Opinion: New Hope for NOLA

I have new hope for a favorable judgment after attending the hearing in New Orleans on the San Antonio Parade Ordinance. The judges of the 5th Circuit Court seemed to find it hard to believe that San Antonio had no equitable procedure for obtaining a waiver of fees for First Amendment marches. The fees are arbitrary and up to the discretion of the police. The judges listened and questioned this for clarification. That gives me hope.

This first-person article was originally published in "La Voz."

Going to New Orleans (called NOLA by the locals) exposed me to many revelations about the way people who lived in public housing were not even allowed to go back to their homes to salvage family photos after hurricane Katrina. I am shocked to learn that even public housing not damaged by Katrina was torn down, reducing public housing to 741 units when 11,000 existed only 15 years ago. This makes it virtually impossible for many low-income families to return and puts up for grabs the land for exploitative developers.

We met many courageous people in New Orleans who are rebuilding not only their homes and their lives but also their communities and the city’s long standing traditions. Among these traditions are the second line dancers and the Mardi Gras Indian dancers. My family in New Orleans are Mardi Gras Indian and second line dancers and they are experiencing discrimination in the aftermath of Katrina.

Donald Harrison, who spoke in the Spike Lee movie we viewed on the bus on our way to New Orleans, was a Mardi Gras Indian and my second cousin. He died after all he went through during and after Katrina. His brother, Edwin, is now the grand marshal of his tribe of dancers. Edwin and I talked by phone and he deeply appreciates that the current San Antonio parade ordinance is connected to the rights of local people in both cities. In both cities rich elite groups undervalue the traditions and first amendment freedoms of people of color and the poor in general. The rich elite in both cities are held exempt from high fees for the annual festivals of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Fiesta in San Antonio both of which certainly generate far more clean up and police costs.

I feel inspired and strengthened in my determination to raise awareness in the disabled community of how San Antonio’s parade ordinance infringes on First Amendment rights and can violate the civil rights of the disabled putting us in danger of bodily harm. The sidewalks of San Antonio are not an “adequate alternative” for the disabled in wheelchairs. That idea violates the letter and the spirit of The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mary Agnes and I laughed a lot on this trip especially about the fact that in our wheelchairs we had to go past loading docks and be taken in the basement past the kitchens in order to go into the courtroom in New Orleans. That used to be called “separate and equal” treatment in the era of blatant racial discrimination and it has already been found illegal in the United States. I deeply thank friends on the trip that helped me navigate wheelchair difficulties.