“You don’t want to go to war with New Orleans!  We Want Our Peace!  Gotta Have Our Peace!”

Thus chanted youth and community members as they stepped out against violence on the streets of New Orleans in honor of the International Day of Peace, September 18, 2010. The New Orleans staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) partnered with Calliope Puppets and the Green Project to host the “Peace is Power Giant Puppet Parade,” an artistic pledge to nonviolence.

 Approximately 130 parade participants gathered at noon at Hunter’s Field in the Seventh Ward to prepare for the 2 p.m. march. Face painters transformed eager participants with black and gold fleurs-de-lis, purple butterflies and other symbols representing the power of New Orleans.   Costume hats were made out of newspaper as musicians played along, and everyone anticipated the sight of over 50 puppets being brought to life.

 When the snare of the Behrman Middle School Band sounded, the marchers’ energy became palpable. Each group marched for a little over a mile, waving their puppets and peace signs high. The parade themes included “Agreeing and Uniting to Accomplish Harmony amongst Humankind,”  “Violence is a Dangerous Animal,” and “Hands off Guns & Hands on Peace.”

Rose Gillium, a poet, and Ted Quant, co-director of Loyola Twomey Center of Peace Through Justice,  brought the point home with powerful messages about a 15-year-old youth led astray by violence and about a community standing up for their youth.

The planning with 12 community groups began in July under the guidance of Ahmané Glover, the AFSC’s community activist, and Karen Konnerth of Calliope Puppets. Workshops such as building the puppets took place at several sites including the Green Project and the Leona Tate Foundation. During these activities, youth and community members expressed their feelings about peace as they created giant doves, people, lions, masks and more.

Afterward, Tate Foundation director Leona Tate said, “We got positive feedback from the community and the streets. I think the kids were geared up and that it’s definitely something we need for the community. It should be an annual event that we start preparing for earlier in the year.” 

Ahmané Glover agreed. “There is so much violence happening to our youth that they can become desensitized to the way that it affects them, their community and their world. This project was designed to help our youth diagnose the problem in their own words so that they can then responsibly create solutions,” she said. “Each young person controlled the way that their story was told to the world, from small details like the colors used in their puppet to larger details like how they chose to make their puppet move.”

The tradition of theatrical puppet pageantry has been used throughout the world to address community issues and ignite community empowerment. New Orleans has taken this tradition and given it the unique flair of the “Big Easy.”