Thursday, July 06, 2006

Do you know what it means to celebrate Independence Day instead of the 4th of July?

Taylor Hicks - Do I Make You Proud


Dedicated to Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker,
and every New Orleanean who lost his or her life to Katrina



“To really celebrate Independence Day, Americans must rededicate themselves to the principles of 1776, and particularly to the absolute importance of individual rights – not the pseudo-rights imagined by proponents of the welfare state, but the genuine rights (properly understood) of individuals to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must also rededicate ourselves to the Declaration’s standard for the legitimacy of government – a government that is limited to the safeguarding of these rights, not to their destruction – and, with this, an acceptance of the principle that outside this sphere of legitimacy, individuals have the freedom (and the responsibility) of governing themselves. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his 1826 letter, “let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
© David N. Mayer 2005


As I think about my plans for this evening, the Faith Hill-Tim McGraw “Soul2Soul” Katrina Benefit Concert, I find that I have mixed feelings. Mixed feelings over a concert? Mixed feelings because of what it represents to me, as a benefit for my city of New Orleans, graciously given by this duo who have strong ties to the Gulf Coast, and who both have expressed their feelings regarding the governmental response, or lack of it, to Katrina and its endless after-effects. This concert, of which 100% of its’ proceeds will go directly to the people in this region, is an incredible gift and my tickets, well they were a gift as well. In addition to the singers’ desire to give to my city, they insisted that half of the floor tickets be distributed to volunteers who, as they so eloquently stated:
“... have worked tirelessly over the past nine months since Katrina first hit the region on August 29th, 2005.”

So, after ten long months at animal rescue in this city, finally, a perk has come my way.......or so goes the general response from nearly every person who I have excitedly shown my tickets. And therein is what is at the heart of my mixed feelings.......do we, New Orleans, truly deserve this gift, expected to raise over $ 1 million dollars for the devastated region, when we, my lost city, seemingly continues to wait for governmental actions? When did we, my community, decide that a hand-out is favorable over a hand-up? I am not sure when, but many of us did.

After ten long months of working in what will likely be the most important position I will ever hold, that of Volunteer, I am often frustrated, amazed, saddened, and, ashamed that more of my fellow New Orleaneans are not on that “payroll” with me. As an “insider” who experienced the worst disaster this country has ever known, along with its’ endless aftermath, I understand that the citizens of this community have had their lives turned upside down and that each and every day is a challenge which brings new challenges. Because I am an “insider” I feel that I can express my disappointment in many of those citizens’ failure to rise to one challenge in particular: the challenge to find the strength to fix more than their individual homes, settle more than their individual insurance claims, and design more than their individual kitchens.............the challenge to find the strength to play their parts in designing and rebuilding a community, a better community, a stronger community, their community.

While I feel that “government” could have and still can do better, I try not to forget the true role of our government and my true role in a community that, in the end, is one tiny cog in the wheel, otherwise known as the Greatest Country on Earth. Abraham Lincoln’s words, “.....and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth...” leave little room for doubt that the role of citizen of the United States of America is not a birthright, rather, it is privilege.....one with rights, and one with responsibilities. One has only to read the current headlines here in New Orleans to see that collectively and as a community, we are not living up to the responsibilities of citizenship. Following is but one example:

“Police panel, public yet to connect
Citizens don't show up with complaints”
Friday, June 30, 2006
By Michael Perlstein


One of the most significant headlines I have come across:

In New Orleans, Bush Urges Volunteerism
President Tours Recovery Projects on Coast
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006

"If you are interested in helping the victims of Katrina, interested in helping them get back on their feet, come on down here," Bush said.


What about allowing, no demanding, that we, play a more active part in that rebuilding? Why is it that nearly all the people in my circle, inner and otherwise, are all busy fighting with insurance carriers, busy working to finish architectural plans, busy at whatever it’s going to take to get that FEMA trailer out of the front yard, but not so busy volunteering, not so busy attending meetings designed for them to really work toward reducing the sky-rocketing crime in this city, not so busy helping their “neighbor” .......not so busy because look at what we have gone through? When will we collectively disavow the label of victim and instead wholly embrace the badge of survivor?

Yes, Katrina took away so much of what we thought we had the right to....garbage removal, schools for our children, jobs, neighbors, the American Dream, and clearly, we all feel that unfair turn of events in one capacity or another. Surely though, she did not also take away our responsibilities as well? Sadly, I realize that for too long, and for too many in my city and I suspect many other cities, “rights” are what we know, what we learn as a child, and unfortunately, what we pass on to the next generation. I wonder, if a disaster the magnitude of Katrina couldn’t remove every level of apathy that lives in New Orleans, what than will it take to do just that?

New Orleans, don’t allow a storm to define who you are if you can instead be defined by your response to that storm. We can either help to rewrite this city’s history, or apathetically allow it to repeat it’s history, it’s our choice, each and every one of us. And because so much is at stake, we need to step out of our own homes and our own lives and fully appreciate that we are each part of a bigger picture, a city that endured nearly complete devastation.........blame Mayor Nagin or Governor Blanco if it makes you feel better, but understand that they are but two people, two sets of ideas, two staffs.....extraordinary disasters demand extraordinary recovery and that means we must each participate at a community level.

Because I know the pain that my fellow New Orleaneans endured, endure, and because my tears were shed for their lost homes, lost jobs, lost lives too, my heart will know joy when those FEMA trailers finally roll out, when their new house is rebuilt and I want more than anything for good things to come their way.....they need good things now so badly. But I want for those who I share this unique connection with to know that while I will smile with glee when you show me your new cabinets, there is something else I want you to show me........I want to see dirt under your nails, I want to see the scrapes and cuts you got while gutting the house of someone you may never meet, or show me the school you are helping to bring back to life......those are the things that will elicit true excitement from me, and if you give it a chance, they may do the same for you.

I love my city and the people who call it home and so as you read this, and if you are on this same journey, I hope that you and I will cross paths one day........maybe at the next benefit concert that comes to town. And you should know one final thing.....my feelings may seem harsh, but they are not directed at any one class, race, socioeconomic, religion or gender....they are directed only to any New Orleanean and EVERY New Orleanean who has not yet found a way to help rebuild the community, my community, our community, in addition to their own lives. And so, to my husband, I love you, but don’t wait up for me tonight.

UPDATE:
As amazed as I am by the need for me to post this update, I apparently do.
This post is not meant to "call out" others who don't participate in
animal rescue, rather, this post is meant to deliver a message to
ohers who choose not to participate in any recovery but their own.
If you believe that there are 225 things on the list that take priority
over animal rescue, I take no issue with that.......I take issue with
any and every New Orleanean who chooses to remain on the sidelines of
that list. If that makes me an opportunist, I welcome the label...you
see Opportunist sees the opportunity....and I find it unfortunate that
others don't see the "opportunity" on that "list" as well.
Please, for the sake of my city, of your city, before you allow my
outlook to invoke anger, read it again and understand that the only
"call out" from me is a call out for help, from every citizen in this city
Surely, there is an opportunity there for you too to help rebuild our home, even if you choose to do it anonymously