OPINION – It’s interesting how crises bring out the best and worst in humanity. We saw this in the aftermath of the storm with no name that tore through southern Louisiana last month leaving immense damage and suffering in its wake.
The ensuing devastation also inspired some of the most authentic examples of applied self-governance within recent memory.
For instance, as the flood waters rose, thousands of people found themselves stranded and in danger. As with all disasters, first responders were overwhelmed, and the citizens bore primary responsibility for taking care of themselves.
A voluntarily organized coalition of sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts literally came to the rescue with their personally owned boats. Dubbed the “Cajun Navy” by onlookers, this collection of private boaters rescued more than 30,000 people who were in harm’s way.
This isn’t surprising, given the fact that they were already where the need for help existed and were equipped to help at that moment.
The Cajun Navy made its first ad hoc appearance following Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago. However, the experience and lessons of Katrina resulted in a far better equipped and organized effort this time around.
Rescuers made use of social media, cell phone apps and GPS to enable them to quickly and efficiently reach those in need of rescue. Many of the rescuers brought kennels along to ensure pets wouldn’t be left behind.
The volunteer efforts of the Cajun Navy were supported by the charitable efforts of thousands of other citizen volunteers who joined the relief effort. They set up canopies and began cooking gigantic pots of rice and beans, stews and gumbos for anyone who was hungry.
Other volunteers pitched in, doing whatever they could to lend a helping hand.
Businesses selflessly opened their doors to provide for the affected residents. Local restaurants made certain no one went hungry. Laundromats took in laundry for the flood victims at no cost.
Photography shops urged flood victims to bring in their water-damaged photos so they could be restored for free.
A boat repair shop advertised that it would fix any boats or motors damaged in the rescue efforts free of charge.
This is the bright side of an otherwise dismal event.
The fact that the citizenry rose to the occasion and responsibly did what needed to be done hasn’t escaped the attention of the authorities. Worried that the public might forget how much they need to be governed, state Senator J.P. Perry was the first politician to float the idea of creating a way to regulate the Cajun Navy and charge them a licensing fee.
Perry insisted his proposal was meant to empower the volunteers rather than burden them. However, the sort of people who are mentally and physically prepared to look out for themselves tend to view such claims with intense skepticism.
Creating regulatory hurdles and certificates of officialdom serves to grant legitimacy in the eyes of those who believe that everything not under the control of the state is somehow out of control. It doesn’t change the fact that an engaged citizenry, acting spontaneously and voluntarily, clearly did for themselves what government could not.
We live in a republic founded upon natural law, limited government, popular sovereignty, individual liberty and free enterprise. This means individuals give power to government and not the other way around.
What the Cajun Navy and so many others did in the wake of last month’s storm in Louisiana was a perfect example of how this can still work.
Most of the volunteer rescuers were intimately familiar with the waterways and the people where they were operating. They did not exacerbate the situation, and they did not require mandatory sensitivity training that government rescuers are compelled to receive.
How would it serve the public’s interest by placing these citizens under greater governmental control?
Authorities who would turn away volunteers because they haven’t paid the applicable fee and received their official certificate of government approval are not protecting the populace. Instead, they are protecting what they see as their own turf in an effort to stay in control.
Concerns about volunteer rescue efforts in an age of heightened liability tend to focus on a symptom while ignoring the larger problem.
People sue for frivolous and often petty reasons because there are innumerable petty laws which can be exploited in their favor. That’s a result of too much government.
There are legitimate functions that government can and should perform. Among them are the protection of our individual rights by maintaining law and order and the broader conditions in which we can tend to our own welfare.
In other words, there’s a time where the proper thing for government to do is to stay out of the way.
We’d be wise to recognize that this distinction exists.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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