Book Review: "We Shall Not Be Moved: Rebuilding Home in the Wake …

“We Shall Not Be Moved”, written and published in 2012 by Tom Wooten, presents the story of post-disaster recovery following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Mr. Wooten’s book truly contains a collection of stories about post-Katrina recovery in five different New Orleans neighborhoods.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” is a great read for those who have interest in learning more about the City of New Orleans both pre-Katrina and post-Katrina. I also recommend the book for anyone interested in the anatomy of a recovery in any community following a disaster.

I have read several books and articles about Katrina. However, I had not read much about the longer-term recovery course of action in New Orleans’ prior to reading Mr. Wooten’s book. More importantly, this book educates the reader that community recovery following a disaster is about the community’s residents and where they live i.e. the neighborhoods.

The book is written in a narrative style wherein Mr. Wooten identifies himself as the narrator. He is telling the stories of meaningful neighborhood/community leaders in each of the five subject neighborhoods.

The reader might find it a bit challenging to keep up with the progression of events and circumstances of each given neighborhood as Mr. Wooten’s text shifts back and forth between each of them. That is not a criticism of his writing style. It is an observation to highlight the fact that the narrator of these five stories is sort of telling all five of them at the same time or in similar with each other.

I first learned about this book in a 2012 “Wall Street Journal” newspaper article. The article caused me to ask this question: Why did the book’s author write and produce this book so many years ( seven ) after Katrina?

Mr. Wooten placed me as the reader about mid-way by gut-wrenching experiences of the individual New Orleans residents and neighborhood leaders who served as the central characters of the true stories he was telling. So the answer to the above question was that this book could not have been written until several years after the Katrina disaster. Such recovery takes years to occur and is nevertheless current. Mr. Wooten does a great job with explaining the how and the why.

This book was made possible by the incredible perseverance of some meaningful individual New Orleans residents and their neighbors. As the book’s author tells us; he arrived on the scene in 2007 about a year and a half following Katrina as a volunteer in New Orleans. He became part of the evolving recovery story as he worked with these given individual residents.

The perseverance of individual New Orleans residents has produced the New Orleans recovery course of action. “We Shall Not Be Moved” educates the reader about how this was a ground-up recovery that has progressed despite counter-productive government led processes. Each of the five given neighborhoods effectively became individual cities within the overall city of New Orleans. They had to write their own redevelopment plans, start their own schools, and implement community-based social service networks to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, and emergency shelter.

Readers of the “We Shall Not Be Moved” book will feel frustrated when reading about successful efforts by individual New Orleans residents and or nonprofit community organizations to rebuild houses, start new schools, and then get stymied by the without of basic public sets such as electricity and water. This book shows that the recovery could have moved along faster had the governments at all three levels ( federal, state, local ) been better prepared with a post-disaster plan that was focused on closest restoring basic public sets such as drinking water, sewage treatment, and electricity for all of the city’s residential areas.

One of the more interesting parts of Mr. Wooten’s five stories is the challenge of neighbors needing to convince neighbors to return home to New Orleans. The related learning point for me was that government could not do this for the residents. They had to do a sales job on each other. Mr. Wooten’s book of stories shows the reader how individual residents were slightly intimidated to “be the first” or “only” returnees on their given block.

noticable quotes for me from “We Shall Not Be Moved ” include the following:

  1. From Lakeview neighborhood resident Nancy Lytle: “Shame on the United States if we don’t learn from it ( Katrina ) and put systems in place in other cities after seeing what’s happened here. “
  2. From Lower Ninth Ward resident & neighborhood leader Tricia Jones: ” They ( fellow residents) would get in their houses without water. Without lights. ” and, “I wish I could just mass redevelop everybody, but I can’t. “
  3. From Lakeview neighborhood resident and leader Martin Landrieu: “Government, should focus at first on quickly restoring public schools and infrastructure while funding local social service providers… “
  4. From Lower Ninth Ward resident Georgia Johnson, who had moved back into her home on Jourdan method well before it was fully repaired: ” It’s my choice,… I feel so good when I’m home. “

I proportion the feeling that New Englander Tom Wooten presents in the beginning of his book about how New Orleans can be captivating for someone who is not a New Orleans native. This is because I have attended several of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals from the year 2000 forward to the present.

It is consequently interesting to observe that Tom Wooten who authored “We Shall Not Be Moved ” transitioned from serving as a post-Katrina recovery-related volunteer to work as a fifth and sixth-grade writing teacher in New Orleans for two years prior to his current work on a PhD at Harvard University. I hope that Mr. Wooten will consider writing a future book to inform us about “what happened next” for each of the five neighborhood stories presented in this given book.

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