08/28/2010 12:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

With A Little Help From Our Friends: A 5 Year Katrina Evacuation

The phrase Obama's Katrina will hopefully be retired after this weekend as we watch nonstop footage of failed levees and American citizens on rooftops. I would prefer instead to refer to political disasters as Sarah Palin's "In What Respect, Charlie?" When you've lived through it, hearing anyone call a disaster someone's Katrina is like hearing a pundit speculate on Obama's That Time Your House Burned Down when you're the one whose house burned down.

It's still everyone's Katrina until a real effort is made to bring back the residents the levee break scattered across the country. Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper -- this is New Orleans week for the Katranniversary and I'm grateful for the coverage recovery efforts are receiving this week. It would be nice if the light of social justice shone on New Orleans every day, but with the seemingly endless onslaught of disasters I'm counting our blessings. The first piece I wrote for The Huffington Post was about the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund ReDefine 8/29 campaign. Katrina fatigue was already setting in, so we started to call it something else to keep the conversation alive. Just because the nation is tired of hearing about something doesn't mean it didn't happen, as anyone in Haiti, Pakistan or Nashville can attest. Perhaps we could airlift Snookie into ongoing disasters, and the attention would follow. Just spitballing here.

In charting my post-Katrina path, I'm up to the year my father died. After moving north, I had many more chances to tell him "I love you," and he would reply "I love you too, too." He was doubling down with the Alzheimer's answers, but at least I was there to hear them. He slipped away peacefully, but I was in New Orleans at the time and didn't get back to tell him goodbye. Jeff and I were still driving back and forth constantly, and had rented a New Orleans apartment for musicians who were also driving back and forth from Houston to gig, a frightening thing as late as gigs can run in New Orleans. Our database was growing, Mark Fowler at Tipitina's Foundation would let us know who needed help and we Fedexed the checks home. Many other musicians found NOMRF, they're still finding us even as donations are more often instruments as the economy struggles.

Furnishing Our Neighbors found us, headed by Mandi Thompson who had somehow talked the Astor Crowne Plaza into donating 10 floors of furniture with a, "If you can get it you can have it," clause. Contractors were coming in and renovating the rooms as soon as the furniture was moved out, so it was like the game show where people grab dollars in a wind tunnel. But we were grabbing headboards and armoires. Volunteers came from WWOZ after we put the call out on the best radio station in the world, and we filled a warehouse to the ceiling. As someone with the nature of a narcoleptic sloth, loading a warehouse with furniture was a challenge but the reward was spectacular. We called Chris Rose who wrote a Times Picayune article announcing a ReDefine 8/29 furniture sale, and it seemed like the entire town turned up for $8 and $29 four star furniture.

People were loading trucks, some said they had been sleeping on air mattresses since the storm and were just now starting over. When they cried, I cried. So there was a lot of crying and lifting. We sent some furniture to residents of the Habit for Humanity's Musicians Village. A few examples of my heroes over the last 5 years are our friends Beth Galante with Global Green, Ann Marie Wilkins with the Musicians Village, Steve Ragan with Make it Right NOLA, and Joannie Hughes of the newly formed Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana.

Joannie's board has been putting together backpacks of school supplies for children affected by the BP Oil Spill. Last week she told me about a girl who gave her a big hug and said she was going to draw her a special picture, because until now she has been using the crayons the other kids didn't want. Now she has all the colors in the box.


Pictured Above: Kirk and Venessa Joseph, Mandi and Jeff at the ReDefine 8/29 Warehouse, 2008.