Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Katrina Updates

September 26th, 2005 9:27 PM

On a street named Desire

Do-it-yourself activists, aiming to feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty and fix the broken homes of their neighbors

By Alex Martin / Newsday

On the day that Hurricane Rita frayed what was left of the nerves of this frazzled city, intensifying to a Katrina-like monster and jogging ever so slightly closer toward the Louisiana coastline, I turned 46 and met my first communitarian anarchist.

The birthday, the new hurricane, and the things I had seen in the 12 days I'd been in town had sent me on a meandering drive. First, I passed the hospital uptown where I was born. It was the same one where my oldest, Will, came into this world 17 years ago, the same one where 45 people left during Katrina and its aftermath.

Next, I stopped at the first of my childhood homes at 716 Frenchmen St. to make sure the "A" I'd chiseled into the low cement wall out front in 1971 was still there. And, finally, I headed for the house at 724 Desire St. that I considered home.

It had been quiet on the block when I had passed 10 days before to find bits of its vinyl siding blown into the front yard. But on this Wednesday the house next door was bustling with people and a sign proclaimed the "Common Ground Collective in Da Nint' Ward," the last three words mimicking the southern-fried Brooklynese of locals, like me, who are called Yats.

I walked up to the folding tables and chairs under the sagging collection of tarps and introduced myself as a newspaper reporter from New York, one who'd grown up in that house right over there.

"You're Red's son?" a woman named Leenie Halbert asked.

Yes, Red Martin was my father. Leenie had lived next to Red and my mother, Jeanne, for about 8 years. I'd never met her. My father was one of those old men who made the daily rounds of the neighborhood, chatting up whomever he met. So Leenie knew about his son in New York, knew how Red hung out with other old men at Fraidy's corner store, knew how he watched Jerry Springer with the volume turned way past LOUD, knew how lost he was after my mother died, knew if he'd still been alive when Katrina had struck that he never would have left home.

Leenie is the co-chair of the Green Party of Louisiana. She said she works just enough in music publishing to pay the bills. "I do what I need to do and spend the rest of my time on activism," she said. "I live pretty frugally."

She had come back into town with some of the aforementioned communitarian anarchists - people who believe in do-it-yourself action within small groups - and some folks from the peace group Food Not Bombs. Her aim was to feed the hungry and bring water to the thirsty, to fix the broken homes of her neighbors and to offer a sense of community in their deserted streets.

It's easy to dismiss idealists and their passions. The folks who made up the collective had all the slogans, the George W. Bush punching bag under a sign that said "Therapy Center," the campers and a couple of old blue buses that would make it so easy to turn them into clichés.

Whatever Leenie and her friends called themselves and whatever they believed, though, they were doing a good thing. "I just wanted to bring love back to my neighborhood," she said.

Two days before Katrina hit, Leenie had fled in a van with her friend Camilla Brewer and their dogs. First, they camped in Athens, Ga., but the guy who ran the campground had ferrets, which didn't mix too well with the hounds. Then, they headed over to Asheville, N.C., where they slept in a public park next to a friend's house. Then to the Pumpkin Hollow Collective in Tennessee, and finally, to a camp in Covington, La., across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, run by the group Vets for Peace. Leenie began what she called "recon trips" into the city.

"After about a week of coming in and out," she said, "I felt pretty comfortable that we could have a supply line."

She joined with her friend Andrea Garland, who lives nearby on St. Claude Avenue, to take a census of who was in the neighborhood and develop a route to drop off food. People also began coming to Leenie's house to use her wireless telephone or log onto her laptop, which can link to the Internet through the cell phone system.

"We got here, and, within one day, people were showing up," Leenie said. "Folks come in and out all day long, eat, pick up toilet paper, whatever. This is the fifth day trying to do this here full-time."

Leenie and Randall Amster, a reformed lawyer from Arizona who teaches peace studies and works with Food Not Bombs, marveled at the relationship that has developed between the collective and the Oregon National Guard and other military and law enforcement units.

"We've seen about every flavor of law enforcement you could possibly see," Randall said. "In this case, the energy shifts a little bit. They seem in some weird way to be a part of the community ... we're both trying to restore order and normalcy in our own way. We're plugged into the same effort to keep the place whole."

Leenie told me her story as we walked the sidewalks of Bywater where the streets have names like Desire and Piety, Independence and Congress. (The neighborhood remained dry this weekend after Hurricane Rita.) Near the rubble of a warehouse full of propane tanks that blew up right after the storm when firefighters could only watch it burn, she spied something on the ground.

"Oh, there's a lucky penny," she said, picking it up "You need that in these times."

About 4 p.m., they tried to organize the food routes for the day. Unfortunately, things were a little more anarchic than collective - one of the volunteers left with the list in his truck.

After it was sorted out, Leenie hopped in a camper driven by Randall. The first stop was Miss Ginger's around the corner from my old house on Frenchmen Street. Miss Ginger appeared to be a mister, which is not uncommon in Faubourg Marigny, and everyone just went with it, dropping off some red beans and rice, as well as a can of tuna that looked as if it contained a whole fish.

When Leenie said she wanted to get "our city back to normal as much as possible," she meant she wanted it back to a place hospitable to Miss Ginger and Railroad Bill and No-Nose Louie and Slim from Fraidy's, which is pretty abnormal for most everywhere else. She wants to save New Orleans' character and its characters.

She's afraid that plans are being made that will change her city, cutting out the poor and the different in favor of the prosperous and the generic.

"People are really happy to see us," Leenie said. "It's just organic happiness, and that makes us happy because we're practicing our beliefs. We hope it will leave a legacy of concerned New Orleanians who can have a say in rebuilding our city."

I leave them at Miss Ginger's, and come back Friday with 64 pounds of ice as Newsday's contribution to communitarian anarchy and homegrown characters like Miss Ginger and Railroad Bill.

Rita is whipping up a little wind and rain. Leenie and Randall are preparing to go to Washington for Saturday's peace march in the blue buses, a decision that clearly leaves Leenie conflicted. The collective will relocate to Andrea's place until Leenie gets back.

As we said goodbye, this woman who I had met only 24 hours before hugged me for the third time, and she told me she was glad I stopped by.

"It was like seeing Red again," she said.

And even with Rita causing all of us in New Orleans to worry again, that made me organically happy.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles