Years ago, I saw the movie “Groundhog Day,” which featured Bill Murray as a broadcaster who had reported on Punxatawney Phil on Groundhog Day, and then found that he kept reliving the same day, over and over again. As I continue my path home from the Gulf Coast, wracked with worry over my daughter (who I believe will be OK on the campus of Tulane University) and more to the point, over my friends in Plaquemines Parish — which appears to be sustaining worse damage than during Hurricane Katrina — I keep thinking about that movie.
I write seven years to the day after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. I can tell you (in case you had any doubt) that there are many parts of the greater New Orleans area that have not recovered from that storm, and that will never recover. The city and the area are wonderful, but it is not the same place it once was. The people that stayed, and those that have come since those days, have a grittiness and sense of perseverance that is sobering to observe.
For those who stuck around – because this is where their home is, and their heart and their culture – the challenge has come round again. I was in Plaquemines Parish with my friends last Friday. I saw all that they had done to recover from Katrina, heard about the plans they had, visited their churches, reveled in their spirit and their vision for reclaiming a life and a future on the Gulf Coast. Today, I haven’t been able to reach them because Hurricane Isaac rages on and will not move: more than a foot of water has fallen in the area, the power is out, the levees in Plaquemines Parish have been overtopped, and everything that these folks – along with countless volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars – struggled for has been thrown into a cocked hat.
So it’s a little like Groundhog Day. Do we keep working at it till we ‘get it right’ or till the levees are so high that they can not be breached, even by a twelve foot storm surge? Do we politely suggest that the people who have lived on this land for generations just give it up and go somewhere else? Do we build an ark (which was one of the solutions suggested in the film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”)?
I refuse to believe that the people who will now have to rebuild again, following Isaac, should be expected to give up their homes. Our friend, Rev. Tyronne Edwards, embraces the name of the Zion Travelers for his church. Their slogan, in the days after Katrina, was “Let us arise and rebuild.” So it was, and so it will be, again. As fellow citizens and compassionate friends, we must respond to the struggle to reclaim the land our sisters and brothers love, and have lived on, for generations. So, as the damage reports come in and the flood waters subside, we will likely be asked, once again, to answer the call for assistance, and to help our friends arise and rebuild. We have done this before, and we will do it again, in a partnership informed by faith, a deep belief in justice, and the need that people carry, deep inside them, to be able to just go home.