VAYLA is a multi-issue youth organizing group that emerged to compact environmental racism in East New Orleans during post-Katrina reconstruction.
VAYLA led organizing efforts to stop the dumping of toxic construction debris left over from Hurricane Katrina in a landfill located less than a mile away from the heart of Village de l’Est, a historically low-income African American and Vietnamese American community. Known as the Chef Menteur C&D Disposal Site, the dumping site was chosen through an executive order, without community input.
When the mayor of New Orleans made it publicly known that he was considering placing a landfill in New Orleans East, community members spoke out against the proposal. Before Hurricane Katrina, the elders of the community were the leaders who made all the decisions without much input from younger generation. The crisis of the landfill galvanized the entire community and created an opportunity for the youth to play a lead role. Language barriers prevented the elders from effectively organizing against the local power structure.
For the first time the youth and elders were able to work together effectively to change the conditions of the community.
The youth were able to build a bridge between their community and allies in the greater New Orleans area, and created a campaign strategy that included both legal action and local advocacy. The elders contributed their wisdom and used their organizational influence to mobilize the community for different actions. All of these efforts lead to the closing of the landfill and to a triumphant campaign.