Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill- and how LA Helps LA
Every disaster we face brings with it hard won life lessons, and even silver linings.
Here are a couple of lessons I have learned, and which I have observed that the people of coastal Louisiana have learned in the past 5 years.
1st lesson – That the people of the Gulf Coast must actively advocate for their own destiny – and they have. New Orleans became radicalized in advocating for themselves post-Katrina. New Orleans was known as “the city the care forgot,” and while it remains a city that truly knows how to party, they had to get serious right way Post-Katrina. They learned very quickly to take responsibility for themselves, becoming actively involved in shaping their own destiny. After all, having your city completely devastated in this great experiment of a democracy here in America, is a wake call that democracy is not only for the people, but of and by the people.
I think especially of Women of the Storm, an organization of culturally, socially and economically diverse Louisiana women, founded in January of 2006, and bound, as they state “by their passion for their communities,” to actively advocate in Washington (and by that I mean, really get in up the faces of our politicians) for their interests.
I saw this realization worked out again, 5 years later, in the people of Louisiana’s response to the BP oil spill.
2nd lesson – That the generosity and initiative of the American people goes beyond that of the American government.
In February of 2006, I traveled to new Orleans to cook in a camp housing volunteers who came to clean up after the storm. It was so deeply gratifying to me to see help come from ordinary people traveling from places I rarely thought about, like Iowa and Virginia, bringing equipment, supplying and building kitchens to feed volunteers, and volunteering themselves to strip, raze and rebuild moldy, collapsed houses in the 9th Ward.
Now, I‘ve said this to a couple of people here and there over the past five years, who have been quick to jump in and say “that’s the way it should be” with the implication or direct statement that it’s individuals, not government who should be responsible to help in disasters like this. Read this clearly-I am not implying, in any way, that the generosity I observed on the part of the American people, absolves the government from its responsibility. I think most Americans would agree that the most legitimate purpose of government is to protect its citizens, and if saving them from being drowned by failed levees and canals built by federal government, is not protecting them, then really, I just don’t know what is. And really, if any of those people had seen first hand the scope of the disaster the Gulf Coast faced, I don’t know how they could have insisted that this was a problem that private individuals alone could redress.
Okay – I know I’ve gone on, but I want to share one more lesson that I’ve learned in the past year. It’s not specifically related to Katrina or the BP Oil Spill, but deeply gratifying to me, nevertheless.
About a year ago, the amazing Erika Kerekes of In Erika’s Kitchen decided that the food bloggers of Los Angeles should develop into a cohesive and active community. I was skeptical of the response she would get in what I called “community challenged” L.A., but I’m thankful that Erika had more vision and faith than I did. She began corralling the food bloggers, and we now have regular meetings. I, for one, am so thankful for this great supportive community. So far this year we’ve held fund raising events to benefit the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake that hit them, and to benefit Share Our Strength in their work of ending childhood hunger in America. And now our L.A. blogging community is joining me in LA Helps LA, a tasting event here in Los Angeles, on Sunday, October 3rd, to benefit the Gulf Restoration Network. I’ll be writing more about it over the next few posts, but for now, I extend an invitation to you, and sincerely hope many of you will be able to join us.