NOTHSTINE: Amid national division, Louisiana teaching about community

A truck carrying a boat drives through the remaining floodwaters on Liberty Road in Greenwell Springs

Relatively unknown to many is the fact that churches and civil society organizations are now highly equipped to respond to disaster relief. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated America’s Gulf Coast, communities learned from their mistakes and can respond in ways government fails.This week citizens across Louisiana leapt into action as over 4 trillion gallons of rain fell on parts of South Louisiana on August 12-14. Over 20,000 souls had to be rescued and well over 100,000 are now homeless.

Many North Carolinians know too well the destruction flooding causes to property and homes. Almost every possession is essentially destroyed.The visuals were equally horrific and inspiring, as residents enlisted their boats to pull thousands to safety. Boats attached to trailers raced across the highway to join rescue efforts and were quickly dubbed the “Cajun Navy.” Citizens used emergency Facebook pages to network and identify those in need of immediate assistance. It was an excellent example of spontaneous order empowered by the human heart.

AirBnb, an online market for temporary housing, was one of the first companies to respond by immediately suspending service fees for guests and hosts. Entertainer Taylor Swift quickly stepped forward to donate $1 million to the recovery effort.Writing at the American Conservative, Louisiana native Rod Dreher talked about a socially conservative evangelical friend who opened up his home to “a female-to-male transgender and his boyfriend.” Dreher offered too a story of a 50-year-old black lady who lost her home and wanted to give up an offer of a warm bed by a stranger because she felt there were too many who needed it more than she did. This is just one small example of the kindness that still exixts across America. The people racing to homes in boats are not constrained by divisions highlighted by the media and broader culture.

Much has been made recently, and rightly so, about the inadequate media coverage given to Louisiana, especially on cable news. Salon, The Atlantic, and Huffington Post were some of the first publications to highlight the media blackout. CNN was chastised for providing more coverage to explaining Justin Bieber’s Instagram account than a hundred thousand American citizens who have been financially wiped out. A New York Times public editor apologized, admitting the newspaper dropped the ball on covering the devastation. Absent racial division, riots, and celebrity culture, citizens in the region came to the realization that their rescue efforts and heartfelt cooperation didn’t fit the media narrative.

Still, national attention is essential for helping to raise much-needed funds. Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper on Thursday called for the president to cut short his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to visit the devastation. So far, the call has gone unanswered. The president predictably continued his golf outings with comedian Larry David and a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.

Citizens in “flyover country” now offer little entertainment and political value.Undoubtedly, powerful headlines and images on screens can’t tell the full story of havoc and decimation. The heartbreak and long recovery is a reminder that there is so much more important than partisan politics and media hype over divisive issues like H.B. 2 and Voter I.D. laws. That more Americans know about the Ryan Lochte “robbery” saga than the floods is a stirring indictment of the media and culture.

It’s unfortunate that there are so few who have paid attention to what has and is occurring in Louisiana. The lesson is an important one. There is still a part of America that is strong when united in purpose. While the federal government provides an important role amid disasters, its failings and inadequacies are often magnified by strong communities and institutions that work so well.