Reporter's Note: President Obama would like advice from his fellow Americans. I, on the other hand, would like another taste of that delicious bread pudding that capped off my most excellent dinner this evening. Absent that, I will continue my quest to write a letter to the White House every day.
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
As promised, I am sending this dispatch from New Orleans where, this evening, I moderated a panel on the latest developments in New Orleans East. This is miles from the French Quarter, and the riverfront, and the Garden District, and all those things tourists and conventioneers come to see, and yet it is home to roughly a third of the city’s population; by some estimates 100,000 people or more. That’s as big a Pueblo, Colorado, and let me tell you these folks are doing things.
Elvis said meetings are generally a waste of time with one joker calling the shots, and I tend to agree. But in this case members of the business community were giving citizens progress reports on various things. So we heard about plans for a hospital, protecting and improving power supplies, and the latest efforts to reopen a central mall that sank along with so much else in the storm. We were told about schools, crime fighting, restaurants, supermarkets, on and on it went.
And a lot of it, I must say, was pretty convincing. Not convincing in a “Wow, look at how this part of the city is becoming the garden spot of America,” kind of way. But convincing in a “these people have been up against it for almost four years now, and they are not giving up, they are making progress, and that is impressive” kind of way.
If you drive around a while (and I did) you can actually see how things are improving (and I did that also.) Yes, some neighborhoods are still train wrecks, but some are also beautiful. Yes, there are still plenty of businesses that remain shuttered, but step by step, month by month, more are opening for customers again. People are investing real money, real lives, and really betting their futures on this place, and that has to mean something if the “American dream” means anything at all.
Because, and this is an important point, there was comparatively little talk in everything I heard tonight about what the government should or could do to help out. I say it is important because everyone here has heard the complaints of those who feel like too much has already been spent on helping New Orleans recover. What I saw tonight was largely private citizens, and private businesses taking the time on a weeknight to help themselves by helping each other. They have regular jobs, and children, and bills to pay, and yet they sat for hours to listen, and question, and talk about how they can continue the exhausting job of bringing their communities back.
It’s a process of course, and it’s not a done deal. Amid all the solid information tonight, there was also some of the traditional smoke, mirrors, and political doubletalk that can make you want to swallow your tongue. There are plenty of skeptics too, and rightfully so. Bringing this area back to where it was before Katrina, (or as they all hope, to something better) is going to take more time, more work, and some luck, too. But there was enough real promise tonight to make me look at this part of town, which I’ve known for more than twenty years now, in a different light.
You talk a lot about hope. People here are living it. One street, one house, one soul at a time. You ought to come see them. Not for the hope it will give them, but for the hope they can give to us all.
Going to check out some more of the situation today before flying back to DC. Call if you get a minute, and if I’m not chewing on a crawfish po-boy and sipping a cold Barqs, we can chat.
I’m looking up Canal Street from my hotel window. It’s late. The lights stretch all the way to Lake Ponchartrain. It’s beautiful.
Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.
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