In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the idea for the Women of the Storm was born around a Thanksgiving table in 2005. Most of the guests had experienced severe damage to their homes. The group was born out of one simple idea: you cannot understand the how Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected conditions of metropolitan New Orleans and the Gulf Coast without seeing the damage first-hand.
Due to the fact that more than five months after the deadly storms struck Louisiana’s coast only 13 percent of Congress and 30 percent of the Senate had visited the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, they decided to begin by inviting the members of Congress to their city.
On its first trip to Washington D.C. on Jan. 30, 2006, 130 Women of the Storm extended personal invitations to every member of the House and Senate to visit New Orleans and acquire the first-hand information required to shape intelligent policy decisions. During this visit, the group drew attention to needs for housing for all, safe levees and coastal restoration.
The group also asked that Congress re-direct 50 percent of offshore oil and gas revenues generated in Louisiana to the state to provide a steady stream of funding for coastal restoration and protection.
Within a few weeks of the visit, a Congressional delegation of 36 members of the House of Representatives, organized by then-Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, came to New Orleans. Several senators also made individual visits during that time period.
Once they saw the magnitude of the devastation, leaders understood the issue better and most became advocates for the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. That spring, Congress approved dollars sufficient to fund the Road Home housing restoration program.
Just four days before the first anniversary of Hurricane Rita and eight months following their first visit, more than 130 Women of the Storm members returned to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 20, 2006, appealing to 45 U.S. Senators and 329 U.S. Representatives who have not yet seen the challenges the region still faces.
The Women of the Storm conveyed the following messages:
- The situation is urgent. More than 200 square miles of important wetlands eroded as the result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, adding to the equivalent loss of a football field of land every 38 minutes. Funding for coastal protection measures should precede in a manner that fast tracks action before it is too late to restore this highly productive coast. The cost to the nation will continue to grow out of control if we do not take immediate action.
- It is critical that the federal government provides a steady stream of funds now and adequate funding through a continuous sharing of outer continental shelf (OCS) revenues for coastal protection and restoration. OCS revenues make sense because they provide the ongoing, long-term source of revenues needed to protect critical American energy and economic assets.
Soon after their visit, the voters of Louisiana overwhelmingly approved the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, an amendment to the state constitution to ensure that all money received from OCS revenue sharing would be dedicated by law to coastal restoration and protection. Louisiana is the only state in America to have such a fund; Women of the Storm helped educate voters on its importance.
In December 2006, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) became law. The Act created OCS revenue sharing provisions for the four Gulf oil and gas producing States of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – funds, in the case of Louisiana,must be used for coastal conservation, restoration and hurricane protection. Unfortunately, the revenue sharing will not begin until 2017.
On May 31, 2007, on the cusp of the hurricane season’s beginning, Women of the Storm, in conjunction with the America’s WETLAND Foundation, hosted Storm Warning III at the Port of New Orleans. The event drew attention to the importance of New Orleans and Louisiana to every state in the nation, particularly the 31 states that are linked to the city by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. One-third of all oil and gas production crosses our coast, and one-third of all seafood comes from our waters. Louisiana is essential to national industry, domestic energy security – and good food. The Women of the Storm and staff from the America’s WETLAND Foundation traveled to Memphis on July 11, 2007, and to Dubuque Sept. 7, 2007, hosting events to demonstrate the connection between the port cities.
Working with Google/YouTube, Dillard, Xavier, Tulane and Loyola universities, Women of the Storm were part of an unsuccessful bid to host a 2008 Presidential Debate in New Orleans. Seven presidential candidates and national media, including The New York Times, the Washington Post and TIME Magazine, endorsed the effort. However, the Commission opted instead to host a 2008 debate in our neighbor state, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. In the summer of that same year, the group presented a platform for coastal restoration to the Democratic National Committee platform committee in Cleveland.
Hoping to turn elbow grease into political muscle, in April 2008, the Women of the Storm encouraged volunteers who travel to Louisiana for recovery work to recount their experiences on postcards then mail them to members of Congress from their home states. Banking that a handwritten card from a constituent bears more clout than a phone call or form letter from a stranger in south Louisiana, the Women of the Storm group printed 10,000 postcards and distributed them at local universities, nonprofit agency offices, churches and other hubs of volunteerism.
The Women of the Storm helped to organize the North American Summit held on April 21-22, 2008, that brought leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States to New Orleans.
In August 2008, members of the group attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver, throwing out tiny footballs and advocating restoration of Gulf Coast wetlands, which are vanishing at a rate equal to one football field of land every 38 minutes. The group was scheduled to fly to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul to deliver a similar message; however, Hurricane Gustav closed the New Orleans airport.
In 2009, Women of the Storm worked tirelessly with the State of Louisiana, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the America’s WETLAND Foundation and other environmental groups, to seek funding for coastal restoration. The group met with several Cabinet members who have traveled to New Orleans and encouraged other Obama administration officials to understand our recovery and coastal restoration needs.
In November 2008, the Women of the Storm encouraged the 62 newly elected members of Congress to visit New Orleans. Each new member received a packet of information from us within a few days of his or her election.
As of Dec. 31, 2009, 57 senators and 149 representatives visited after Hurricane Katrina.
On the eve of the Saints’ appearance in Super Bowl XLIV (Feb. 7, 2010), each member of Congress received by hand-delivery a small, colorful football, similar to those distributed at the Democratic Convention, with a tag urging them “Be a Saint! Save Our Coast! Invest in America’s Future!”
Then on April 20, 2010, following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig, oil gushed from the sea floor for 87 days. Five days later, the Women of the Storm unveiled the “Be the One” video campaign, created and funded by Women of the Storm and featuring an array of national celebrities committed to this cause. The petition said, I demand that a plan to restore America’s Gulf be fully funded and implemented for me and for future generations. The electronic petition demanding funding for Gulf Coast restoration garnered 100,000 signatures in just over 100 hours.
During 2011, the Women of Storm worked with Louisiana’s congressional delegation on finding a dedicated funding stream for coastal restoration. In early 2012, the group held a “virtual” lobbying effort using cell phones, social networks and email to reach the congressional members and urge them to support the RESTORE Act.
On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed the RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act) into law. The Act established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury Department. Eighty percent of the civil penalties paid in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be deposited into the Trust Fund and invested in programs, projects and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.
In February 2015, a new documentary about the Women of the Storm premiered at the Prytania Theatre in New Orleans. Loyola sociology professor Wesley Shrum directed the film fittingly titled “Women of the Storm.”
Since its inception and ongoing efforts, Women of the Storm conduct has conducted numerous educational tours, and often presents information to various groups – offering data and personal stories to their membership and to members of Congress and the Administration.