Nearly two hundred New Orleans residents and their supporters assembled on a Saturday morning along the Monticello Canal to do something their government had refused to do: build a levee. ACORN Members and New Orleans residents (background) rally as Councilwoman Shelly Midura(foreground) asks demonstrators to work with her to achieve their goals for human rights and fair flood protection.
Nearly two hundred New Orleans residents and their supporters assembled on a Saturday morning along the Monticello Canal to do something their government had refused to do: build a levee. Louisiana ACORN, a community-based association fighting for the rights of low and moderate income families, organized the demonstration forming a "Human Levee for Human Rights" demanding residents' right to equitable flood protection.
A reinforced levee and floodwall protects Jefferson Parish, a demographically whiter and wealthier neighbor of Orleans Parish, from the Monticello Canal. Despite defenses reaching twelve feet above the ground on one side, the predominantly working class African American neighborhood of Carrollton-Hollygrove bordering the Orleans Parish side the canal stands unprotected. This inexplicable disparity provides a shocking view into environmental injustices faced by numerous African American neighborhoods in New Orleans.
"This neighborhood has always flooded during heavy rains," longtime resident and ACORN neighborhood chair Joe Sherman told protesters as rain clouds loomed ominously over head. "Our community is left vulnerable while the state, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Water and Sewerage Board keep pointing fingers."
Sherman, who worked for twenty years in the engineering department of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, explained how he and his neighbors have been fighting for years, even before Hurricane Katrina, for flood protection -- but had been told that their community was not a priority. During the New Orleans recovery planning process, residents set flood protection as a top priority, but planners determined it would not be addressed for five years or more in Carrollton-Hollygrove.
Since the Army Corps of Engineers took over New Orleans' flood control system in 1965, residents said that Carrollton-Hollygrove flooded eight different times. Floodwaters reached eight feet in some homes after Hurricane Katrina. Making matters worse, the current city drainage system pumps more water into the Monticello Canal than is pumped out, frequently forcing floodwaters over into this neighborhood during most major rain events.
"The risks increase for these residents because there is protection on one side, and no protection on the other," said Stephen Bradberry, Louisiana ACORN head organizer and 2005 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner. "How can you say the community is not at risk when you have protected one half of the community and not the other?"
"Leftovers from the age of slavery"
Dr. Robert Bea, lead investigator on the National Science Foundation's inquiry into New Orleans' flood protection system, confirmed that placing a levee and floodwall on one side along the Monticello Canal but not the other had no grounding in science.
"It is perfect example of the disconnected incomplete nature of this flood protection system," said Bea in a recent interview. "Much of what happened [there] during Katrina represents the left-overs from the age of slavery in the South."
The Chicago Tribune in a recent report revealed that the $1.6 billion worth of work done by the Corp of Engineers since Hurricane Katrina has overwhelmingly benefited New Orleans wealthier white neighborhoods, continuing to leave African American neighborhoods vulnerable.
Forming a human levee
To expose the inequity and garner attention to the dangers of inadequate protection that lower income residents face, demonstrators formed a human levee stretching over a third of a mile.