After Gustav: Where's the Home in Homeland?

"And home sings me of sweet things. My life there has its own wings." - Bonnie Raitt

Home. The very concept generally brings good feelings - childhood, family, etc. It is also a concept that is central to the life and history of this country. The defense of the home has always been one of the most accepted reasons for raising a gun. Defending and keeping your home is about as American as apple pie.

Given that, one would think that the relatively new federal department, Homeland Security, would be doing its best to defend our homes, to keep us where our heart and hearth reside.

Apparently not.

Three years ago, right after Hurricane Katrina, almost to the day, Molly Ivins, one of the best progressive hell raising columnists ever - now deceased - wrote about what's really got to change in New Orleans in order for that city to be truly protected from hurricanes. What she wrote then is still, unfortunately, true - the disappearance of the Gulf's wetlands makes that city and the surrounding area extremely vulnerable.

In her article re-published online at Common Dreams, she said, "It is a fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies--ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands. Last year (2004), four environmental groups cooperated on a joint report showing the Bush administration's policies had allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands."

So, what's happened in the intervening three years? Not much, despite scientific reports and economic analyses that prove that restoring the wetlands is a good idea, as reported recently, for example, in the Times Picayune.

Shouldn't this be the kind of effort that we are spending our homeland security money on? Shouldn't homeland security be securing our actual homes, rather than asking us to flee, over and over again?

But, meanwhile, back in NOLA:

"Are you staying?"

That's the question I asked my friend, New Orleans jazz musician Esquizito (Eric Paul Perez), this past Sunday morning, before Gustav was poised to strike. ( A little background - Eric stayed with me for about three months after Katrina. He found me on MoveOn's website, Hurricane Housing, where I'd posted that I had a guest room available for an evacuee. He and I became - and remain - fast friends. You can read more about that here.)

After reviewing the available meteorological data, and consulting the powers of nature, he decided to stay.


After Katrina, some New Orleanians have decided to keep their own counsel about such decisions. It wasn't a decision he made lightly; if the data had looked much worse, he would have evacuated, as he did after Katrina. He laid in extra supplies and prepared well. And, after all, it's home and the idea of home has a special meaning in New Orleans. It's hard for anyone not from NOLA to understand this. There's just no place else he'd rather be - and keeping an eye on your home, your family, your friends, your pets is simply a priority, simply American.

To a person, every New Orleanian had just one thought - the safety of their City. Some did that by leaving, others, by staying. The experience of Katrina has also made many wary of listening to those in charge, and there's worry about becoming a city divided, scattered, more easy to pick apart and destroy.

It underlines this important fact: the people of New Orleans - and of the rest of this country - know what it is to need to be home. It doesn't matter if you're from tony Orange County, or from the South Bronx - or from New Orleans. For many people, being away from home - especially when you don't want to be away, or were forced to leave - puts a virtual hole in your psyche and your heart and a more visible one in your community.

If Homeland Security were truly interested in our "homes" and making them "secure," money would be invested in things like wetland restoration and levee rebuilding, things that would make our homes safe and not places to run away from.

P.S.: Esquizito's home, "Maison Musique," (1018 Music Street) will be open and offering free meals, music and merriment to all returning Gustav evacuees. The gumbo pot awaits.