A new report estimates that over one million volunteers have come here to help us since KatrinaI'd like to thank each and every one of the personally. I know that most Americans are generous, and compassionate people. Most of us care about others, although we all have different ways of expressing it.
I worry about the lack of civil civic discourse. It seems that discourse has become courser and courser. Insults fly like mosquitoes on a Louisiana bayou, buzzing around without much thought for anything. There is little real debate and even less respect for the views of others. People are called all manner of things usually without the speaker/writer actually having the courage to say it in person.
When I returned to New Orleans the first time a little more than a week after Katrina. I was worried about what I would find. There was still water in the streets around the Superdome. My house still had only three and a half feet of water in it, but I couldn't get to it.
I also found a lot of people already at work cleaning up the city. I found people going out of their way to help each other. Our little mission was accomplished only with the help of a dedicated building engineer who, on his own, returned to begin salvaging his employers property without being told to.
The most moving and encouraging thing I saw on that first trip was on our way out of New Orleans. On the highway there were long lines of military vehicles, power company vehicles and all types of construction equipment heading to New Orleans. It was very moving for me to see all of that effort was being directed to help us.
Later when we were able to get to our house, with the help of friends we were able to find people to help us clean it out. This was during the time we were not even supposed to be in the city. About twice a day police would stop by to see what were were doing. They were not usually NOPD but police from all over the country, occasionally military police, one group was the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service. We offered our food and water to them and thanked them for their help. Neighbors occasionally came by, but not many. The city was still mostly deserted.
During my travels to and from the City in the months after the Airport reopened I always tried to make it a point to find out why my seat mate was traveling to New Orleans. In the early days it was usually to work on the clean up. Most of the people were doing a job, but occasionally it would be a volunteer working for some relief group. It didn't matter, I always thanked them for their help. Eventually the people I met were mostly New Orleanians returning from some exile to begin rebuilding. Finally it more or less returned to normal with mostly business travelers and some tourists.
During our much delayed mayoral election, when I voted early, the person who helped me was from another parish. Her parish was also hard hit by the hurricanes but she came to New Orleans to help us successfully restart our democratic process. I thanked her. I was grateful she cared enough to come and help us.
Finally there were the volunteers, who came by the thousands and are still coming. Many were young men and women from high schools and colleges, often organized by churches sometimes giving up holidays, vacations or even semesters of school to come here and help. They often worked under primative conditions doing dirty jobs that Americans aren't supposed to be willing to do, and they worked for free. To help people.
None of those people had to do this. Some were doing it for money. But anyone who was here in those days knows there must have been an easier way to make a buck. Some were adventurous. All of them at some level were trying to help out people in need.
We need to remember them and thank them whenever we can.