I'm (hopefully) going to be blogging for the Teaching the Levees curriculum site, so I'm putting together some sample blogs related to Hurricane Katrina and the recovery effort. I'm posting one below. Please let me know if you have any feedback/suggestions/comments!
June 1st marks the beginning of the 2009 hurricane season, again prompting concern as to how the city of New Orleans will fare in the coming summer's weather. In recognition of this fact, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project (GCCWP) has gathered volunteers from across the country in Washington, D.C. to lobby for the passage of H.R. 2269, also known as the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act. The bill, first brainstormed by students in San Jose and introduced to Congress in May, seeks the funding of 100,000 "green jobs" for displaced residents of the Gulf Coast to rebuild the infrastructure of their local communities.
The GCCWP and its bill, which are supported by groups ranging from Oxfam America to local Gulf Coast non-profits, are an excellent example of an initiative started by New Orleans outsiders (students over 2100 miles away from the city) that works not just to provide the city with services or make donations, but to empower New Orleans' residents and allow them to regain ownership of their community. While the bill has yet to receive a Senate sponsor or support from the Obama administration (making its passage much less likely, especially in these financial times), the campaign has successfully sought out the support of dozens of Gulf Coast organizations as well as the city councils of New Orleans and surrounding municipalities. In addition, it advocates for placing the opportunity and responsibility for revitalizing the city (via public works projects) directly into the hands of the city's residents.
This question of ownership is relevant even within the classroom, as we struggle to make the story of New Orleans and the rebuilding process our own while still recognizing that the city ultimately belongs to its citizens. How do we teach the story of Katrina and call upon ourselves to address the essential questions laid out within the Teaching the Levees curriculum while still maintaining this balance?
This past semester, as part of a history class at Swarthmore College, I set out to write a history of New Orleans and its struggle for educational reform (both before and after Katrina). Throughout this project, I constantly had to remind myself that the issues that define the city are complex and nuanced. By regarding the city as "mine" and myself as an expert, I risked oversimplifying its central dilemmas and missing the inherent lessons that can be learned from its history. I hope that as we move into the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we can continue to grapple with the complexities of the city and applaud efforts to empower its citizens.
(While the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act has yet to gain a wider level of publicity, here's an article from the Times-Picayune, New Orleans' major newspaper: http://www.nola.com/news/?/base/news-1/1243833645183980.xml&coll=1)