On America Street in the Seabrook area of the ninth ward in New Orleans, an area in which I spent a month driving an American Red Cross Mobile Feeding Unit, there are vibrant signs of hope and optimism. Residents are coming back to their neighborhood and are even gutting their homes for the first time since Hurricanes Katrina.
Construction workers and New Orleans Department of Streets and Sanitation crews are sweeping through the area as they remove massive mounds of debris. Not many restaurants are open – but a Red Cross Mobile Feeding Unit is providing free hot meals for returning residents.
There is a local, family-owned hardware store that is open and selling gloves, hand sanitizer and breathing masks with filters for those who wish to enter, for example, a home contaminated with undetectable amounts of hazardous mold.
But just a few miles down the road on Flood Avenue, in the lower ninth ward, there are no signs of recovery. In fact there are no people living in or returning to Flood Avenue. Tourists drive through that avenue with their windows up, with masks covering their faces and eyes, and some even with gloves while inside the comfort of their automobile.
Flood Avenue represents the worst aspects of our American government and American philanthropy. In a country with such resources – the largest economy, the most purchasing power and the greatest industrial output in the world – it is hard to fathom, and even harder to volunteer in, an American city that not only looks but functions like that of a Third World country.
At least 20 of the world’s 45 largest businesses call the United States home, according to The Wall Street Journal. Shouldn’t the government be creating more incentives for these businesses to fund and invest in the restoration of New Orleans?
Congress must do more to reach out to the business, investment world. We recognize the convenience of calling on the wealthy’s help during an election cycle, but when will we have a true “constituent-based Congress,” one that significantly invests more time into improving our interconnected communities than posturing to the expedient whims of the interest group of the day?
Basically, congressional leaders must re-prioritize their time and use their influence to be advocates for social justice.
Our elected representatives and business leaders have an obligation and responsibility to initiate common-sense goals, particularly when it comes to responding to poverty and natural disasters.
For example, hosting forums with CEOs, the Subcommittee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the Departments of Commerce and Treasury would be a great start, because those entities together are important for the vitality of our economy.
As members of a community with vast resources, if each of us did a little part to make a small but significant difference, then so much could be done.
You may not be from the South or have familial connections to New Orleans. But some parts of Louis Armstrong’s city looked like the places you grew up in.
In fact, if you look carefully, Hurricane Katrina victims are of all races, genders, religious orientations and colors – they look just like you and me. Do something to help, because it could have easily happened to you instead.
Every corner and road of dismay should look more like the America Street you and I know.
Flood Avenue should not exist on the streets of America.
Happy Johnson is a junior in the College.