What wasn't blown away drowned in the flood that followed. The levees failed. The city was devastated, with entire neighborhoods completely demolished.
I was in New Orleans on November 30, 2005--three months after the storm. What I saw, I still cannot describe.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a young friend who grew up in New Orleans. Her parents still live in the city. They are among our dearest friends. Their home was destroyed. They had insurance. They want to rebuild, to reclaim what was lost. They don't want to give up.
But, now two years later, nothing has happened for them. Absolutely nothing. No funds have been provided from either the private or the public sector to help with the rebuilding they want to undertake.
No movement. No action. Only maddening stalemate. Only mixed and. often, conflicting information, and this for good citizens, brave people who want to restore a great American city.
For the sake of this discussion, and in anticipation of what I know will be the reaction of some, let's make some assumptions.
1) The Mayor and the entire city government from top to bottom in New Orleans are ineffective, corrupt and incapable of doing anything to help the situation.
2) The state government--from the state capitol, to the governor's office, to every agency--is inept, ineffective and unable to do anything worthwhile for the ravaged city.
3) Crime is rampant. The schools are in real trouble, and in danger of failing.
Okay. Now what?
The facts: A major American city lies in ruins, its citizens left largely to fend for themselves. A bureaucratic logjam paralyzes the entire city and surrounding region. No one seems to be doing anything that is able to gain any traction leading to renewal.
Here is a challenge tailor made for new, creative action by our federal government. The scale defies the capacity of local only or private efforts.
But the U. S. government takes no meaningful action.
Where are the congressional hearings?
Where is the "New Orleans Czar"--you know, the equivalent of the Director of Homeland Security? Maybe a "Director of Destroyed City Recovery."
Where is the systematic, methodical, "Marshall Plan" for this great American city? Who can bring us the new action strategy that would cut through all of the red tape in view of the terrible and continuing circumstances?
I refuse to believe that our nation cannot mount a coordinated effort to rebuild this city. Or, does the United States we have today simply walk away from an entire community that has been devastated?
I wonder what our reaction might be if New Orleans had been destroyed by an act of foreign terror? I have this feeling more would be underway today and I think I know who would be in charge.
But those in charge in Washington right now evidently don't believe the federal government can solve the problem or lead us toward a better day in a city in need of coordinated national attention. Movie stars and entertainers are more concerned about the city than our national leaders.
There is no doubt in my mind that we can do better. New Orleans should be in the midst of the greatest rebuilding effort in our nation's history. The disaster should be turned into one of the grandest opportunities for employment, economic development and community renewal in our nation's history.
Here's an idea. Why not allow undocumented aliens to earn "legal" status by taking jobs associated with rebuilding New Orleans? No slave wages. Good jobs, paying market wages, employing skilled and unskilled labor, including those needing documentation. At the end of a predetermined period of time, those who worked hard and evidenced "good moral character" could be given legal status. Why not?
Nothing happens without leadership.
Where is it today for a city I grew to love during the five years I lived there?
Do we have no shame as a people?
Has imagination and heart simply departed us?
Where are the patriots today?
Where will New Orleans be on this day in 2008?