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Fed Up With Post-Ida Garbage Pickup Issues, New Orleans Holds A Trash Costume Parade In Protest

Protesters gathered outside of City Hall on Sept. 18, 2021, for a march driven by the garbage pickup issues in Hurricane Ida's wake.
Ryan Nelsen
Protesters gathered outside of City Hall on Sept. 18, 2021, for a march driven by the garbage pickup issues in Hurricane Ida's wake.

The message was clear Saturday: New Orleans residents want their trash picked up, and they will walk through rain and lightning to get their point across.

A satire-based costume parade that organized itself through Facebook walked from Elysian Fields to City Hall Saturday to protest the city’s failing efforts to remove trash since Hurricane Ida. Twenty days after the Category Four storm hit the city, some residents still haven't had their trash collected, and the contents of their refrigerators from a week or more without power have given the city a pungent smell.

"Only New Orleans can turn trash into a parade and a political statement. And that's why we love this town," said City Councilmember Kristin G. Palmer, who attended the protest once it reached City Hall. "We can make fun of our problems, which I think is good, but understanding that this is a huge issue."

In a council meeting Friday, Palmer called the trash collection issue a "public health issue." And while Mayor LaToya Cantrell has pulled city workers off of tasks, like mowing grass and drainage clearing, to start a task force called "Operation Mardi Gras” to collect bagged trash and debris off the street, residents still want solutions.

Most revelers at the event wore costumes that consisted of trash bags that they threw together at the last minute and carried protest signs that had messages like “No taxation without sanitation.”

Mid-City resident Nicole Dreger said the solution is to pay more to the contracted garbage employees, some of whom went on strike in May 2020 for a higher salary than $10.25 and protection equipment against COVID-19. Now, the city is faced with a labor issue and challenges with retaining employees.

The parade for Dreger was "a way to make sure that Mayor Cantrell and the City Council know that we're fed up, we're done with our situation and something needs to be done now."

Noel Anderson, who lives in the Treme, said yesterday her 70-year-old neighbor took her trash to the Elysian Fields Transfer Station, which is now allowing residents to drop off their own trash free of charge.

"Before that, we had not had a pickup, and it was very few and far between before Hurricane Ida, so it was already a huge problem," Anderson said.

Anderson, who made graphics for Saturday’s event, said she also took part in the protests last summer when the hoppers went on strike over pay, health benefits and lack of PPE during the coronavirus pandemic.

"But Metro refuses to pay a living wage and Cantrell refuses to hold them accountable, so I'm thrilled to see everyone expressing their frustrations at how unhygienic and disgustingly smelly the city has been,” she said. “I'm a happy camper."

When the parade finally hit City Hall, the rain was falling so hard and fast that it prompted the city to allow parking on neutral grounds. Many of the attendees to the event had veered off into the French Quarter to seek dry ground — but before doing so, they dropped their bags of trash off at the front door of City Hall.

"And the anarchists just left, so that means it's winding down," said Councilmember Palmer.

The City Council will meet Tuesday to track the trash pickup improvements and discuss more solutions with city officials.

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