In the weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, frustration with government's slow and often inept response to the crisis pushed many New Orleanians to the breaking point. They responded by pushing back. As Gandhi famously said, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow."
Katrina ignited a citizen-driven wildfire of accountability and reform. New Orleanians became enraged and engaged like never before. Reforms that many thought unachievable were achieved in months, or a few short years, because citizens channeled their outrage into political action. We reformed public education, combined the city's assessors' offices and overhauled area levee boards. From Day One, the big question was whether we could sustain this new level of civic engagement.
In a few months, we will mark the ninth anniversary of Katrina. In his second inaugural address on May 5, Mayor Mitch Landrieu reminded citizens that the fight for New Orleans' full recovery is far from over. He challenged us to sustain our momentum. "What will we accomplish in our short time together?" Landrieu asked.
Lakeview business and civic leader Robert Lupo has an answer for the mayor: Fix the streets. Do it now.
Frustrated at the lack of street repairs in Lakeview, Lupo began searching for answers. He downloaded a March 2013 press release from City Hall touting more than $230 million in promised street repairs citywide.
"There were 38 pages of projects just in Lakeview," Lupo says. "Ridiculously, they said the work would be finished in 2013. I went to the website yesterday to see how the work was going, and zero had been completed for Lakeview. ... There hasn't been a single shovel that hit the ground in over a year."
Like the women who launched Citizens For 1 Greater New Orleans from an Uptown kitchen table, Lupo channeled his frustration into action from his office desk. He launched "Fix My Streets" (www.fixmystreetsnola.com). He printed flyers and lawn signs. The message on his website is unambiguous: "We, the citizens of New Orleans, deserve better streets than what our public officials are providing. We must demand performance and accountability for our tax dollars."
When WWL-TV's "action reporter" Bill Capo featured Lupo and "Fix My Street" (the original name was singular; now it's officially "Fix My Streets" to reflect a citywide scope), the response was immediate.
"I live in Lakeview, but it's about the whole city," Lupo says. "We're getting new signs that will have all the social media information on it."
Lupo smiles when he says "social media," because he's anything but a techie. That's why Gambit is partnering with Fix My Streets to provide technical and media support. And we want everyone to join in the fun — and the crusade.
We're sponsoring a weekly photo contest — "Pimp My Pothole" — as a way to draw attention to the city's worst potholes. (The contest motto: If the city can't fix our streets, we're going to pimp our potholes.) Entry forms will appear soon on Gambit's website, www.bestofneworleans.com.
Meanwhile, you can engage Fix My Streets via Facebook (facebook.com/fixmystreets), Twitter (@fixmystreets), Instagram (@fixmystreets) and YouTube (youtube.com/fixmystreets). We will announce contest winners on our website and track officialdom's responses (or lack thereof).
"In medieval times, people grabbed pitchforks and torches and stormed the castle to demand change," Lupo says. "That's what we plan to do — via social media and, if necessary, at the ballot box. The only thing they seem to respond to is irate citizens in a City Council meeting. That level of frustration is where you find me today."
He is not alone.