New Orleans Mayor Ray "Chocolate City" Nagin has not learned much since his historic mismanagement of the Katrina crisis. In a recent speech, he advised blacks that the nefarious Man is still trying to keep them down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, what happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere," Nagin said at a dinner sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for newspapers that target black readers. "They are studying this model of natural disasters, dispersing the community and changing the electoral process in that community. . . they dispersed all of our people across 44 states with one-way tickets."
Who is "they" who dispersed these people? The bus drivers? The nonprofits and churches and municipalities and family members who took in the refugees? Is he really suggesting that there was a systematically executed plan to take advantage of fortuitous flooding to change New Orleans from black to white? That the same government he accuses of inept bungling on the one hand was simultaneously masterminding the reshaping of a major U.S. community on the other?
Nagin can blame the feds for being slow to rebuild areas that shouldn't have been built in the first place--New Orleans was always a stupid place to put a city--but the reasons why people aren't returning is because, to come back, people need at least (i) a place to live, (ii) work, (iii) safety and physical security, (iv) services, and (v) economic security. Many also want family and community, a dynamic that may be irreparably shattered in the city.
I have a friend who left town and was not able to return for five months. He returned because he had just bought a house uptown, it sustained minimal damage, and his job was still waiting for him -- conditions that were not satisfied for many of the refugees, and even so, he had to make the decision whether to uproot his family again and make what amounted to another major life move. Another friend lost his house and four rental properties and spent months with relatives in western Louisiana, ultimately returning to his job at Tulane Law School when campus reopened for the Spring 2006 semester. Three or five or six months post-Katrina, each family unit (or voting unit, as Nagin sees them) had to decide whether the promise of New Orleans' recovery was plausible enough to leave the new life in which they found themselves. People were now working and renting in Lake Charles and Dallas and Nashville and Jacksonville and Birmingham, and their kids were enrolled in schools there, and maybe they were reuniting with relatives they had rarely had occasion to visit in the past. Times were tough, maybe, but they had new lives and a fresh start. To lure people back, it has been Nagin's responsibility to establish positive momentum, craft a message of progress and hope, and communicate it inside and outside his jurisdiction. At that he has utterly failed, instead continuing to play the race card and waiting for the government he says is trying to destroy him to come save him. Good luck with that.
People have a simple choice: they can make the new life they've already started, or they can return to New Orleans, which has better food, better music, and worse everything else.
What is Nagin's solution? None, just more boo-hooing about how all the problems New Orleans is experiencing under his (lack of) leadership are somebody else's fault, just like the bungled Katrina evacuation and his consistently horrible communications campaign have been somebody else's fault. Here the citizens are relying on government to help them, comfort them and make things right, and government is pointing fingers at other government. Meanwhile whitey is moving in with capital and entrepreneurial pluck, and city government, which should be supporting enterprise with all its heart and resources, instead can't quit complaining that the man is going to ruin it for the brothers. Sorry cats, but the history of America is the history of the man and profit motive. It's what built this country and it's what keeps it strong. Anyone who has ever experienced New Orleans government knows they ain't gonna fix nothing until they're good and ready, and they'll never be good or ready. The government consumes, the man produces. Look to the man to bring revitalization from the wreckage.
You can understand why Mr. Nagin is so upset - half his voters have left town, the half who remained have witnessed his failings firsthand (yet re-elected him, in classic New Orleans style), and half of the newcomers to the city can't read a ballot in English. The hell with rebuilding, he's got reelection to worry about.
(The diaspora of New Orleans, based on more than 40,000 postings on Internet "safe lists" by purported Katrina survivors.)
It is a testament to the strength and robustness of the American machine and to the man that Katrina did not cause more of a blip than it did. Likewise for 9/11 and every other natural and unnatural disaster that has afflicted the nation in recent years. We are a robust economy driven by profit motive and opportunity. Every shakeup creates both pain and opportunity. Nagin would be wise to focus on the latter.