- Women of the Storm: Civic Activism after Hurricane Katrina by Emmanuel David
As a result of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on August 29, 2005, more than 80 percent of New Orleans experienced massive flooding. The storm was among the worst natural disasters to strike the United States. It surged about 250 billion gallons of water over and through the city's floodwalls and its drainage and navigational canal levees. More than fifty breaches in these structures occurred, which resulted in unprecedented widespread flooding. How could the city recover from such devastation? Emmanuel David, in Women of the Storm: Civic Activism after Hurricane Katrina, discusses a recovery initiative created by the civic-minded organization Women of the Storm (WOS). Its members launched renewal efforts early in those disastrous circumstances and continued to help throughout the rebuilding process.
Women of the Storm, an all-female group of New Orleanians, "would arguably become among the most powerful and influential" volunteer groups, "contributing in countless ways to the rebirth of New Orleans" and the Gulf Coast, according to the author (p. xv). After months of interacting with and interviewing its members, as well as residing in storm-ravaged New Orleans, David collected a storehouse of interviews, information, and impressions regarding the rebuilding of New Orleans. It was not until the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that the author dusted off the collection and tackled the story of WOS and its impact on the city's recovery.
Women of the Storm originated with Anne Milling, a Louisiana native and a graduate of Newcomb College and Yale University. Long accustomed to voluntarism and charity work, Milling was adept at fund-raising, organizing, and civic engagement. As a member of the New Orleans elite who lived in Uptown, Milling conceived the idea of inviting "'outsiders'" to come to New Orleans and bear witness to the destructive power of the floodwaters in the hopes of mustering relief efforts (p. 71). After recruiting like-minded women, [End Page 240] such as Peggy Laborde, Beverly Church, Pam Bryan, Nancy Marsiglia, and Liz Sloss, Milling formed an executive committee that became the nucleus of Women of the Storm. As a "'learning organization'" faced with unprecedented disaster, WOS over time diversified its membership, organized its strategies, and implemented its program (p. 25).
Carrying their signature blue-tarp umbrellas representing damaged homes, WOS members journeyed to Washington, D.C., to invite every senator and representative to New Orleans. They worked their way through the Senate and House chambers like an attacking army of well-heeled and well-dressed soldiers, inviting and cajoling legislators to come to New Orleans and observe its plight. WOS's goal was to show the devastation so that Congress would consider supporting rebuilding initiatives. Eventually, 55 senators and 123 representatives visited New Orleans and coastal Louisiana.
Civic activism after Hurricane Katrina appeared in many different organizations and employed various tactics. As David points out, WOS members cannot be neatly characterized by their actions. These women's collective and individual initiatives "were shaped by complex life experiences, social forces, and moral commitments"; not only did they become politically active in the restoration cause, but also they were engaged in "rebuilding their identities and moral selves" (p. 173). They wanted to do good for their extended community. This book is one of those works that first appears to be a story about one topic but quickly reveals another. David has collected the stories of women who lived through the rebuilding of their city and continue to shape its resurrection. It is a book about storm recovery but, more important, about the personalities that helped move that effort forward. David offers the reader sound sociological explanations about the collective actions of WOS, but in the end, he gives readers a tale of perseverance and love of community. [End Page 241]