Gustav, Iraq and New Orleans
We, like the rest of the country, are glued to the developments of Hurricane Gustav.
On August 27, 2005 I had just completed my initial week as a first year law student at Tulane in New Orleans. I woke up that morning to my roommate telling me she was evacuating due to Katrina.
Without a car and not knowing many people, I tried to buy either a plane, bus or train ticket to evacuate, but nothing was available. I ended up waiting four hours at a Hertz counter and getting one of the last few dozen rental cars in the city just before midnight. I left thinking I would be gone for days and ended up not returning for five months.
Like everyone who evacuated, I knew nothing for months on the fate of everything I had left behind.
Watching Gustav coverage on the cable news networks has given me a sick sense of deja vu over the last few hours. Countless talking heads from both political parties keep saying that the evacuation is "going well" and how prepared the state and federal governments are as they safely sit on the floor of the Minneapolis RNC convention floor.
Talking with friends in New Orleans and Nader/Gonzalez Louisiana State Coordinator Ramy Mousa, I'm left with a growing sense that New Orleans is not prepared for this storm.
The Army Corps of engineers say levees are at "pre-Katrina strength" but if there is a 12-15 foot storm surge as New Orleans Mayor Nagin is predicting, 10 foot levees equal massive flooding.
Nagin is once again calling for a mandatory evacuation, but it's not being physically enforced and 25% of the city's residents don't own a vehicle. As of this morning only 30,000 had requested evacuation assistance. Nagin is telling people who stay to "make sure they have an ax" to cut holes in their roofs if the water rises.
Meanwhile, three years after Katrina, the $15 billion hurricane protection system designed to protect New Orleans has only barely started, and serious vulnerabilities remain, particularly in the eastern part of the city. We spend $15 billion in Iraq every three weeks, and we haven't been able to muster this amount to protect one of Americas historic cities.
As I watch Gustav coverage, it's clear to me that the fall campaign needs Ralph Nader's voice to be part of the debate.
More than 14,000 Army National Guard troops have been alerted for deployment to Iraq in 2009, and just a little over two weeks ago, another 140 engineers from the Louisiana National Guard were assigned to deploy to Iraq.
We need a voice calling for our soldiers and National Guard troops to immediately start returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to protect Americans from natural disasters like Gustav.
We need a strong voice calling for alternative energy development and against offshore oil drilling in the Gulf.
We need a voice calling for a Marshall-like Plan to rebuild our clinics, our schools, and our cities.
Let's take a moment today to hope that the federal government really has prepared for what Nagin described as "the storm of the century" hitting New Orleans. Let's hope the levees really are higher and stronger, and that people will safely evacuate.
While we wait, let's keep pushing our message of opening up the debates and demanding that Ralph Nader be included. This is even more reason for Google to support the local Women of the Storm organizers who wanted to hold a Presidential Debate on these issues in New Orleans on September 18th.
Let's demand that Obama and McCain agree to participate in this debate.
National Campaign Coordinator