Homeless people are frequently ignored, but we realize that capitalism makes it so that we’re always one step separated from them,” said Etienne, and organizer with the John Brown Gun Club. “That’s one shitty situation separating us. So, what would we need if we were out here, that’s what we try to provide to folks.”


The John Brown Gun Club, a community defense group, organized a Free Store in Burnside Park in downtown Providence Saturday afternoon. Well over 100 people were allowed to take take food, clothing and other things, for free over the hour or so they were open.

“This is part of the John Brown Gun Club ethos,” said Etienne, explaining the idea to me. “As a community defense group we first and foremost believe that communities should organize to defend themselves against all threats, including poverty and homelessness.

“One of the things that we believe in is the use of mutual aid, or community relief. We do a weekly walkabout in Providence and we have smaller things that we carry with us like blankets, hand warmers and hot soup. It was every Tuesday when it’s warmer out, but now we’re going to switch to the coldest night of the week.

“Part of it is also about talking with people,” continued Etienne. “Homeless people are frequently ignored, but we realize that capitalism makes it so that we’re always one step separated from them. That’s one shitty situation separating us. So, what would we need if we were out here, that’s what we try to provide to folks.

“As part of that we collect a bunch of donations of coats, shoes, jackets, belts, what have you, and once we hit critical mass in terms of storage, we set up a Free Store. We let everyone just take what they need, whatever they want. We put out food. We made fifty turkey sandwiches yesterday, and those got demolished in the first ten minutes.”

“I noticed that people didn’t seem to take more than they needed,” I said. “No one seemed to say, ‘I need all these shoes.’ They just took one coat, one blanket…”

“Yeah, that’s exactly right,” agreed Etienne. “People have this idea that people are greedy. That people who are suffering from housing insecurity just want to take take take take. But people who need things are taking what they need, but also making sure that other people in their same situation can have stuff that they need too. That’s solidarity of the working class. That’s what this is all about.

“Not knocking churches, but their motivation is that God calls them to do that kind of thing. That’s cool, they feel that they have to do this to be a good person. Our motivation, again, is that we’re literally no different than the people we’re working with, at all.”

Support the John Brown Gun Club here.


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Lynne B
Guest
Lynne B

Most Christian churches encourage their members to open their hearts to their brothers and sisters who are in need. Anybody who tries to “sell” or embraces the idea that helping their neighbor buys them a ticket somewhere is doing it wrong. If their hearts have been opened to look at their neighbor in love and to value their humanity and personhood the same as their own, their motivation is the same as yours. Don’t make it an either/or thing. It’s not. You demonstrate your very shallow understanding by framing it in this manner. The same with someone’s “recruiting” comment. A ways back, certain Western Christian missionary groups in Asia and Africa thought the best way to bring the word of Christ to the unchurched third world was to condition their receiving a meal on sitting through a church service first. In the end, this did not produce a genuine embrace… Read more »

Robert LaMontagne
Guest
Robert LaMontagne

Not sure what capitalism has to do with any of this.

However, thank you for providing these services. It’s great that we have people like you doing this. I support the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for this very reason.

Artie Russo
Guest

Awesome works folks! Included with the Homeless are many people addicted to drugs and or alcohol. The Upper Room Network can join in and support those folks. Contact us at: http://www.upperroomri.org

William Flug
Guest
William Flug

First, know your history. For all their flaws – and they are many, and I know them first-hand as a United Methodist minister – churches have built more hospitals and schools, sheltered more immigrants, and fed, clothed and housed more people than any other NGO in our society, past or present.

More importantly, while I laud the contribution of the JBGC Free Store to meeting human needs, at a deeper level I deplore the idea of an armed “community defense group” on the Left as being as ill-conceived and dangerous as the Right-wing militias that are a growing threat to peace, justice and democracy in our country.

We are not going to settle anything with guns. Full stop.

Will Speck
Guest
Will Speck

First, I’d like to acknowledge that I am not a member of JBGC, but I am a member of a left-wing organization that has taken part in actions protected by JBGC, and am an admirer of their work. I think it’s absolutely outrageous to draw any sort of equivalence or connection between right-wing militias and left-wind community defense groups. Don’t hide behind an idealistic notion of violence in order to ignore the reality on the ground. Just look at the body count, and the lack of one on our side, and you can clearly see there is no equivalence or connection whatsoever. There are people who want to seriously harm me for what I believe and the kind of work I do. Should I allow them to harm me? Am I not allowed to defend myself? Am I not allowed to defend my comrades? Am I not allowed to defend… Read more »

Etienne Roussel
Guest
Etienne Roussel

Hi, I am one of the folks in John Brown. First and foremost – I’d like to clarify that we in no way at all discount the good that has been done by people with religious motivations. Like I said to Steve, I’m not knocking religious folks at all. Our motivation is just different. Motivations are an important key to understanding actions. Secondly, one of the reasons we exist is to be a counterbalance to those right-wing militias. While their focus is on “maintaining law and order” or “preserving American tradition” (which, have been very successful messages for their recruiting efforts) ours is quite literally to empower historically marginalized communities with the skills, materials, and infrastructure to defend themselves. We are not a militia. We do not have ranks, or a militant hierarchical structure, and we don’t have any wild ideas of taking over the state. Our core mission is… Read more »

William Flug
Guest
William Flug

Hi Etienne, You wrote, in part, “… a gun, in the right hands, with the right amount of experience, training, organization, and understanding is necessary.” You also wrote, “I understand, and appreciate your apprehension to being armed.” I’d be glad to meet with you, although I’m not on Facebook so I can’t message you to make contact. But for now I’ll clarify that I am not “apprehensive” about being armed. I am opposed – utterly – to the proliferation of guns in our society. And I would point out that your “guns in the right hands” justification mirrors perfectly the “Good Guy with a Gun” ideology put forth by Wayne LaPierre and the NRA. As to there not being any “positive change concerning race, class etc. …without violence” I’d suggest Dr. King’s campaign of non-violent resistance as a relatively recent instance that disproves your claim. I remain grateful and admiring… Read more »

Etienne Roussel
Guest
Etienne Roussel

Apologies – one other point:

In direct reply to your last comment: “I remain grateful and admiring of your group’s humanitarian efforts, but not its organizing principle that guns will be any real protection, let alone an answer to the fascist bigotry we face.”

First, thank you. I’m very glad that you and I at the very least have two points of unity: human beings deserve their dignity, and we are seeing fascism and bigotry in our day.

However, what I would ask, then, is what is your answer to the fascist bigotry.
What is to be done?

Etienne Roussel
Guest
Etienne Roussel

I would like to point out that Dr King also owned guns, and after the bombing of his home applied (and was denied) a concealed carry permit. Dr King was also surrounded by armed protectors during the course of his work, specifically during the strategic stages of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. I would respectfully disagree that Dr King’s strategic nonviolence disproves my claim. This stems from a significant misreading of outcomes from the 60’s Civil Rights Movement. Not that much has changed. Sure, it’s now unlawful to have written rules segregating schools, but we still have segregated schools. It’s illegal to discriminate from employment based on race or ethnicity, but it absolutely still happens en masse. His work was never finalized or actualized in and of itself. Additionally, for the advances that have been made, non-violent efforts were paralleled by riots, direct actions, and yes, armed self-defense. I had an… Read more »

Carlene Watts
Guest
Carlene Watts

I have not heard of this organization and I am a community health worker. I recently lost my mother who was an advocate for our veterans and the homeless. We have chosen to donate her belongings. I would like to be contacted by a representative of your organization to donate women’s clothing, and other items.

Dave Dalzell
Guest
Dave Dalzell

I like this approach. Please have someone reach out to me via my email below as a potential donor of practical material goods and perhaps boots on the ground. liveaudio@me.com

Helen Duffy
Guest
Helen Duffy

I think the motivation of churches is to recruit people to their organization, not to do God’s will.