On December 31, 2005, I drove from Dallas to New Orleans. This was no run of the mill road trip. I was on my way back home. Hurricane Katrina damaged my house; the Federal Government destroyed my home. During the eight-hour road trip, anxiety and anger overcame me. To be honest, this rancid, emotional state had been pulsing through my veins for every second of every day since I found myself alone, stuck on this identical interstate in gridlock-traffic, evacuating from both the city that I live/loved/grew-up in and my family that stayed behind.
…What happened to my generation? What happened to this country? WHY ISN’T ANYBODY DOING ANYTHING? WHY DOESN’T ANYBODY CARE? WHERE ARE ALL OF THE PROTESTS? WHERE IS THE JUSTICE?
As if in a manic state, these questions repeated in my brain and the aggravation swelled to my limbs until I shook with anger. My hands clung to the steering wheel. My knuckles turned a severe shade of white. I suddenly realized I was shouting out loud. STOP! I know what you are thinking… ‘this girl must be crazy..she is talking to herself…she definitely has lost IT.’
I am not really crazy, or at least completely. (In New Orleans, multiple-personality disorder is not a disorder…it is a high art.) There was actually another in the car. A ghost. A spirit. A legend.
Her name is Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. The spirit of Marie Laveau has followed me since I was a child. She was the most infamous voodoo practitioners in the beginning of the movement from slavery practices in New Orleans to the high-era of the “free people of color.” People visited Marie Laveau looking for spells to make someone fall in love, make a fortune, or even to kill a neighbor. This Voodoo Queen paraded through Congo Square, dancing to the Vodun rhythms and chanting spells.
Marie Laveau became a household name. Stories of her life are still told today. What made this Voodoo Queen different from the many other Voodoo Queens is that she used her innate womanly power and charisma to influence an entire movement towards freedom and the empowerment of women in New Orleans. To me, she is an inspiration and a gift. She taught me the invaluable lesson of how to influence others to bring about change. Her medium was word of mouth. Her message was the strength of the media.
If old Marie Laveau could bring about such extreme changes in society, spark the popularization and development of jazz as a genre, and still have the ability to keep children behaved hundreds of years after her death by the threat of her spirit doing evil, I could at least do SOMETHING to influence at least one person to bring a change in New Orleans.
I knew that if I was going to be in New Orleans, I would have to raise money for New Orleans by selling something that had the personality of New Orleanians and that would not be just another rubber-wristband with a fleur de lis. I had to come up with something funny and even a little inappropriate because at the end of the day, New Orleanians will always make laughter through tears at inappropriate times because laughter is the best life raft.>
“IF THIS FEMA TRAILER IS’ A ROCKING…DON’T COME’ A KNOCKING!”
In two weeks, I sold $13,xxx worth of buttons with this phrase. I contacted a man named James Taylor who was in charge of actually purchasing materials to “repair” the levee systems. What did this buy? A pipe. Not so great. But was much more valuable and what needed to be repaired far more than the levees (they aren’t even repaired anyway now!) was the laughter of New Orleanians. For two years following the storm, I gave a button to anyone with tears in their eyes and of course…at no charge. These people were not hard to find. With each button came a crack of laughter.
Marie Laveau’s legacy was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. My legacy is “The Button Lady.” I have arrived!