Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What is is about New Orleans supporters know that a letter from nearly always contains an action item or some pressing to do right away.

But as we approach the 5th Anniversary of the Worst Civil Engineering Disaster in U.S. History, we will make a couple of exceptions and reach out perhaps only to share....

This past June, I met Dr. Steve Gorelick at a 3-day conference in New Orleans hosted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. On his own, he wrote me recently about his reaction (and his family's) to the City and its people. I found his letter fascinating, and with his permission, I have reprinted it here.

My wife Amy, 12 year-old daughter Molly and I have not been able to stop talking about NOLA. I mean, I know NOLA is hip and mysterious and legendary and what-not. But setting aside all those popular, oft-repeated perceptions, I think it's safe to say that -- completely unexpectedly -- we hooked into a much deeper narrative, one I don't think we even fully understand two months later.

Maybe it was the unexpected lack of repression or puritanical nonsense. Maybe the lack of shame. Or maybe it was the disarming, fearless expression of emotion as people described their homes, their parents, their lost photos, their recipes. I just know that it seemed like a level of personal investment by people in their own, special place that I have never seen anywhere in the world.

And I don't think that many Americans - especially policy makers and politicians -- get what looked pretty obvious to me: All the anger people still feel, all the activism like fueled by that anger, and all the mournfulness about the shameful way Katrina refugees and other residents were and are still treated, looked to a first-time outsider as so raw, so intimate, that I started to see it as a marriage. Strange, huh? A marriage?

What I mean is that so many people talked about their connection to their place almost as if they were in long-term, committed, passionate, occasionally rageful, yet lovingly turbulent relationships. I just don't remember ever seeing or hearing that anywhere else. Ever.

At one point, a week after I got back, I actually found myself laughing as I thought: "God help anyone in public life who imagines that the people in NOLA fighting to rebuild and fighting to investigate the history of negligence might actually settle for half a solution or half an investigation! Settle? Please! The people I met seemed as likely to settle for a cold beignet as for a half-baked investigation that reveals anything less than the whole truth of what happened.

It's funny: I have been to conflict zones and countries where people would, in a split second -- kill if they felt their place threatened. Yet I had the feeling New Orleans people have an even stronger tie. And it's not that they would kill. It was even stronger than that. It was an almost mystical refusal to die.

And I need to feel it again. There. Soon.

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