For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Friday, December 23, 2005

United We Stand?

Wednesday morning before delving back into cases, we took a driving tour down Canal Street. The emotions it invoked are hard to convey in words and are enormously conflicting. Anger. Sadness. Shock. Grief. Just to name a few. The houses were still in essentially the same condition that they were when the flood waters receded four months ago. Basic services have still not been restored to the area. Trees remain smashed through rooftops. Houses all bear water lines of varying heights – a vivid reminder that, when the levees breached, people in the hardest hit areas faced not a few inches of water but six or seven feet (and, in some neighborhoods, even more). Furniture, clothes, and even children’s toys litter front lawns and spill into the streets. All of the things that once made up people’s lives and memories are now reduced to debris waiting to be hauled away. But, perhaps the most shocking part of all was seeing the spray painted codes on walls and doorways letting rescuers know when each house was searched, who was recovered, whether pets (often left behind) were rescued by the SPCA, and, occasionally, whether a body was found. Some houses weren’t searched until weeks after the storm as rescue workers were forced to wait until the flood waters receded. Some doors hauntingly even bear the date 9/11. Crude, bright orange writing conveys the simplest of information and serves as a stark reminder of just how precarious the days following the floods were for the people of New Orleans.

Taking in the scene around me, I found myself thinking back to the news coverage in the days following the storm. As I surveyed the devastation, those memories made me angry. Very, very angry. This country routinely characterizes itself as the greatest nation in the world. But, looking at the destruction of New Orleans made me realize that, in the wake of the storm, our nation fell far, far short of our ideals. This is the United States of America. We stand and fall together, regardless of class, economics, race, or politics. Yet, when our citizens, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters were living on rooftops and praying for rescues that took far too long to arrive, many individuals went into spin mode rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. This is not to say that there haven’t been extraordinary displays of leadership in the wake of the storm – both from elected leaders and from ordinary citizens that were determined to ensure that their city and their neighbors survived. Katrina produced innumerable unsung heroes. But, even amidst such heroism, much of the coverage focused instead on finger pointing. Was it the Mayor’s fault, the Governor’s, the President’s, FEMA’s? The blame game was everywhere and any assumption of responsibility seemed elusive at best.

At this time, the people of New Orleans don’t need rhetoric, and they don’t need spin. And they certainly don’t need finger pointing. Over the last week, I have met some of the strongest, most resilient people I have ever known. They love their city, and are looking forward to the day that all of its citizens can come home and live and thrive there once more. They are selfless – many of them made homeless themselves due to flooding and yet always willing to make sure that their neighbors receive the help that they need. But they need our support. They need us to remember. Rebuilding New Orleans will take years, will demand sacrifice, and will require the support of us all. As that process progresses, ultimately, the people of New Orleans need all Americans to stand up and say that this is still one country and that wherever any of our citizens struggle, there are we all.


  • Hey Pro Bono folks:

    You all have taken on a very important and awesome task and I wish you the best of luck, stamina and spirit while you are down there helping out. I wish I could be there, too. Please know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:00 PM  

  • You said it very well. You go girl!

    By Anonymous Ellen, at 10:56 AM  

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