We are back in New Orleans, meeting with community leaders to get a "ground level" view on how the recovery is going in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.

These visits always remind me why it's so important that we build our own independent media, and why we can never let up in working for progressive change, from the ground up.

In every conversation I've had with local residents and activists, two messages come through loud and clear:

(1) WASHINGTON NEEDS TO ACT:

The Gulf Coast has almost completely fallen off Congress' radar, but so many of the problems here demand federal action. New Orleans public schools face a shortage of 350 teachers for classes starting in JANUARY -- and reviving schools takes money.

Coastal wetlands -- the best buffer against future hurricanes -- are still being destroyed, and saving them takes money (as does closing "MR GO," the destructive canal that helped intensify Katrina).

People need homes to come back -- but HUD is poised to demolish 4,500 barely-damaged public housing units, and money isn't getting to homeowners and renters. 15 and a half months after Katrina, only 56 people have received money for Louisiana's vaunted "Road Home" plan -- a failure of state politics, although federal officials are doing little to push the process along.

There needs to be a new, federal "Agenda for the Gulf" when Congress comes back in January, and the new Democratic leadership must prove they're up to the challenge.


(2) KEEP THE GULF VISIBLE:

Talking to folks around the city, it's clear that the pace of recovery continues at a glacial pace. But New Orleans and the Gulf are "off the radar" for the major media, and even most bloggers and national groups. The only exception was the unsuccessful attempt by Democratic bloggers nationally to unseat scandal-plagued Rep. William Jefferson -- a bid, locals have told me, many bloggers supported with little understanding of the history of race and politics in the area.

We're here to help keep Katrina on the national agenda and give voice to the vibrant, grassroots efforts for change on the Gulf Coast.

Today we also launched our end-of-year fundraising campaign. Fact-finding trips, investigative reporting and building progressive media in the South all take resources, and we'd appreciate your support. Click this link to make a tax-deductible contribution today.

More after the jump:


Here's the letter we sent today about why we could use your support right now:
Dear Friends:

Change is in the air. Across the South and country, people like you have been saying "we've had enough" and are standing up for a new direction.

As a friend of the Institute for Southern Studies, you know that on issues from war to working families, the Institute is always there - a leader and catalyst for change in the South.

We've been standing up. Speaking up. Taking you to the front lines by reporting on the issues others won't cover, and tackling the tough problems others won't touch.

And together, we're making history. But we dare not stop now.

Like thousands of others, you count on the Institute for information you can trust, tools you can use, and a vision we can share for justice, democracy and peace.

Now, we're counting on you - to support our unique work and keep the momentum going for a better South and country.

Just visit here to make a tax-deductible contribution: /support.asp

In 2006, the Institute's pioneering media, research and action programs had had a big impact. Our Gulf Watch project exposed key scandals and was featured on ABC, BBC News, CNN, and other major media. Our Peace and Security Program exposed the impact of war on Southern communities. Our Work and Community Program co-founded a campaign that boosted the minimum wage for 101,000 North Carolinians.

Thanks to you, we've accomplished so much. And with your help, there's much more we can do.

The Institute is ready to launch an exciting new media and outreach plan that will double our investigative reporting and reach 10,000 new Southerners and South-watchers in the coming year.

And we need your help to make it a reality.

Today, I hope you will say YES to building a stronger, more powerful progressive voice in the South, and make a special, tax-deductible gift to the Institute for Southern Studies.

Thank you, and best wishes in the New Year.

Chris Kromm
Director, Institute for Southern Studies
Publisher, Southern Exposure

P.S.: If I can have your gift in hand by December 31, we can launch our new media and outreach plan right away. Please, make your tax-deductible gift to the Institute today.
Thanks for your support!