Virtual march calls on Americans to ‘flood Washington’ to force progress on rebuilding the Gulf Coast
by Tom Valtin
Darryl Malek-Wiley, pictured below, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in New Orleans, had to evacuate to Houston when Hurricane Katrina hit. But he considers himself lucky: his house sustained only minor damage. The same can’t be said for the more than 300,000 Louisianans who remain displaced.
“I returned two weeks after the storm,” he says, “right when President Bush came down and pledged to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help New Orleans and south Louisiana rise again. But follow-through has been next to nil—incompetent isn’t a strong enough word for FEMA under this administration. Where’s the beef?”
To goad the administration into action, the Sierra Club has joined the Gulf Restoration Network and other local, regional, and national groups in a “virtual march” on Washington. The goal is to flood the White House with 300,000 e-mails, one for each displaced Louisianan, demanding that the administration honor its commitment. Delta Chapter excom member Aaron Viles, who works for the Gulf Restoration Network, has been the key leader in the “Flood Washington” effort.
Much of Malek-Wiley’s time this fall has been spent trying to reconnect with Club members from Louisiana and Mississippi. “People are scattered,” he says, “and even those who’ve returned are hard to get in touch with. Mail is iffy, phones aren’t working—third class mail isn’t being delivered at all.” One of the most striking things about post-Katrina New Orleans, he says, is the eerie silence. “At night you see islands of light where people are living, but much of the city is still without power.”
Even so, local Club members have been starting to organize. On December 3, the New Orleans Group held an event at three bars that have reopened in the French Quarter, calling for action on global warming. The previous weekend, a festival focusing on coastal wetland restoration was held in Houma, an hour southwest of the city.
One piece of good news came when the Louisiana legislature passed a statewide building code in November, establishing minimal construction and energy-efficiency standards. The Delta Chapter had been pushing for these measures even before Katrina, and Club lobbyist Darryl Hunt was instrumental in getting the new code on the books
“The Sierra Club is trying to make sure that every voice is involved in discussions of what our city and region will look like,” says Malek-Wiley, who was honored by the U.S. Green Building Council in November for his environmental justice leadership and his work to promote green rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. “An innovative process is necessary or this will be a very different, less diverse community.”
The first step in any serious revitalization effort is honest and effective storm protection up to a Category 5 level—up to a Category 3 level in the immediate short-term—for New Orleans and other population centers.
This necessitates comprehensive coastal restoration and conservation; Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football field worth of wetlands every half hour due to oil-and-gas-fueled coastal erosion. During Katrina, Louisiana lost an estimated 100 square miles of marsh, a critical buffer from hurricanes and storm surge, and habitat for some of the nation’s most robust fishing grounds.
“[President Bush],” the virtual march petition states, “you requested that the citizens of Louisiana lead the way by creating and offering ideas for rebuilding that the federal government can support. Through task forces, commissions, and community meetings, Louisiana is doing its part. Now it is time for Washington to act.”
Take Action: Join the virtual march!
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