Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"If I had known, I would never have bought this house"

As my team and I are driving through the post-flood areas of Monroe, Louisiana, we stop and ask residents about flooding depths for the recent disaster.  Mostly, people are willing to talk - we serve as confessor and sounding board and, eventually, hopefully, as financial intercessor with the funding folks.

And people want us to hear what their experience was.

So more than once, I entered into a conversation with people involved with a recently minted, and unannounced disaster, and began to hear their story.  And every time, the story involves a combination of limited resources, inability to move, repetitive damages ("this is the third time in five years we have had to move our stuff off the floor to avoid getting it wet!") and poor infrastructure.

Believe me, if these folks had the resources to not live in the floodplain, they would not live in the floodplain.

So I hopped out of the car at 3pm to ask an older man sitting in his driveway.

"You lost?" he asked, not unkindly.

Fair enough. We had driven through the neighborhood twice.

"No, sir.  Just working with a recovery group to see if we can figure out where the floodwaters came, and how high they were.  Did your house flood?"

"Yeah, it did!  Come on inside and I'll show you!"

Once I am inside, his wife explains to me from her chair in the den that he has Alzheimers, and that he confuses the different flooding events.

The house has been updated to allow for cleanup.  Flooring that can be squeegied.  Concrete blocks at the ready to put sofa up higher, out of the expected floodwaters.

Let me say that again.  Expected floodwaters.

Because even people who can't afford to move can afford concrete blocks.

While I was there, their daughter called, and she wanted to know WHO THE HELL WAS IN THE HOUSE AND WHO SENT HIM TO COME INSIDE!?!

I explained, as calmly as I could, that nobody sent me.  That I understood the concern.  And that I had had zero intention of coming in.  I just asked a question, and had come inside by invitation.  The wife nodded, because my explanation made sense.  And conveyed that to the daughter, who was doing her job to protect the family.

As I was taking my leave, the old man looked at me and said, "We keep getting flooded, over and over again.  If I had known it was going to be like this, I never would have bought this house."

That story.  Repeated in communities across the parish, the state, the nation.  Ending up with limited hope, limited options, and no opportunities, and then being blamed - in the media, in the federal agencies that support recovery, even in the charitable organizations who are trying to help - for being too stupid to realize the danger.  For choosing poorly.

And that is those media outlets that even cover it.  Have you seen the damage from the Louisiana floods in March?  Any coverage at all?  Is there a demand that Congress support these folks?

If so, I haven't seen it.

It keeps me up at night.  It makes me wake up angry, and determined to see past what can be done, to what needs to be done.  To look outside the box for solutions that will help build communities, provide opportunities, and introduce basic services to areas that don't have them.

For all that Reagan was right about the nine most terrifying words in the English language*, it is a moral imperative that we use those words.  And that we use the opportunity to help people. To provide information to communities reeling after a disaster.

To live up to the position that I hold, as public servant.

*The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mom, I love you.

All of us have that guilty pleasure.  Whether it is watching Ellen or Maury, or reading bodice rippers, or fixing key lime fudge just to eat by ourselves, there is always something that we do that just gives us a little thrill - something that is not part of what we would willingly share with the world.

I have a number of guilty pleasures, but one of my regulars is reading the Postsecret blog.

For those five of you who don't know what Postsecret is, it is a website that updates every Sunday, providing anonymous secrets that people mailed in from around the world.  The idea is that nobody will know it is you, and that there is something quite liberating to give up the secret.  It also provides a voyeuristic thrill to read other people's secrets, and let you share a little bit with people you don't know. Somehow, it  seems to make the world just a little smaller, and more likeable.

Last night, I was working on some classwork, and midnight passed; to celebrate, I opened a window to the website.

It is Mother's Day.  And people share some of the most heart-rending, saddest, happiest, joyous postcards ever on Mother's Day.  Common themes: Mom, I forgive you; Mom, I miss you; Mom, you are my heroine; Mom, please get off of heroin.

And this one.

This one resonated with me.

Let me tell you about my mom.  Patty Lawton is a caretaker.  She is a facilitator.  She is an enabler. She is a cheerleader.  She is a lover, and a fighter, and is devoted beyond all imagination.  She gives of herself, and loves with a fierceness that I have never seen in anyone else.

When we were in Brasil, I fell off the boat.  Mom, hearing my screams (I couldn't swim) woke from a dead sleep and dove over a four-foot rail straight into the Amazon River to save me. I knew I was saved, and stopped yelling (which was unfortunate, because she could no longer see me because of the glare.)  The she-bear instincts were strong in my mom, and she rescued me.  (Little Bear got his bottom warmed after that incident, but it was done in love...)

Friday, May 6, 2016

John Philip Sousa March

Last week was spent in class in Washington, DC.  The class is run by Georgetown's Government Affairs Institute, and it provides people from the Executive branch with a chance to understand the legislative process.  Lecturers included a congressman, several staffers, a political historian, a few journalists, lobbyists... - all people who have a unique perspective on what is happening within the beltway.

Every lecture was amazing.  The lectures showed us why things work the way they do, why the don't work when they don't, and what the reasoning was behind making it function (?) that way.  It was like high school civics class by people for whom that is their passion.  I geeked out all week long.  I could not drink the coffee fast enough to keep my brain up with all of the connections they were offering.

The one thing that surprised me was an unspoken theme of the entire class.  Every single person who spoke provided us with insight into the people who make our government run, and all of them talked about the same thing without ever saying the word.


Turns out that the whole sausage-making process that comprises our government runs on patriotism.

These lecturers were not 'pie-in-the-sky' innocents nor are they ignorant of what is truly going on in Washington.  They are battle-hardened veterans of burrocratic and legislative conflicts.  They know what is failing in the system, and they are horrified by some of the things that they see.

But they see those things, and roll up their sleeves.  And, even more importantly, they see that same quality in the people around them.

I asked questions throughout the class (surprised?), but all of my real questions were some variant of  'Is there cause for optimism?'

I am worried about the country.  I worry that we are getting farther and farther away from being able to talk about things, be it police brutality, or gay rights, racial issues, or guns.  And I fear that when we stop talking, we start fighting.  And escalating.

So my question, couched in all of the best classroom language, was one that comes from my core.  Is there reason for hope?

The immediate reaction was, Of Course Not.  The precipice on which we dangle is unlike any we have seen.  We are talking less and are angrier than ever.  Even those who are so inclined, find it difficult to work together.  One of my favorite stories was of a couple of senators who worked together to get a compromised piece of legislation together.  In the end, one senator was going to be facing some really rough going as a result of working with the opposite side, and the way they got around the problem was to call each other names in the press.  That rotten so-and-so, unwilling to compromise, I can't work with him, he is the worst of what his party represents.  We got this legislation done DESPITE him, rather than because of his influence.

And it worked.  The representative got re-elected.  The legislation got passed.

The system is horribly broken, the lecturers all said.  And yet,