December 8, 2005

Calls to Cancel Mardi Gras

There have been calls by New Orleans residents to cancel Mardi Gras on the philosophy that the city should not be planning a party when there are still people who do not have electricity and are still suffering the effects of the hurricane damage.

City officials and tourism leaders have pledged to use an abbreviated carnival this winter as a springboard, a way to reintroduce New Orleans as a viable city. Their October announcement that Mardi Gras would go on despite Hurricane Katrina met with an enormous cheer.

But many community activists — particularly leaders of poor, black neighborhoods that were destroyed by the floodwaters and have sat virtually untouched since — have turned against the idea.

[…]”In New Orleans, everything is about race at the end of the day,” Cosey said.

“Who will they be holding this party for? They shouldn’t be preparing for Mardi Gras,” he said. “They should be trying to get families back in neighborhoods. They should be trying to get New Orleans back on its feet.”

I heard this story on NPR last night, and I have to say that I agree with this sentiment:

Arthur Hardy — a New Orleans resident who has published the Mardi Gras Guide, a popular festival handbook, for three decades — said there were legitimate questions about the scope of the carnival and how the city would cater to visitors. But if Mardi Gras were canceled, he said, “it would be an announcement that New Orleans is not open for business.”

Obviously, the hospitality industry finds it very important to try to celebrate this year. It’s quite possible that I am missing the dynamic here, but I don’t see why a celebration that has the potential of pumping some money into the New Orleans economy shouldn’t be planned. Are these people also going to object to the celebration of Christmas, and birthdays, and such?

Mayor Nagin, for his part, stepped into doo doo when he suggested that the hotel industry give up some of their profits as a result of Mardi Gras. This has both failed to placate the people calling for a Mardi Gras boycott and has got the hotel and restaurant industries fuming.

So, what do you think? Should New Orleans be trying to keep the tourism coming in, or is it going to get in the way of helping people?

Posted by James at December 8, 2005 2:03 PM
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Both, I think. This is probably a no-win situation, another piece of Katrina's ongoing legacy.

Posted by: Julie at December 8, 2005 2:57 PM

Most of the people I know in and from New Orleans will tell you that Mardi Gras is a tourist attraction that the locals abide because it brings money in. It is not a quaint local tradition that goes on with or without outside participation. Might be interesting to see Lent start without trashing the French Quarter and providing beads-booze-and-exhibitionism opportunities.

Posted by: ThirdMate at December 8, 2005 4:06 PM

I don't doubt that, Thirdmate. I wasn't quite buying the "we need a party - it will lift our spirits up" line. It was more the practical "it will bring money in" that I thought might be useful to New Orleans.

And perhaps you've touched on the exact dynamic I was missing. If the locals "tolerate" it, then there may already be resentment. And that resentment would only be exacerbated by the slow progress of disaster recovery.

The need for economic recovery doesn't lessen the resentment. Instead it worsens it.

Posted by: James at December 8, 2005 4:42 PM

Not so much resentment. New Bedford residents resent the Feast because of the mess. New Orleans accepts the mess because of the money. It's just that New Orleans sweeps up and hoses off the mess on Wednesday morning; the Katrina mess is very different, and hasn't been dealt with adequately for most city dwellers. To just throw open the doors and urge tourons to "party like last year" is a little ghoulish to some of the people I know.

Posted by: ThirdMate at December 8, 2005 5:20 PM

That does sound like a no win situation, as Julie puts it. Clearly, a loss of the event will cause people who depend on the money to suffer. And hosting the event will cause people to suffer. Sad.

Posted by: James at December 8, 2005 6:12 PM

Well, the loss of the event will cause the rich people to suffer? The hotel owners and such? I think that's the point of the poor people, no? But I think mardi gras is a completely separate issue from Katrina relief. Getting these people into homes shouldn't stop or be delayed in any way by mardi gras, but neither should mardi gras be cancelled because somebody is suffering somewhere.

Posted by: Maggie at December 9, 2005 7:28 AM

What I meant was, the loss of the event means a loss of tax income to the city/parish/state at a time when they need it. But holding the event also means more problems for people who are trying to rebuild their lives, because resources that they need may be tied up in Mardi Gras business.

Posted by: Julie at December 9, 2005 10:16 AM

Right. People who might be helping rebuild the area will instead be working on float building and preparations. In the meantime, the poor of New Orleans continue in limbo.

Of course, this assumes that the same people who build floats were the people doing the rebuildin. There is probably some overlap there, but not as much as people want to believe.

I think a viable solution would be to have the different Crews that put on the Mardi Gras festivities (which are geared toward the wealthy, BTW) use those celebrations to generate extra assistance for the poor and the homeless. It's an excellent opportunity to redefine the observances. You still bring in tourists while highlighting the plight of those in need of rebuilding.

Posted by: briwei at December 9, 2005 3:50 PM

Brian: Full agreement, but not likely. I was gonna post about the Krewes earlier. According to many of their charters, they are legally formed exclusively to raise money for Mardi Gras. The Krewe I'm most familiar with (an all-male, nearly all-white businessman's club) has members who will say that they "cannot legally give (or even raise) money for any other purpose." Although I know of several newer Krewes who work year-round with charities, the older big money Krewes will stick to their limited charters. For the most part, New Orleans has drawn lines and chosen sides, as usual. Territorialism (like most -isms) rules in desperate times.

Posted by: ThirdMate at December 10, 2005 7:36 AM

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