In 2008 I went to New Orleans to volunteer with a non-profit called V-day founded by the feminist writer and performer Eve Ensler. The event was titled V10, which celebrated ten years of international activism to end violence against women and girls. The organization chose to spotlight New Orleans for the celebration, honoring it’s strength and resilience following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
That weekend, with the help of about 800 volunteers like myself, the once destroyed superdome transformed into a superlove occasion! Over 30,000 people attended, including over a thousand displaced women from different states. The arena was reborn into a place to heal, gather, celebrate and activate.
My experience that weekend will stay with me forever. I heard stories from people who lost their family members, lovers or friends. Some people who lost their homes were still living in tents under bridges. Seeing the faces of those who took shelter in the superdome during the flood, who were then reunited with those memories was traumatizing and uplifting all at once.
On my second day there, during my commute from the hotel to the dome (about a 15 minute walk) something magical happened. The noise of what sounded like a hundred trumpets came up from behind me. I found myself right in the middle of a parade! Not a typical line of floats and banners, but what looked like an impromptu stomp of people from the neighborhood, all bouncing around together and clapping. Some people were playing instruments or had parasols, other people were just walking and smiling. People started coming out of their homes and joining in before even asking, “what are we celebrating?”
I come to understand this joyful procession is a tradition in Nola, and is sometimes called “a jazz funeral without a body.” The beginning section of the parade is reserved for the brass band, followed by the "second line” which is pretty much an invitation for crowd participation for anyone who can keep up! It’s a spontaneous community party that shakes you up, makes you live in the moment and look around.
I love that in the midst of bandaged, moldy windows, in a city that has been through the absolute worst, those who have survived are still greeting their neighbors and joining in, just happy to be included. Loyal and unwavering, their spirits are a buoyant tether and I realize (with absurdity) that I may be furthest from a song in my heart on days that don’t even come close to comparison.
In the field of disability awareness, I think we can all agree as teachers/citizens/parents and family members, things are not always easy. In fact, they rarely are! We are operating off an already tight budget, in a state submerged in a financial deficit. We think on our feet, we work long hours, we are always trying to ask the next best question. Every day we care deeply about the quality of life available to others, and strive to facilitate sustainable connections. This can be daunting, and at times we get lost in the process and forget how to slow down and celebrate the smaller joys in life.
The New Orleans processions remind me that I don’t have to be the bandleader and the audience, or have everything planned out in advance. I just have to walk alongside my co-workers and community and do my best, as part of a moving awareness that is building up and getting better. Our alliance to stay positive will attract others to come out of their comfort zones and not just wonder what type of work we are doing, but better yet jump in and then ask “What are we celebrating?”