By Stephen Waguespack
Why again do we live here?
Summers in Louisiana can be brutal, with oppressive heat and swarms of mosquitoes an annual tradition. Our coastline is eroding, our topography is flat and many of our communities are threatened by water.
We have a history of political corruption and low-performing schools, both which are slowly starting to improve after decades of poor outcomes. Our tax code is a mess, and our public infrastructure needs updating. Our government spends more per capita at the state and local level than most other states in the South, yet we always seem to be in a deficit.
We are accustomed to the threat of big storms each year. Three presidential disaster declarations have already been issued in the past six months, capturing 43 of our 64 parishes. The threat of powerful hurricanes is always lurking in the shadows, and they sometimes even come in bunches. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was followed only weeks later by Hurricane Rita - two storms that collectively impacted roughly the entire Southern part of the state. The same can be said for 2008, when the rains of Hurricane Ike quickly piled on the destruction caused by Hurricane Gustav and its high-force winds.
In 2010, Louisiana was impacted more than other Gulf Coast states by the Deepwater Horizon incident. Earlier this year, the nation focused on Baton Rouge after the shooting of Alton Sterling and then once again a few weeks later when three of our police officers were murdered by an out-of-state gunman. The complicated policy and race questions that received national attention due to those events put Baton Rouge in the eye of that political storm also.
Challenges have become commonplace in Louisiana over the years and too often they come from multiple directions. It all begs us to ask ourselves from time to time the following question: Why again do we live here?
Surprisingly, and in the face of the most recent tragic flooding event, the answer has never been clearer than it is today: the people of Louisiana are without equal when it comes to resilience, compassion and loyalty.
The heart, character and inspiration of our people have been on full display this week, even if the President and national media didn’t initially show much interest in witnessing it first-hand.
As South Louisiana battled against a catastrophic flood caused by a 1,000-year rainstorm, we saw countless examples of why our people are so uniquely special.
Rather than wait for government to act, a shelter popped up overnight at Celtic Media Center and it was quickly staffed and stocked by the generosity of church members and other volunteers. A civilian band of boat-based heroes known as the Cajun Navy bravely set off to plow through murky waters to search for life anywhere they could find it. Law enforcement and first responders still reeling from the stressful and gut-wrenching murders of their fellow officers worked overtime in dangerous conditions to protect property and save untold lives. People in large numbers across south Louisiana continue to help friend and stranger alike to gut their homes, repair their businesses, find new housing and feed and clothe their families.
The outpouring of community support we have witnessed in the face of this most recent tragedy is more powerful than any storm and more overwhelming than any flood. It is not confined to any single race, gender or religion. It knows no age and it is free from bigotry. It is real, organic, spontaneous and battle-tested through years of fighting together through one challenge after another.
It is this type of heartfelt community response to hard times that is truly unique to the Louisiana people – a clear and timely reminder of what makes this state so special.
While it may seem common sense to us to respond in this way, it is actually not common at all. Other states admire our resilience more than they may care to admit and try to emulate our sense of community in countless ways. They are surely bewildered at how we can treat strangers like family and show optimism in the face of such adversity.
In truth, they must realize they don’t really understand us all that much. On most days, they likely cannot even comprehend why we would ever choose to live here…while at the same time marveling at how much we believe to the core in doing so.
Living in Louisiana isn’t always easy, and our faith in our state can at times be tested. But in the strangest of ways, it is usually in our darkest hour that we are best reminded about the magic of Louisiana.
To my fellow Louisianans, thank you for rekindling that spark through your actions these last few days. Because of your deeds, this daunting recovery now seems quite attainable due to the knowledge that we will do it, once again, together.
This week clearly reminded us all why we live here. Despite all our challenges, we live here for one very simple reason…and that reason is us.