The silence can be terrifying. Not just the silence that still shrouds so much of greater New Orleans -- the silence of neighborhoods on the brink, homes and schools empty, stores shuttered, communities scattered, friends out of touch.
No, the silence that frightens most is the silence of a nation that seems to have resigned itself to what is happening inside one of its greatest cities. I know. After living in New Orleans for two months following Katrina, I'm out here now. And let me tell you, it's scary.
It's not that people don't care. Following Katrina, we all saw how individuals and groups gave of themselves. How many of us evacuees broke down at some point because of a gift that appeared right when we needed it most -- a plate of food, a box of clothes, an envelope with cash, an embrace?
But now, what we need is outrage. Who is protesting the fact that our president just entered and exited New Orleans without voicing specific support for Category 5 protection and coastal restoration? Federally built levees failed the city -- but can anyone name one current political leader outside of Louisiana who is passionately and consistently advocating for the government to now do what's right? I can't find one senator from either party -- and I've been looking.
Now, I'm through with looking, through with waiting, and I'm really through with the silence. So here's one idea: this Mardi Gras, let's start something.
Call it a National Mardi Gras. Call it Levee Gras. Or call it a Second Line Across America -- I don't care. There's no organization here; there's no sponsor. There's just us -- you and me. So this year on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28, let's do what New Orleans always does on Mardi Gras. Let's get together and have some fun. We'll gather in parks, in streets, at state capitals, in offices, in Washington D.C., in front of our homes. We'll play Carnival tunes, paint our faces, put on our best beads, slice up a king cake, and sing out for the future of the city. Our colors will be purple, gold and green. And when the clock strikes noon, let's sing in one voice: When the saints go marching in, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. (It's easier to sing than "Carnival Time" and less words than "Mardi Gras Mambo.")
Then we'll do more. We'll put out a bucket for more money for the groups doing good work for Katrina survivors. We'll sign a petition and write a letter -- a letter from the heart -- to our own elected officials. Members of Congress in 50 states will learn that their constituents give a damn. That it's not just a New Orleans thing.
We'll be specific about three things we can all agree on: (1) Category 5 hurricane protection; (2) complete coastal restoration along the Coast 2050 guidelines (www.coast2050.gov); and (3) U.S. Rep. Richard Baker's bill to help New Orleans homeowners get on the road to recovery.
In a recent Commentary, Gambit Weekly made the case that this year's Mardi Gras is more important than ever. Now, we're unmasking our resolve: New Orleans will be rebuilt. For those of us lucky enough to get to the French Quarter on Tuesday, let's make our way to Jackson Square for noon. When the St. Louis Cathedral clock tolls the hour, we'll sing "When the Saints Go Marching In" with the rest of the country.
OK, OK. Maybe not. Maybe this just means one costumed fool will sing "Saints" in the Quarter, in the midst of other fools. But I've already read about a fundraiser called MardiGrasUSA. I've visited the Web site www.nationalmardigras.com, where there's even a petition to declare Mardi Gras a national holiday. It's a start -- now let's keep it going. Copy this page, email it to those people you email things to. When you plan an event anywhere in the country, email the details to Gambit Weekly (firstname.lastname@example.org). People can read a growing list of events at www.bestofneworleans.com to join you.
Whatever you do, if you love New Orleans, don't keep it to yourself.
This year, Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 28 -- nearly six months to the day that floodwaters poured into our New Orleans. The following week, a hot, watery hell was endured by our neighbors, our friends, our families. Some of us walked through that hell ourselves. Some of us didn't survive.
Now, a half-year later, it's time to honor the dead and celebrate the living. It's time to throw a Mardi Gras like nothing ever seen before. Let's go national. Let's make it a day that will be anything but silent.
Michael Tisserand is the former editor of Gambit Weekly and is currently living in Evanston, Ill. His book, Sugarcane Academy, is forthcoming from Harcourt Books. He can be reached at email@example.com.