VOICES: Louisiana: from hurricane recovery to prosperity

By Dr. Monteic A. Sizer, Louisiana FamilyRecovery Corps

Rarely in Louisiana is there an issue that galvanizes all of its people, that brings together farmers in the north and fishermen in the south, and that unifies all of the many political, religious, ethnic, and social classes into one spirit.

It is when this perfect storm of tough times, questionable politics, and a deep concern about the future of our state combines with opportunity and a unifying rallying cry that unites the will and fortitude of the rich and the poor, the blacks and the whites, and the Catholics and the Protestants, all in a spirit of one Louisiana, that momentum begins to swirl.

Today those forces are working together to form a groundswell among Louisianians. And that unifying rallying cry is the recovery of our state.

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike landed four brutal body shots to our state's people. We were knocked down. But we were not knocked out.

Now, staggering to get back on our feet, Louisiana is poised for a rally. Louisiana is poised for a comeback. But it cannot mount such a stirring triumph of will without a groundswell among the masses not seen since the populist movement ushered in by Huey Long.

But this is not your grandfather's populist movement. This is not an effort based on handouts, partisan promises, and government bailouts, for in an era when American citizens, including Louisianians, are being asked to personally bail out corporate executives, the banking industry, the automobile industry, and Wall Street, all Louisianians are looking for is an opportunity and reciprocal accountabilities among themselves and those reaching out a helping hand.

But make no mistake, this is Louisiana's twenty-first century populist movement. By definition, populism is described as grassroots democracy, working-class activism, egalitarianism, and representing and extolling the common person, the working class, and the underdog.

No better definition of human recovery can be penned.

This movement is not led by a single visionary. It is not predicated on New Deal policies or Spread the Wealth ideologies. Instead, it is supported by business executives, blue collar workers, farmers, students, homemakers, and every other Louisianian affected by disaster. It is supported statewide by those who have been knocked to their knees, only to realize that we, as Louisianians, are really not that different from each other. We have the same basic wants. We have the same basic needs. We have the same basic pride.

And it is through those realizations, unearthed in a time of unimaginable adversity caused by the greatest natural disaster in the history of our country, we find that the fisherman and the farmer only differ by the tools of their trade, that Catholics and Protestants only differ in their teachings on Sunday, and that the working class and the cultural elite only differ in available opportunities.

As Louisianians, we all face the same struggles in some form or fashion. We are all by-products to some degree of broken social systems, inept public school systems, inadequate healthcare options, a failed criminal justice system, and an annual pilgrimage from our state by many of our best and brightest college graduates who seek more lucrative job opportunities beyond our borders.

But now there is a glimmer of hope. Now there is a reason to believe that we can make a difference. Yes, the hurricanes did a number on us, but in their wake have also blossomed great opportunities.

There is a reason the world-wide recession has been slow to take root in Louisiana. There is a reason why Louisiana industries do not reflect the dire realities of their counterparts in other regions of the country. There is a reason why Louisiana's workforce continues to grow at the same time that national unemployment averages have blossomed to historical levels.

And that reason is recovery and the billions of dollars and thousands of new jobs the effort has brought to the state.

But those resources are not evergreen. There is an end, and that end is in sight. The recovery resources that are now serving as a buoy for our state will soon sail away, leaving Louisianians with their traditional means and the state with its self-constructed socio-economic infrastructure.

Now, while the resources are available and the personal and political will is strong, is the time for action. Now is the time for our people to rise up and demand better of its government, for when those recovery resources are finally expended, Louisiana will go right back to having to survive on the seeds it has sewn. And if the fallback plan includes those broken social systems, those inept public school systems, those inadequate healthcare options, that failed criminal justice system, and our college graduates fleeing the state, we will be no better for all of the pain and anguish we have overcome.

These broken systems have changed people for far too long. Now it is time for the people to change these broken systems.

But the broken systems are not the only barriers on Louisiana's road to recovery. As a state, we are still unprepared for the aftermath should another catastrophic event occur in Louisiana. Louisiana has no long-term human recovery plan in place to ensure the well-being of its citizens if another hurricane were to barrel through the state or if we should be the target of an international or home-grown terrorist.

Therefore, the groundswell must continue. The groundswell must grow into a wave - a wave of change, a wave of reform. Never again can Louisiana afford to be so vulnerable. Never again can Louisiana afford to be so devastated. Certainly no one can control the fury that Mother Nature may unleash on us in the future, but it can have a strategic plan in place so that the next disaster does not push our citizens back into a post-Katrina state. What can also be controlled is the man-made vulnerabilities that cause so much undue suffering in times of strife and so many unnecessary hardships when times get tough.

It's now time for the whisper being heard throughout Louisiana to become a roar. And it's time for each and every person in the state to take accountability for the future of Louisiana and the preservation of its heritage.

The phones have begun to ring in the offices of our state legislators, and that must continue at an even greater rate. People are beginning to demand better services from our state agencies, and that must also continue. And people are questioning whether the talk of accountability and transparency from those in government who have the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of Louisiana's citizens will ever be followed by meaningful action. Again, those questions must continue to be asked.

Admittedly, not everyone will want to join the proverbial march to the capitol steps. There are some who refuse to take advantage of opportunities placed before them. For those who refuse to help themselves, they will continue to get what they have always gotten.

But for those who see a real sign of opportunity, maybe for the first time ever, and are willing to do their part in improving their own lot in life, may the groundswell take them on a ride out of the doldrums and away from a life infested with destitution and depravity where hope and opportunity are but fleeting concepts in a myriad of devastation.

Just like the tide coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, however, the swell will eventually diminish. The people, once they rise up, will eventually settle back into their communities and focus on educating our children, tending to our crops, and stocking the nation with our abundant seafood and petroleum resources.

It is in this inevitable wake that change and reform demanded by the people must hold up, must stand on its feet, and must serve the citizens of Louisiana, for when people are emboldened to the point of acting for the sake of self-preservation, that is when one state and one spirit form one Louisiana.

Dr. Monteic A. Sizer is President and CEO of the Louisiana FamilyRecovery Corps. For more information about the Recovery Corps, pleasevisit www.recoverycorps.org.