For my entire life - years before Hurricane Katrina - I've fantasized about New Orleans. I dreamed of being decadent in the French Quarter in clubs where my music heroes played. I dreamed of tasting the food, studying the architecture, hearing the accents, and being cradled in the arms of the city - in the cream, black, brown and white blended arms of the city. I wanted to earn my beads at Mardi Gras, search the bayous for magic, and be transformed beyond the boundaries of my physical world. But the rigors of my life quashed my momentum and I didn't visit the one American city I'd always longed to see -- until just last weekend -- nearly three years after Katrina
Thanks to the brilliant Eve Ensler, and our intrepid CODEPINK cofounder, Jodie Evans, my dream of seeing New Orleans finally came true. On April 11th & 12th, Eve Ensler created "V To The Tenth" -- the tenth anniversary celebration of V-Day (Ensler's global movement to end violence against women and girls). Not surprisingly, Jodie Evans, a longtime friend of Ensler, and a proponent for women's rights, was a sponsor of V-Day. As a result, an international call went out to CODEPINKers to travel to NOLA to participate in the event. Over one hundred men and women signed on. This time I had to go!!
What I experienced in New Orleans (mainly in the City proper), surpassed my expectations. The music is that great. The cuisine is that great. The people are that great. And the architecture is that picturesque -- where it still stands. Sadly, in areas like the Lower Ninth Ward, where no cab driver wanted to take me, very few houses do stand. The devastation is surreal. There is much much work to be done! Gratefully there are those who have stepped up selflessly to the cause. Heroes like Harry Shearer, Harry Connick, Jr., Wynton Marsalis and Brad Pitt have battled relentlessly to rebuild New Orleans. And now another hero has submersed herself in the folds of New Orleans - the brilliantly talented Eve Ensler. What better match than Eve Ensler and New Orleans? Each is inspired. Each is inimitable. Each avant-garde. And each pushes the limits.
Come to think of it, that's CODEPINK's profile, too! It's a bona fide trifecta!!
For the past year, in preparation for her "V-Day" anniversary, Ensler, the Obie Award winning playwright and performer of the "Vagina Monologues," laid the groundwork for a NOLA event like no other - a two day love fest transforming the once infamous Superdome into the mega-pink "Love Dome." Ensler succeeded on all counts. Her herculian effort, with co-producer Carol Bebelle, provided activism training, health education, and specialized services to the residents of NOLA, for whom she also premiered "Swimming Upstream" (The Katrina Monologues) - a powerful and beautifully performed amalgam of music and monologues which portray the intimacy and emotion of Hurricane Katrina, much as the Vagina Monologues (performed the following evening), portray the intimacy and emotion of womanhood. The V-Day anniversary in its mission to nurture, educate, empower, protect and transform, was tailor-made for New Orleans, and tailor-made for CODEPINK. Thank you, Jodie, for signing us on.
Like Eve Ensler, CODEPINK has been deeply immersed in New Orleans. Shortly after Katrina hit, CODEPINK members traveled to New Orleans and aligned with the grassroots collective, Common Ground, to provide food and supplies to hurricane survivors. Thanks to this latest CODEPINK call to action, several original NOLA volunteers returned to the city. Others like myself, visited for the very first time.
By Thursday morning, around sixty CODEPINKers had trekked to New Orleans. But by Sunday morning, HUNDREDS of new CODEPINKers were trekking back home. CODEPINK is an ever growing movement -- a vital movement that nurtures interconnectedness and deepens its roots wherever it goes. So it was fitting, with CODEPINK's commitment to sow the seeds that grow community, that it plant a garden in NOLA. Fortunately, Sarah Rath, a core CODEPINKer who moved to NOLA two years ago, was up to the task. She coordinated with Common Ground and laid plans for a beautiful garden in the Lower Ninth Ward. CODEPINKers who arrived in NOLA on Thursday were immediately put to work. By the end of the day, despite the intense heat and humidity, a beautiful garden was planted and a jammin' New Orleans barbeque was held. Giant drums of incredible food were prepared like I'd never seen. Even the most ordinary food - like corn and carrots - tasted like never before. There's no way to adequately describe the uniqueness of this City. It's too magical for mere fonts.
On Saturday morning, CODEPINK and other V-DAY revelers marched through the streets to the "Love Dome," accompanied by a raucous brass band. CODEPINK carried its giant pink slip, reading "Lead Us Out Of Iraq." Unlike marches in other cities, there wasn't a single antagonist on the route. Not a war-monger in sight. There wasn't one single person who didn't understand the NEED for peace. There was NO New Orleanian who believed we were wrong and war was right. They all got the message. In NOLA they understand that when there's NO war, there can be rebuilding. They understand that when there's NO war, there can be better healthcare and operational hospitals - not just in NOLA - but EVERYWHERE. Their experience with poverty, victimization and fragility had taught them lessons other Americans still haven't learned.
In New Orleans, where the great Eve Ensler brought "Swimming Upstream" to life, the pain of those who battled the levees has been deep for nearly three years - and longer for the City's more impoverished residents who were suffering long before. As America's economy worsens from the greed of corporations and Bush's illegal war, the homes of more good people will be forsaken, just as they were in New Orleans. Only this time nature won't be blamed as the cause. In New Orleans and the rest of America there is much much work to be done. Eve Ensler has raised 60 million dollars to help women across the world. CODEPINK has nearly singlehandedly carried the people's message to Congress. Still New Orleans is not rebuilt, America remains at war, and Congress defies the will of the people. Please do something. Pick an issue and do something - NOW.
Thank you Eve Ensler, for being the force that you are. Thank you for your work in New Orleans, in Africa, and across the globe - and for using art - the universal language - to better our world. And thank you, Jodie, for shining CODEPINK's light on New Orleans.
To view photos from the V-Day Anniversary in New Orleans, please visit:
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