Friday, October 16, 2009

Down in New Orleans

Down in New Orleans
Posted by Jesse Lee

The President spent yesterday in New Orleans, first visiting with kids who have grown up watching their neighborhoods emerge from tragedy, and then in a town hall where the community could come together and engage directly with their President.

When the President gave his speech to America’s students, one of his messages was to remind them that although school can be tough, there are a lot of kids who do the same things while overcoming huge obstacles. In New Orleans, many of the kids he spoke to were those kids:

THE PRESIDENT: …But my main message is for the students here. So I want everybody just for a second, listen up, real quiet. I think some of you know a little bit about me. You know, when I was growing up I didn't have my father at home; he had left us. We weren't rich. We didn't have a lot. But the one thing that my mother and my grandparents told me was that if I worked hard in school -- if I loved to read and I loved math and I loved science and I studied hard -- there wasn't anything that I couldn't do.

Now, just from meeting the young people here today I can tell that there are so many bright, smart, promising students here. But, you know, there are a lot of distractions out there. A lot of you think, well, you know, I don't want to study -- I'm just going to play basketball. Or, I don't want to study, I'm going to be a rap star.

I want all of you to know that the most important thing you can do for yourselves and for your community and for your country is to work hard in school and to treat each other with respect -- and treat yourself with respect. Because I'm confident that if you all work very hard, then there's no reason why you can't be a doctor or a lawyer. There's no reason why you can't be the Secretary of Education or a principal of a school. There's no reason why you can't be a congressman or a senator -- maybe you can be the President of the United States. (Applause.) All right?

So I just got a promise in there -- I want a promise from every single one of you that you guys are going to work hard in school each and every day. Give me that promise. You promise?

STUDENTS: Yes! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You give me a pinkie promise?


THE PRESIDENT: Make your promise! All right, you know, that's a big promise there. So I'm counting on you guys. I'm going to come back and check on you guys to make sure you've all been working hard. All right? Okay. (Applause.)

And I also just want you to know that Michelle and Malia and Sasha and our dog, Bo -- (laughter) -- everybody says "hello" and everybody wishes you well. All right, thank you, guys. All right. (Applause.)

Speaking a couple hours later at the town hall, the President spoke about what his Administration is working on down there:

And here on the Gulf Coast, we're working to make sure this region is protected in the event of a 100-year storm. We've already seen 220 miles worth of levees and flood walls repaired, and we are working to strengthen the wetlands and barrier islands that are the first line of defense for the Gulf Coast. (Applause.) This isn't just critical to this region's physical protection, it's critical to our environment, it's critical to our economy. That's why we're establishing an interagency working group that will be responsible for coordinating our restoration efforts across the Gulf at all levels of government.

Now, even with all the action we've taken and all the progress we've made, we know how much work is left to be done. Whether you're driving through New Orleans, Biloxi, or the southern part of Louisiana, it's clear how far we have to go before we can call this recovery a real success. There are sewers and roads still to repair. There are houses and hospitals still vacant. There are schools and neighborhoods still waiting to thrive once more. And so I promise you this -- whether it's me coming down here or my Cabinet or other members of my administration -- we will not forget about New Orleans. We are going to keep on working. (Applause.) We are not going to forget about the Gulf Coast. Together, we will rebuild this region and we will rebuild it stronger than before. It is going to be stronger than before. (Applause.)

For a city that’s kept up the fight for years, it was clearly gratifying to hear their President would do the same:

THE PRESIDENT: Now, just in case any of you were wondering, I never thought any of this was going to be easy. (Laughter.) You know, I listen to -- sometimes -- these reporters on the news, "Well, why haven't you solved world hunger yet?" (Laughter.) "Why -- it's been nine months. Why --?" You know? I never said it was going to be easy.

What did I say during the campaign? I said is change is hard. And big change is harder. And after the last nine months, you know I wasn't kidding. (Laughter.) I wasn't kidding about it being hard. But you notice I wasn't kidding -- I don't quit. We get this stuff done. We keep on going until we get it done. I don't quit. (Applause.) Let me tell you, those folks who are trying to stand in the way of progress? They're all -- let me tell you, I'm just getting started. I don't quit. (Applause.) I'm not tired. I'm just getting started. I'm just getting started. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. All right. See? I'm getting all -- you're getting me fired up. (Applause.)
I think it is important for those folks to understand I'm just ready to go. (Applause.) We're just going to keep on going. And the reason is, is because there are too many folks out there who are having a tough time -- to get tired. The easiest thing in the world would be to just say, okay, well, I don't want any controversy; let me take the path of least resistance. But that means that the same folks who were struggling before we got elected are going to keep on struggling. People, if they had high premiums on their health care before, they're going to have even higher premiums after. That's not why -- that's not why I applied for the job.

The challenges we face -- both here on the Gulf Coast and throughout America -- they're big, they're complex challenges. They don't lend themselves to easy answers or quick fixes. Meeting them requires diligence, and perseverance, and patience.

It also requires more than just government programs and policies. It requires a renewed spirit of cooperation and commitment among our citizens -- a renewed sense of responsibility to ourselves and to one another. Which is why it's important -- whether you're dealing with a Republican or a Democrat -- that we are maintaining civility, that we are listening to each other -- (applause) -- that we are willing to find areas of common ground and cooperation.

It's the same spirit that took hold of this city and this region in the days after Katrina -- a spirit that has sustained you to this day. You didn't get tired. As hard as it was, you're still out there, still working hard, still rebuilding, still committed to your city.

I've talked a lot today about what steps we've taken at the federal level to help the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild. But the true story is this community's unbending resilience. That doesn't start in Washington. It starts right here, in the reborn neighborhoods of New Orleans. (Applause.) It begins with the men and women who waded into deep water or climbed onto rooftops and risked their own lives to save people they'd never met before. It begins with the doctors and nurses who stayed behind to care for the sick and the injured without equipment, without electricity -- like our nation's Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin -- (applause) -- who mortgaged her house, maxed out on her credit cards so she could reopen her clinic and help care for victims of the storm.

All the volunteer firefighters from this city who recently traveled to Iowa to help another community recover from the devastation of a tornado. They went because they still remember when New York City firefighters who'd been through 9/11 came down to New Orleans to help folks out here after Katrina. (Applause.)

The story of this city's resilience begins with all the men and women who refused to give up on their homes; who stayed to clean up and rebuild -- not just their own homes or their own yards or their own lives, but their neighbors', too.

You can find all kinds of information on disaster preparedness through the FEMA website. And given that during the Q&A section the President was also greeted with a "buenas tardes," it may also be worth noting that they have also dramatically improved their Spanish language page as well.

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