Katrina Lesson for Obama

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

New Orleans         As I write Hurricane Ike has plummeted Galveston and Houston.  Storm surges of almost 12 feet were reported in Galveston, and some were calling it lucky that the surge was not twice that at the 25 feet that had been predicted.    Close to 3 million people in the greater Houston area are now without power and may be so for weeks utility companies have warned.  Shards from glass shattering from 100 mph winds in downtown Houston had led to calls to stay inside.  One of the few areas reported to have power is downtown and the giant medical center complex fortunately.  We have called Orell Fitzsimmons, who directs Local 100’s Houston office, several times without an answer.  Of course Orell always claims he sleeps through hurricanes, so we’ll see.

    Calls are coming in from Lake Charles, Louisiana on the back end of the storm and its 600 mile frontal system.  Lake Charles ACORN leader Lanny Roy is on high ground but worried about many of his members flooding again and having to relive the experience of Rita three years ago which still scars the neighborhood.  Marie Hurt, Louisiana ACORN’s Head Organizer, Tanya Harris, New Orleans ACORN Head Organizer, and Beth Butler, Louisiana ACORN Executive Director, and the whole Louisiana ACORN Hurricane Advisory Committee, have called an emergency meeting on this Saturday to begin to prepare for more relief efforts.

    These are the kind of hard lessons learned from the wake of Katrina.  People are springing into action even as they still try to rebuild their communities in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans or North Lake Charles.

    I was disappointed during the Republic Convention to hear that Senator Obama and his advisors had not fully embraced the lessons of Katrina and the role of non-profits as critical bridges to the recovery.  In responding to Gustav he claimed he was marshalling part of his army of fundraisers to ask for donations to victims of Gustav.  He also directed all contributions to the Red Cross.

    George W. in the wake of Katrina at least mentioned the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, the first time a straight-up non-profit had been included in such an appeal.

    Given the problems of the Red Cross, they certainly warrant support, but part of what Katrina has taught over and over again is the Red Cross has the necessary band aids for emergency relief, but there has to be much more that is responsive and deals with particularly lower income and working families.  Obama had a “community organizing” opportunity to step up and speak for the Red Cross but to also really encourage people to look local and more broadly for Gustav support.  

    This was a “teaching” opportunity where Obama could have done right and made clearer so much of what was learned from Katrina.  Sadly, it did not happen.