NEW ORLEANS , La. - Neighborhood groups are given a lot of the credit for progress New Orleans has made in recovering from from Hurricane Katrina. Grassroots activists have been leading the way since they say the government failed in the aftermath of the storm. Five years later, they're still demanding more from local government.
The civic movement started in places like the Bayou Road Community Book Store, when Vera Warren Williams was trying to rebuild her business.
“It was the grassroots effort, the community that stuck together and came together to rebuild our businesses and rebuild our neighborhood,” Williams said.
She and three tables full of other neighborhood leaders gathered at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street Tuesday to discuss how civic leaders got started, and what they’ve learned from the five years after the storm.
“You'd get an email that there was a meeting and people just showed up. And more and more people showed up and it was so compelling,” said Lisa Amoss, Chairman of the Broad Street Connections.
“Once we got home, we did not want the neighborhood to go back to the way it was, full of drugs, full of crime, full of prostitution and all of those other things,” said Ed Buckner, Co-Director of The Porch.
The activists all told similar stories about what forced them to start demanding more from government leaders.
“Even though we're tired of meetings, tired of evaluating and reporting and assessing, I believe that it is the human connection of understanding each others’ hurts and pains that keeps us rolling everyday because it's not just the shelving of a person. It's not just an application, it's a human,” said Patricia Jones, Executive Director of the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Association.
And despite the diverse neighborhoods represented at the round table, they all seemed to have one thing in common: frustration after five years of dealing with a city government that seems unwilling to change.
“You go to the zoning administrator they tell you one thing. You go to city planning commission they tell you one thing. You go to revenue they tell you another thing. So, that's discouraging,” said Corinne Ducree, Vice Chair of the Renaissance Market of Eastern New Orleans.
Some said their neighborhood feels forgotten, like New Orleans East.
“Why would it take us five years to get what we need. I watched a girlfriend die on the Fourth of July from a heart attack in New Orleans East with a hospital so far away she never would've made it,” said Beverly Wright, Director of the Dillard University Center for Environmental Justice.
At-Large City Council Member Jackie Clarkson was the only government representative at the round table. She urged the civic leaders to focus on what has been accomplished with civic input.
She pointed to 40 past public hearings on the city’s recently-adopted Master Plan, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's neighborhood budget hearings.
“If somehow we've missed this room in the last two years, please somebody in charge of this group, get me the names and you'll be at any table you wanna be,” Clarkson told the group.
“Jackie, I was Co-Chair of the Neighborhood Development Transition Team [for the new administration]. So, I was involved. But I'm not seeing any results of that work,” said founder of Beacon of Hope Denise Thornton.
Many of the panelists hinted that even though it's only been a few months since Landrieu took over City Hall, they're ready to see less talk, more action in the form of reforms that citizens see and experience when they visit City Hall.