Supporting the Extraordinary: Open Society in New Orleans

This weekend will mark five years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and the levees broke in New Orleans.  As the date approaches, we remember and mourn the many lives and homes that were lost.  We also honor the inspiring work of so many in New Orleans to rebuild and transform this remarkable American city.

New Orleans represents the best and worst of America.  Its rich tapestry of African-American, Cajun, Creole, and European traditions gave birth to a unique and vibrant culture of music, food, and pageantry known around the world.  New Orleanians have an indomitable spirit—drawn directly from a deep love of their heritage—that has fueled a remarkable resiliency in the face of disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the BP oil spill.  While the city suffers from the legacy of slavery, a punitive criminal justice system, a weak infrastructure, and pervasive corruption, its residents are developing homegrown solutions that offer models for advocates around the nation and the world.

Before, during, and after the storm, the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs has been privileged to support people and organizations determined to tackle the city’s challenges.  Starting at the neighborhood level and going all the way up to City Hall and beyond, advocates are reforming the criminal justice system in order to shed the dubious distinction of jailing its residents at a higher rate than any other U.S. city. Community-based organizations and good government groups are working together to insist on greater transparency, expand public participation, and ensure open government at the municipal level.  And the city’s culture bearers are engaging young people to use proud traditions like brass bands and second line parades to put an end to street violence.

Today, we launched an online fundraising campaign with MoveOn and ColorOfChange.org to raise funds for Open Society Foundations grantees who are working to transform New Orleans. MoveOn and ColorOfChange.org are appealing to their members to donate $500,000 to mark the anniversary of Katrina and the floods, and the Open Society Foundations will match those donations dollar-for-dollar. You can learn more about the campaign here: http://civ.moveon.org/donatec4/katrina.html or http://colorofchange.org/transform/message.html.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the short film above that profiles three of these extraordinary organizations working for change in New Orleans. You can learn more about our work in New Orleans here: www.soros.org/us/nola.

We are deeply grateful to our many partners who have committed time and resources to New Orleans.  As we work together to strengthen democracy and open society in America, we all have much to learn from New Orleans.

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