for the motels, I suppose you could exempt any that are still paying off damage, but that still leaves a lot of hotel rooms.

Amy said...

I think part of the issue will be that many will NOT want to go back. Why risk it again? If you have nothing, why not have nothing in a city where you have a chance?

It's going to get very interesting.

Eli Blake said...


Good point. However, aside from the homeless (who are perhaps two or three percent of the people in the camps), they did have a roof over their head, even if it was in an old house that had been in the family for years and not much else.

The only future a person like that has to look forward to is the hope that maybe, sometime, Congress will follow through on the promise the President made to rebuild the city, and build their house again (of course, nearly all homeowner's insurance policies exempt flood damage, so those policies are worthless). And since this Congress has yet to appropriate funds to even rebuild houses damaged in 2004 in Florida (I have an internet friend who suffered a lot of damage to his house in Dennis earlier this year, and he has neighbors who are still waiting for payments from Ivan last year), waiting for that is a pipedream, but asking thousands of not formerly homeless people (including a great number of kids) to live on the streets until maybe someday their old crackerbox home is rebuilt (being in New Orleans or elsewhere) would be a vicious thing to do, especially when we have spent hundreds of billions building hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and other things in Iraq-- even a conservative would have to question the Iraq war if it means that we are no longer able to take care of Americans as a result.

Eli Blake said...

Something that gets me is this:

What can happen in a major disaster in Florida or Louisiana would happen in a major disaster everywhere. I wonder why people who live anywhere subject to hurricanes from Texas all the way to the mid Atlantic coast (plus Hawaii) aren't together watching this and wondering why the government isn't following through on spending what it takes-- particularly with the expected increase in Hurricanes in coming decades; Sooner or later it is likely to be them, and if the precedent is 'drop them and forget about it,' then they can look at the people in the camps and see their own future.

Also, major population centers in California and Alaska are subject to disasters of other kinds, as well as high flood potential in the Mississippi Valley and the likelihood of tornados in the plains and the southeast, so a lot of people may sooner or later be facing the same situation on at least a local scale.

If I can live in the high desert in Arizona (a place about as safe from natural disasters as anywhere in the country) and see the need to take care of my fellow Americans, I wonder why others who are much more likely to have to pay down the road under the 'what goes around, comes around,' penalty than I am, seem at times so willing to cut these people loose in their time of need.