[N]ew grassroots organizations have coalesced around the recovery effort. One, commonly known as The Red Shirts, came together as a band of 10 people who set out to clean the streets and administer first aid. This group continues to hit the streets wearing their trademark red and impressing many with their self-imposed 12-hour shifts. To date, their most impressive achievements were the cleaning the wrecked Jackson Square, and removing a fallen brick wall.
Another group, Restore the French Quarter (RFQ), came together shortly after the levies broke. RFQ, which includes 40 volunteers, has cleared their share of downed trees and rubbish. One of their fist acts was to make the Esplanade, a major street marking the border of the neighborhood, passable by vehicle.
The group has also built a public stockpile of necessary items that includes food, water, tools and clothing. The goods and the organization are housed in a makeshift headquarters on the corner of the Esplanade and Decatur — a 9,000 square foot three-story building owned by Harry Anderson of Night Court. It is equipped with generators, a fully stocked bar and a large gas grill. RFQ has gone the extra step of stenciling white “RFQ Volunteer” T-shirts and even printing ID badges for their members.
Standing in the courtyard of the headquarters, RFQ member “Steve,” who works in construction, declared that the group’s first action, shortly after the disaster struck, was to help distribute guns and ammunition to area residents to use for self-defense. Since then, they have turned their attention to fixing roads and keeping people fed.
Earlier this week, RFQ was in the process of gathering resources to repair area roofs damaged by Katrina’s winds, when a rumor stopped them in their tracks. On Thursday, word got around that either the local or federal government was about to begin enforcing the mandatory evacuation. Earlier in the day, a number of Louisiana State Troopers entered Johnny White’s and initially demanded that patrons leave with them. After some heated words, the troopers called their superiors for confirmation. As things went, the troopers left with no one in tow. Even so, the story and fear of looming forced removal spread like wildfire across the French Quarter.
“Is that stupid or what?” asked Steve. “There are hundreds, even thousands, of people right here that would be active volunteers. We know this city like the back of our hands. We are not driving around like Mississippi cops that don’t know this place. We know what we’re doing, where everything is, and how to get resources. We can get this place back up and running. They [the government] need to leave the French Quarter alone, and let us do this.”
And I'm also finding this, on a South African website:
Back in the French quarter RFQ leader Stephen James was printing up T-shirts bearing the ad-hoc group's logo.
"We should just let people help themselves and not have government do it all for them," said James to cheers of approval...
Where Gandhi advocated passive resistance, the French Quarter holdouts pledged to employ clean-up power.
James said he hoped a gang of 100 holdouts would be on the streets on Saturday morning with brooms and garbage bags.
"I don't think we are going to have any problem from the New Orleans police department," he said. "If we are helpful, maybe they will leave us alone."
Many of those at the meeting had seemed depressed and fearful in recent days, but seemed to find new strength and determination, perhaps from safety in numbers.
I wrote about my love for the holdouts yesterday. I was reading reports that portrayed holed-up individualists, and my response to them was sentimental. Today, I'm reading about people forming groups, articulating principles, and improving the community — the roots of civil society. Shouldn't the government work with these people?