Just a bit of reflection on hurtling balls of precipitation
A email on Thursday from Long Island's Stephen Talkhouse
informed me that, with Irene (then still a bona fide hurricane) on its way,
last weekend's shows by Trombone Shorty and his Orleans Avenue band would be
"Having lived through Katrina," the promoter explained,
"they have opted to head home."
A New Orleans musician heading back home from New York to
avoid a hurricane--to feel safe. Irony is only a few letters removed from Irene.
It turned out that, for New Yorkers, Irene wasn't the monster it appeared to
be--and could well have been. Not to dismiss the floods, blackouts, damages,
costs, and even, up and down the East Coast, several losses of lives. But we
were braced for something far more devastating and it looked real.
In my Brooklyn neighborhood, save for a few fallen trees,
Irene was mostly just heavy rains and howling winds while holed up inside. But
don't head to a hardware store the day before a forecast hurricane. There is
the smell of panic. Flashlights? Gone. D Batteries? Sold out. Duct tape?
Shoulda come yesterday.
Only days earlier, I'd been rethinking my plans, considering
heading down to NOLA for what I hesitate to call an "anniversary" of the
landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the precipitating event of the levee failures
that caused the flood of 2005, leading to a manmade disaster of unprecedented
and long-running proportion. It felt odd not to be covering the day for a
newspaper or magazine, as I have each of the past six years, save for the one, three
years ago, when my boy Sam was newborn. For me, the 29th is more than an
anniversary or commemoration; rather, it has been a peg to draw national (and
editors') attention to both the ongoing needs and glories of a city I've come
to hold as dear as the family with which I was holed up.
Yet the wise parent in me stayed in Brooklyn, preparing despite the impending storm for Sam's third birthday (and a fine Saturday bash it was). The smart husband in me was alongside Erica (another time-marker: 20 years together, Wednesday), getting ready to hunker down in case the lights went off and all hell broke lose. And even as the reporter in me kept focusing on what happened in New Orleans in 2005, what has and hasn't happened since, and how much I don't want all eyes to avert now that more than 5 years have passed, I found myself transfixed in the present tense on a swirling ball moving up the East Coast toward my home. This brought back odd, slightly faded memories of 2005, when we all tracked Katrina with a sense of impending doom, and of 2008, when I'd steal time in the hospital lounge after Sam's troubled delivery, as he was just gaining his strength, to catch CNN glimpses of Hurricane Gustav bearing down on New Orleans, like some ball of cruelty hurtling toward a city just getting back on its feet.
There is no comparison, wasn't even one when we thought this might be a Category Three direct hit. I mean to imply none regarding Irene. New York City is not routinely threatened by hurricanes. It is not surrounded by faulty levees waiting for provocation to fail. Say what you will about Obama: We no longer have a president who turns blind eyes to suffering and appoints willfully incompetent agency directors. Plus, we all know that NYC would ever be left to suffer as NOLA was. Just wouldn't happen that way, such is the nature of inequity.
The mostly swift and smart responses to Irene's havoc can be credited to many sources, among them lessons learned from New Orleans. I know that's true for me. As I have so many times in so many ways since my immersion in New Orleans life and culture, in both good times and bad, I found myself wiser and better for what I've learned in NOLA. The friends I've made and the folks I've interviewed were the ones who stood by whispering in my ear as I backed up my computer, gassed up my car, loaded up on bottled water and dry food, and thought about my family's and friends' needs. And when, having done what I could, I relaxed and let Nature take its course.
We're fine, as you must by now know. It's the 29th, and I'm here in Brooklyn, no loss of light or power, and no loss of passion for the things I care about.
It's been six years since the floods that resulted from the levee failures following Katrina. If you're in New Orleans, here are two among the many events going on today:
--6TH ANNUAL NEW ORLEANS KATRINA COMMEMORATION MARCH SECONDLINE
MONDAY, AUGUST 29, 2011 10:00 AM
We are commemorating the first Monday since Monday, August 29, 2005.
Our theme this year: IN LOVING MEMORY OF LOST LOVED ONES. We will always miss our loved ones and we miss our family that is dispersed across America.
The purposes and outcomes of this annual event include:
1. To remember and honor friends, family, and neighbors who died in Hurricane Katrina.
2. To support Katrina Survivors in the healing process by providing a community outlet for expression and collective remembrance.
3. To re-issue our calls for a just recovery for those who are still struggling with access to affordable housing, quality schools, good jobs, safe streets, and proper health care
4. To educate and inform the community about the ongoing issues affecting us, including environmental concerns such as wetland restoration and environmental justice and the resulting health problems.
5. To appeal to the State of Louisiana to make August 29th a state holiday.
Rain or Shine, on Monday, August 29, 2011, the New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation is hosting the sixth annual Katrina Commemoration March Second line. We are marching for our future as American citizens rebuilding our lives. We as a community we must always remember our lost loved ones and those life altering events. The Commemoration events begin 10:00am at the Lower 9th Ward Levee Breach located at Jourdan and North Galvez Avenue across the Industrial Canal. Following the Levee Breach healing ceremony; the March Secondline begins at 10:45am.
The March Secondline will move down St. Claude Avenue to Hunter's Field on the corner of North Claiborne Avenue and St. Bernard Avenue. 1:00 pm at Hunter's Field, we will have the Commemoration Program. There is a HipHop fundraiser at the Who Dat Daiquiri Shop in Metairie on Friday 26 August 2011 9:00pm. That's Tonight!!
The Commemoration Programming will be hosted by Q93's Wild Wayne and Sister Sunni Patterson. The community speakers include Brother Jerome Smith of Tamborine and Fan, National Wildlife Federation and many others. The following artist will perform Rantz Davis, Truth Universal, Sunni Patterson, B Streezy, Detroit, Iris P, Pervella, Monteco, Blaze, Caren Green, Shakespeare the Poet, Sess 4-5, Young Sino, Nuthin' But Fire Boys, Q93, FM98, 102.9FM, 106.7FM, WBOK. Scholastic Read and Rise will be giving away books to kids in grade K through 8th. St. Anna's Mission Bus will be there! We look forward to seeing you there!
Contact: Ms. U. Glover or Mr. D. Warren
New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation
1840 North Claiborne Avenue New Orleans Louisiana 70116
Adam Norris, Director of Public Relations
The University of New Orleans
(504) 280-6939, email@example.com
Allison Plyer, Chief Demographer and Deputy Director
Greater New Orleans Community Data Center
What: Mayor Landrieu will speak at Brookings Institution Press Book Launch and Forum
When: Monday, August 29, 2011, 1:00-4:30 p.m., reception from 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Where: Lindy Boggs International Conference Center, 2045 Lakeshore Dr., Room 152
Details: The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) and the University of New Orleans (UNO) will host a forum to introduce the new book Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita from the Brookings Institution Press and discuss its implications.
Multiple disasters since 2005, including Hurricane Irene's fury on the Eastern seaboard, place new urgency on understanding the lessons learned from Katrina and Rita. Resilience and Opportunity presents the complex lessons of the 2005 storms and their aftermath. It offers the first comprehensive look at how the Gulf Coast communities are reemerging from the disasters with resilience and determination. Resilience and Opportunity, featuring many New Orleans researchers, documents the unprecedented civic revival that has breathed energy and accountability into reforms and has the potential to make the region more resilient to future catastrophes.
Welcome: Joe King, Acting Chancellor, and Susan Krantz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, UNO
Introduction: Amy Liu, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
New Orleans Index at Six: Allison Plyer, Deputy Director, GNOCDC
Panel Discussion: State and Future of Policy Reforms
Moderator: Andre Perry, Loyola University
John Renne, The University of New Orleans
Karen DeSalvo, City of New Orleans
Luceia LeDoux, Baptist Community Ministries
David Marcello, Tulane University
Panel Discussion: State and Future of Civil Society and Community Engagement
Moderator: Flozell Daniels, Foundation for Louisiana
Richard Mizelle, Florida State University
Linetta Gilbert, Ford Foundation and The Declaration Initiative
Silas Lee, Xavier University
Reilly Morse, Mississippi Center for Justice
Rich McCline, Southern University at Baton Rouge
Moderated conversation with the Honorable Mitchell J. Landrieu
Amy Liu, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution