I spend quite a bit of time driving the streets of New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. It gives me a chance to look for signs and symbols of everyone's state of mind. While I typically note the looks on their faces, how many Saints jerseys I see, and even whether they're keeping their lawns up (whether in front of their gutted home or FEMA trailer), lately I've been paying closer attention to the bumper stickers on their cars. People may intend to use them as reflections of their individuality, but in fact those stickers tell you more about their common beliefs. A lot of them are predictably sports-related: "GO LSU TIGERS," "GO HORNETS," "GEAUX SAINTS."
But others are different. Let's start with "FAITH." What started out as a message years ago to fans to have faith in the once-beleagured Saints, now seems to have a new life as a message about people's belief in their now-beleagured city. There are other stickers that existed before the storm but have been embraced anew.
When I first arrived here, I began to notice these: "NEW ORLEANS, PROUD TO CALL IT HOME." I'm told by folks that the slogan was created a few years back by some group looking to boost New Orleans' self-image. But a lot of those stickers seem to lack the nicks, dents and tears that a few years of driving and a major hurricane would inflict on them. Residents are buying them again, eager to renew their commitment to the city, in writing.
That original sticker has given way to some new variations on the theme. In a city that prides itself on its penchant for partying, someone apparently came up with this version: NEW ORLEANS, PROUD TO CRAWL HOME." You tend to see those on cars driven by young people around the local universities. But New Orleanians are nothing but self-deprecating.
So it was just a matter of time that post-storm, this version starting appearing on cars and trucks" "NEW ORLEANS: PROUD TO SWIM HOME." That grim humor is shared by alot of folks, it seems. Another incarnation I've seen: "PROUD TO REBUILD HOME AND STILL PROUD TO CALL IT HOME." It's a postive sign that folks aren't waiting for the chamber of commerce to sum up their feelings about the city.
Another popular sticker I see says "ERACISM" (Erase Racism). I'm told it too predated the storm by more than a decade. A quick Internet search revealed that Eracism is the slogan of the group ERACE, which was formed in New Orleans in 1993 following a series of articles in The Times-Picayune, "Together Apart/The Myth of Race." There's something to be said for a city that's willing to admit its problems, in black and white, right there on bumper stickers for all the world to see.
Stickers created after the storm tend to be pointedly political. For awhile, vehicles sported these: "HOLD THE CORPS ACCOUNTABLE" or "FEMA HAPPENS" or even this: "FEMA WHERE Y'AT?" But the anger at a particular government agency has morphed into a general feeling of frustration that perceived government neglect is bigger than any one bureaucracy. That's reflected in this play off the old 60s summer of love slogan. The updated New Orleans' version? "MAKE LEVEES, NOT WAR." Thousands more messages dot back windows, bumpers and tailgates around here. Most are simple in their sentiments. "I LOVE NOLA" or a simple Fleur De Lis symbol. One of the most poignant I saw this week. A couple who live in New Orleans East have a specially printed sticker on their vehicle that reads "THANKS AMERICA, MARY AND JOSEPH PEREZ, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA." They attached it to their car when they evacuated following the storm. It was their way of telling folks they were grateful for the help. Mary and Joseph are spending Christmas in a FEMA trailer back in New Orleans (that's another story), but despite the fact they're home, they feel compelled to keep displaying that sticker.