After threats of a devastating hurricane similar to Katrina, the Republicans changed course day one and turned their convention into a Hurricane Gustav benefit. This time the bayous and coastal wetlands were harder hit than New Orleans, but they have not gotten the kind of media attention that New Orleans received three years ago. One possible reason why is that Louisiana's fragile wetlands are not a dream topic for a party run by more oilmen than South Fork Ranch. The cost of restoring the Gulf Coast wetlands would be massive, and decades of oil company canals carved through the marshes has killed off much of the natural barrier to the tune of an acre every hour.
"Until Katrina, New Orleans has never been flooded by a hurricane, and that's not because we haven't had 'em, it's because we've lost over the size of Delaware worth of land," Tab Benoit told Jason Hoppin of Pioneer Press. Benoit was on hand with Voices of the Wetlands, sponsored by Friends of New Orleans, as Gustav barreled through earlier this week. The group ended up stranded at the RNC in St. Paul until the city is fully reopened.
"Jumpin" Johnny Sansone told me, "Tab went to the convention last night and he's been pretty much talking to anybody who'll listen to him about it. Everybody's got their issues and it's difficult, but when you've got a storm coming right at you -- we had people's attention." He added that, "James Andrews is up here keeping everyone entertained."
Andrews, who composed "One, Two, What You Gonna Do About It," agrees that, "It was a good thing to get the exposure for New Orleans musicians up there, plus for the wetlands. I really had a blast being up here."
Sansone, who wrote his own post-storm anthem, "Poor Man's Paradise," was among the VOW musicians watching nonstop cable coverage while Gustav hit too close for comfort. "We're all stuck in a hotel room watching CNN showing Morgan City getting a direct hit and they're explaining, 'This is where all the oil gets processed and distributed. Just think in terms of all the oil rigs being your airports, and you have to change flights here and go somewhere else.' They canceled the Shrimp and Petroleum festival - that was on CNN - and people must be thinking, 'What does that mean? They cook shrimp with petroleum? What is that?'
"It means that this is the town where the oil comes in and the shrimp come in. Does anybody realize that when that area gets hit again, there's not only not going to be distribution of their oil, but the seafood business is going to be ridiculously affected. If you don't care about the jobs, think about not being able to get shrimp in Kansas City or St. Louis."
It's clear that New Orleans musicians are still up to their eyeballs in news coverage as Gustav moves into the Midwest. As a long-term evacuee, I am deeply familiar with my last nerve after a solid week of cable coverage, but we've all hunkered down and this is the beginning of the slow unhunkering.
Sansone describes the conclusion of two weeks of conventions. "The last I heard, we have some flights in the morning at 6 a.m. Hopefully we'll be home soon."
Now that Voices of the Wetlands have left the building and Sarah Palin's vice presidential gift that keeps on giving is the new focus of the RNC, when will the wetlands restoration message finally resonate to the rest of the country?
One of the Voices of the Wetlands answered that question with: "When they build a wall around the French Quarter and that's all that's left."
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