Thursday, October 15, 2009

President Obama’s visit Brings Celebrations and Concerns

Today President Obama and several cabinet secretaries came to New Orleans, as part of Obama’s first visit to the Gulf Coast since he was elected president. While he was met with ecstatic crowds and tickets to his town hall at UNO were the most sought-after item in the city, there were also notes of concern from the grassroots.

The Institute of Southern Studies reported that many Gulf Coast activists they have spoken to expressed concern about the President’s commitment to Gulf Coast recovery. The Institute’s executive director Chris Kromm writes on their blog Facing South, “Rebuilding communities, bringing people home, ensuring access to health care and good schools: these are the basic building blocks of renewal which have, for many, come too slow and too little -- and for the 25% of the city that hasn't returned, hasn't come at all.” Organizations such as All Congregations Together gathered signatures for open letters to the president, attempting to nudge him into action.

The STEPS Coalition, an alliance of grassroots organizations in Mississippi also expressed concerns about Obama’s visit, saying in an open letter, “Recent visits by cabinet members to the Gulf South have not always included Mississippi and when Mississippi was included, community groups have been ignored and/or denied an audience to personally express unmet needs and federal agency gaps.”

Several articles in the Times-Picayune have also expressed wishes that the President would see more on his trip, from environmentalists hoping he will see the vanishing wetlands to housing activists who want the President to see the vacant lots that used to be thousands of units of public housing.

In the end, most advocates agree; it’s not about what Obama saw or didn’t see during his four hour visit to the Gulf – the question is what will he do for Gulf Coast recovery once he’s back in Washington. And without organized pressure from the grassroots, it's unlikely the change we need will come.

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