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I Will Rebuild With You, Mr. President

By Donna Brazile
Saturday, September 17, 2005

New Orleans is my hometown. It is the place where I grew up, where my family still lives. For me, it is a place of comfort and memories. It is home.

Now my home needs your help, and the help of every American. Much of my city is still underwater. Its historical buildings have been wrecked, its famous streets turned to rivers and, worst of all, so many of its wonderful people -- including members of my own family and my neighbors -- have lost everything.

On Thursday night President Bush spoke to the nation from my city. I am not a Republican. I did not vote for George W. Bush -- in fact, I worked pretty hard against him in 2000 and 2004. But on Thursday night, after watching him speak from the heart, I could not have been prouder of the president and the plan he outlined to empower those who lost everything and to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Bush called on every American to stand up and support the rebuilding of the region. He told us that New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast would rise from the ruins stronger than before. He enunciated something that we all need to remember: This is America. We are not immune to tragedy here, but we are strong because of our industriousness, our ingenuity and, most important, because of our compassion for one another. We are a nation of rebuilders and a nation of givers. We do not give up in the face of tragedy, we stand up, and we reach out to help those who cannot stand up on their own.

The president called on every American to reach out to my neighbors in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast. The great people of this country have already opened their hearts in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and their tremendous generosity has done more than just provide extra comfort -- it has saved lives. Now the crisis of survival is over. But the task of rebuilding remains, and the president made it clear that every single one of us has a role to play.

Each of us belongs to some group -- a church, a union or a fraternal organization, or even a book club -- that can make a difference. It is those groups that can pool resources and then reach out to their counterparts in the stricken states and ask, "What can we do?" Schools, Girl Scout troops, Rotary clubs -- this is the time for every community group to step forward to lend a helping hand. We need it.

The president also laid out the federal government's goal for rebuilding. It is unprecedented in its scope and ambition, matching destruction that is unprecedented as well. He made the challenge clear: This will be one of the biggest reconstruction projects in history. But he also made it clear that we can and will do this. New Orleans, Biloxi, all of the Gulf Coast will rise again. And the residents are ready to pitch in and do their part.

I know, maybe better than anyone, that there are times when it seems that our nation is too divided ever to heal. There are times when we feel so different from each other that we can hardly believe that we are all part of the same family. But we are one nation. We are a family. And this is what we do. When the president asked us to pitch in Thursday night, he wasn't really asking us to do anything spectacular. He was asking us to be Americans, and to do what Americans always do.

The president has set a national goal and defined a national purpose. This is something I believe with all my heart: When we are united, nothing can stop us. We will not waver, we will not tire, and we will not stop until the streets are clean, every last brick has been replaced and every last family has its home back.

Bush talked about how we bury our family and friends. We grieve and mourn. We march to a solemn song and then we rejoice and step out and form the second line. That line is now open to every American to join us in rebuilding a great region of this country. New Orleans will rise again. My hometown is down but not out, and with the help of every American, it will be back on its feet, bigger and brighter than ever.

Mr. President, I am ready for duty. I am ready to stir those old pots again. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The writer, a Democratic political consultant, managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company