September 10, 2005

RFQ and The Red Shirts.

The Vermont Guardian reports:
[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?


Meade said...

Yes, I think they should. However, "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," strikes me as dubious.

ziemer said...

oh dear, lmeade. please lets not do this again today.

Meade said...

My final words on the subject (and they aren't even mine): A well regulated Militia...

ziemer said...


i would say the best thing the government can do is not work with them (although that would indeed be better than getting in their way).

leave them alone altogether, and i'll bet they build a better civil society than existed before (or exists anywhere else in the country).

civil society will produce a government on its own, but no government ever produced a civil society.

Troy said...

They sound more regulated than Nagin's incomptetent cable-TV cronyism and an ethically challenged (with many courageous exceptions) police department.

Perhaps these groups can foment lasting change in NO politics. Or, on the dark side, they could turn into 19th century New York volunteer fire brigades er... gangs.

I think the former is much more likely.

John Jenkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Meade said...

Thank you John and, oops, I lied. These are my final words (and they aren't really my words either)from little green footballs:

Galveston Hurricane of 1900:

Looters found despoiling the dead were stood against the nearest wall or pile of debris and shot without hindrance of a trial. The grisly work of collecting the dead continued by torchlight. The workers were issued generous rations of bourbon and strong cigars. They breathed through handkerchiefs soaked in bourbon and smoked cigars to mask the smell.

In the sweltering heat that followed the storm, decomposition was rapid. The bodies soon lost the rigidity of rigor mortis and had to be shoveled into carts. At times the fixed bayonets of the militia were all that kept many of the men at their work. Superintendents of the work gangs were finally given permission to torch the wreckage wherever found rather than try to extricate pieces of flesh from the ruins and cart them away.

“It was like living in a battlefield. The fuel-oil smoke hung over the city, day and night, and the heavy air was never free of the smell of carbolic acid, of lime, of putrefaction.”

— Death from the Sea: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, Herbert Molloy Mason, Jr.

Looters found despoiling the dead were summarily executed by the militia - stood against the nearest wall or pile of debris and shot without the hindrance of a trial. The same brutal justice was delivered to amateur photographers. “Word received from Galveston today indicates that Kodak fiends are being shot down like thieves. Two, it is stated, were killed yesterday while taking pictures of nude female bodies.”

— Dallas News, September 14, 1900.

John Jenkins said...

For lmeade, just because I can: "The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person." La. Const. Art. 1, § 11.

Why on Earth is it problematic to assist the residents with self-protection given (1) the lawless behavior of La. law enforcement;(2) the dangerous gangs of looters whom the police could not stop; and (3) the fact that 20% of N.O.P.D. quit stretching them even more thinly. To me, this is precisely the situation under which the right to keep and bear arms is most valuable: when civil society has broken down and people need something to protect themselves from bigger and stronger people.

I say it fits perfectly with the obvious message of self-reliance that these people exhibit. The police cannot protect you. The government cannot help you. The politicians do not care about you except to the extent that you generate bad publicity for them. Take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Red shirts are always doomed. haven't you seen Star Trek? ;)

SippicanCottage said...

I cannot take any publication seriously, or rely on them for accuracy in reportage, or egad!analysis, that thinks that "levies" are mounds of earth designed to hold back water.

This is what this stuff looks like AFTER an editor has seen it. Can you imagine what it looks like when the reporters turn it in?

Anne said...

Back to Ann's question of "shouldn't the government work with these people?"

That sounds like a good idea. On the other hand, it seems that most heroic feats and relief actions have come about as people work outside the bureaucracy and ignore it altogether to get things done. Seems to me the red tape of bureaucracy had something to do with the complaints about the Feds responding too slowly.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm mostly concerned that the government "work with" them in the sense of excepting them from the mandatory evacuation. After that, perhaps including them among the many people who are going to be hired to do the cleanup and rebuilding. I think they've earned a hiring preference by starting to work and showing civic spirit and dedication to the city and its continuing life.

Laura Reynolds said...

Ann, while I agree with your sentiment, I think it will be difficult to administer exceptions under these circumstances. At least by organizing they stand a chance.

Adam said...

They can only stay there if they tell us what's in the hatch.

XWL said...

Careful Professor Althouse, seems like events are sending you down the slippery slope of Libertarianism, before you know it you will be advocating full drug legalization, legal prostitution, legal gambling and strengthening of the 2nd amendment (just kidding, though all those things I think would be good for society, prohibitions, not backed by strong social taboo, generally backfire).

As to Galveston I've read elsewhere that the looting of corpses was a mob and media made fantasy inflamed by those who were worried by the recent influx of Hungarian immigrants and they were mostly the one's who were summarily executed (ethnic cleansing of a sort, not quite as sexy, for some, as the racial angle during the current crisis).

As far as the RFQ group, they need to design a t-shirt (preferably somewhat vulgar involving Mayor Nagins juxtaposed with exposed derrieres) and sell it over the internet immediately, I think that would be a big hit and help fund the restoration once there are places to spend the money again.

Kathy Herrmann said...

The folks who do and will care most about rebuilding NO are the residents themselves. Secondly, nothing is better for the battered soul than productive meaningful work and what could be more of either than rebuilding your home? Third, acting proactively gives folks a sense of control over their lives, which is much needed after Mother Nature shows just how little control we have over her.

I think if folks want to engage in productive rebuilding efforts, and show organization to boot, the government should at the least get out of their way and at the most see what the can do to help the volunteers.

DNR Mom said...

These civic-minded NOLA rebels need to edit the 1960s "Question Authority" bumper sticker into a new motto like "Ignore Authority." Or ignore it as long as possible and see how much of the clean-up gets done unencumbered. Kudos to them.

Jim said...

Yes, I am opposed to forcibly removing those who remain in New Orleans. What would be the point? Let them stay.

Beth said...

Ann, a message posted late Saturday night by one of the holdouts who has been helping organize rescuers and information, said she was "sitting in Johnny White's drinking a COLD Abita Amber [a favorite local brew any Wisconsite would enjoy], thanks to Eddie Compass!!" Compass is our Chief of Police, so that tells me there is some negotiating going on.

Troy--the corrupt cops are the exceptions. The NOPD ranks have worked this storm, and the days after, away from the families, in sometimes terrifying and frequently sorrowful circumstances, and they keep showing up, day after day. I've heard this from people on the ground, nurses still in the city, and others who owe their lives to the cops.

Those of us who left are going through cycles of what we can think about and talk about. We're starting to talk about how the rebuilding will happen. For many, there's a feeling of distrust; we don't want the type of help the government gave in the storm--let's not debate that here, the point is to understand that New Orleanians are very suspect of outside planners. We want to guard our historic homes, and not have developers with U.S. contracts come in and slap up pre-fab, cookie cutter houses. We want to plan how we can make use of this awful event to sweep away some of the poverty and corruption, to fix our schools from the ground up, not piecemeal. And we want our people, our contractors and bricklayers and ironworkers and trash haulers, to do this work, not just contractors with big connections. We have to be part of this; we're getting very tired of waiting to be let in to our homes.

So, my answer to Ann is yes, resoundingly, the government needs to work with the Red Shirts, with the holdouts, and with all of us who are ready to return. My god, I can't wait for Mardi Gras. I am so homesick. Hearing about these holdouts gives me so much hope.

zagzagg said...


Q: What do you call a building full of toxis river water and a dead scientist?

A: A laboratory of democracy.

zagzagg said...


Q: What do you call a building full of toxic river water and a dead scientist?

A: A laboratory of democracy.

Troy said...

Elizabeth... probably better late than never.

A bit of overstatement on the NOPD, but the departmewnt as a wehole has been studied for years as how not to run a PD.

Having worked with and trained cops in TX and CA for over 10 years I should watch my Ps and Qs. Even the worst departmewnts have only a miniscule % of "bad" cops -- slightly more "incompetent" cops -- and mostly hard-working clock-punchers who do the job day in and out.

Sorry to impugn your beautiful city. My wife and I celebrated our 1st anniversary there -- love the place and plan to go spend dollars there again soon after it's up and running.