September 24, 2005
In Felicia's Own Words
I have just returned from a week in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Biloxi,
Gulfport, Pass Christian etc.). I was compelled to go in from Atlanta
every weekend since Katrina hit as a sort of penance for sitting and
watching while people were drowning on television. I can not criticize
the president or anyone else because sadly, all that I did was watch and
talk about it. My sister is now housing a family of 6 from Jefferson Parish
and I have committed to the long term effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast. If
I felt shame over not responding to the urgency in New Orleans it is almost nothing compared to my encounter with the deep poverty of Mississippi. All that I can say is that the people are so poor that they don't even know that they are poor. The conditions prior to Katrina were appalling, so much so that almost everyone sees this as a wonderful opportunity to lift the standard of living for all. This is where you come in. We talk so much about sustainable communities, now we have a real opportunity to put our energy where our principles lead us. It does not mean that everyone has to drop everything and go rushing to the coast. What is needed is research, thinking, ideas and yes work. We have to negotiate the politics,engage and educate the community and mobilize the environmental community in such a manner that there will be a national push for a greener future for people who deserve it. The opportunity for demonstration projects is virtually unlimited and it does not stop with the affected areas, it extends to the large cities that are now absorbing evacuees. The only way that people will be able to return is if a place is built for them.
I will shift just a moment to the devastation of the gulf coast. Several towns are gone...Waveland, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Delisle are no longer livable. These were beautiful coastal communities and every home has been touched. Gulfport and Biloxi are further east, known for gambling and recreation. We estimate that 75% of the homes have significant damage that would include water, roof and trees. Huge 200 year old oak trees were uprooted throughout the coast. Do remember that the hurricane went over New Orleans and it HIT Mississippi. The problem in New Orleans is that the levies did not hold. On the coast Katrina cause devastation that defies our understanding of physics. I saw a tractor trailer upside down on
top of a house, a casino that was formerly a barge on the wrong side of the highway--the whole thing just moved inland like a cruise ship on land and the list goes on. I have photos and video that I will share once I have a chance to edit. Bottom line, business has been wiped out. Jobs are gone and the poverty is exposed because the contents of every home are sitting on the curb.
There are significant environmental and environmental justice issues and those of us who really want an opportunity to reach into the future need to come together and weigh in as leaders. Off the top of my head I see a role for land conservation, historic preservation, wetlands restoration, smart growth, sustainable construction, energy efficiency, transportation innovation the list goes on to include all that are interested. Even the wildlife folk have a role. The local paper reported that "Wildlife all over the Coast is dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." They went on to point out that hummingbirds have been showing up since the storm to feed along the Coast before they make their annual migration across
the Gulf to Central America and Mexico. Food is scarce because of the wind-whipped foliage, and if they don't get enough food they will not be able to withstand the trip. Many families that would normally respond to such an article by placing bird feeders are homeless and collecting food for themselves at relief centers.
I am not an eloquent writer and I cannot yet process all of the emotion but I am an activist and so I am participating in the following actions:
1. Connected with African American leadership in the Coast
2. Identified basic needs and communicate these needs to the outside
3. Contacted a wide range of colleagues advocating an environmental briefing on Katrina Recovery
4. Started researching available applications from other places (domestic and foreign)
5. Planning Environmental Tour of the affected areas (on hold due to Rita)
6. Assisting local organizations with proposals
7. Participating in planning in host cities (Atlanta, Jackson, Baton Rouge)
8. Reaching out to networks encouraging conversation and collaboration
9. Working directly with 3 churches
10. Participating in national conference calls sponsored by a coalition
of Black organizations
I am interested in hearing what others are doing and working to create
links. If anyone is interested in any of the above please respond.