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Commentary: New Orleans

By Rosalyn Story

Commentary: New Orleans

Dallas, TX –

As we watch images and hear stories of the devastation of one of America's most beloved cities, everyone who has ever fallen in love with New Orleans must surely be moved to reflect on what that great city once was.

Like many Texans, I have been to New Orleans many times, and every time I discover a new interesting haunt; a sleepy, hidden courtyard in the French Quarter, a new restaurant that redefined that New Orleans staple- gumbo. But on my last trip this past December I saw a very different New Orleans. While celebrating the incoming year with a good friend, we met a tearful homeless man wandering Audubon Park, and my friend suggested that we get him into a program at the Salvation Army. It was New year's Eve, after all, a poetic time to make a new start. It wasn't easy, but we got him a room for the night, and subsequently a place in a good program. As we drove a section of New Orleans rarely seen by tourists, I became aware for the first time of the enormous class divide, of how the majestic mansions of St Charles Street in the Garden District back up against abject poverty, of how the rich who reside behind the wrought iron gates and fenced in gardens are never seen, while the poor black and homeless are in constant view.

As we watch New Orleans through reporters' lenses, one thing is clear. Almost all the white people seemed to have left. The people in the mansions who were rarely seen before, are not seen now. They disappeared quietly into their SUVs and made for higher, dryer ground long before the big one hit. Many of the poor, black, disenfranchised, are painfully visible, and seem simply to have moved from one desperate hovel to another. Whether the issues at heart are race or class or both, the question looming in every American's mind should be, "What is the real reason our government waited so long to do so little?"

I have to wonder how a country that could air drop food and supplies over Afganistan while simultaneously bombing them with amazing efficiency, couldn't find a way to air drop food, water and medicine over New Orleans immediately. Is it because these people are mostly black and poor? Or is it just a demonstration of the same managerial incompetence that's managing the war in Iraq. But the images make it hard to fight the notion that these unwashed New Orleanians are not the preferred ambassadors of the beautiful, romantic city that so many Americans love, and for that, they must pay. One has to wonder if a crisis of like proportion took place in, say, suburban Connecticut, how quickly would help have been on the way.

In time New Orleans will begin to lift her head from the mud and muck and begin to crawl. Money will flow in where water once did, volunteers will arrive with their hearts in their hands, and the rebuilding will begin. By then many who could have been spared with a simple executive order will have died.

In time, the dead will have been long buried and the images of the huddled mass of starving desperate people will slowly fade. The better angels of America's nature will descend upon this beloved city and bring her slowly back to life.

But in the meantime as these heartbreaking images still burn in our minds, as we watch the living rescued and the dead recovered, it doesn't matter why we waited. Only that we did. Let's demand the answers. How much more could we have done, and how much sooner could we have done it?

Rosalyn Story is a writer and a violinist with the Fort Worth Symphony.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.

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