Victory in Smoketown
SURJ organizers contributed to a major Black-led victory this week with the defeat of a proposed above-ground sewer runoff basin in Smoketown, a historically Black, low-income neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. Smoketown residents have been fighting the proposed facility, which was designed by the city’s Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) without regard for community input. This victory is the result of strong organizing by the impacted community, with support from Louisville SURJ and others, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth*.
On March 16th, LSURJ joined Smoketown community members to shut down a MSD planning meeting regarding the proposed basin. LSURJ initially showed up to offer general support, but when it became clear that Black leadership wanted to shut down the meeting, someone from SURJ was able to back up that call to action by taking the mike and affirming the call for people to walk out. Several SURJ members then began tearing up the blueprints for the unwanted facility. Others joined in and over 100 attendees walked out in protest.
Following this direct action, LSURJ joined with Black community leaders and sent letters to the mayor and MSD officials, demanding that the facility be built underground and topped with a public park. A letter from the Smoketown Neighborhood Association emphasized that “for us, this is an issue of environmental justice, of racial justice, and economic justice...The disparity in your plans for Smoketown and other Louisville neighborhoods is unjust and unacceptable. It is not too late to make it right and we want to work with you in that effort.”
These effectively coordinated actions were strengthened by personal ties: some members of LSURJ have longstanding relationships with the Black community leaders at the forefront of this fight. Explains Carla Wallace of LSURJ, “This anchors what we do in accountability without placing the burden of our engagement on people of color.”
As a result of escalating public pressure, the Director of the MSD announced this week that the agency will redesign the facility to meet the demands of the Smoketown community. Says Wallace, “This is a victory in the right of Black and poor communities to self-determination, and for the right of ALL communities to have a say in what happens around development and green spaces.”
*KFTC is a SURJ Affiliate that has been doing community-based organizing in Smoketown for several years.