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So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless movement that brought international attention to issues of economic injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts? Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there wasn’t any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath. “This is what we do already, “ he explained: Build community, help neighbors, and create a world without the help of finance. Horst said, “We know capitalism is broken, so we have already been focused on organizing to take care of our own [community] needs.” He sees Occupy Sandy as political ideas executed on a practical level.
As frustration grows around the city about the pace and effectiveness of the response from FEMA, and other government agencies and the Red Cross, I imagine both concerned New Yorkers and storm victims alike will remember who was out on the front lines.
Sandy, however, is a massive disaster that has crippled the nation’s largest metropolitan system of over 20 million people. Compare this to the 1.18 million who live in the New Orleans metropolitan area, and only then can we begin understand the sheer magnitude of the response needed to protect life and restore normalcy. [...]
Take the need for gasoline, which is so great that not even the Defense Department’s best plan for gasoline delivery could meet demand. According to the New York Times, “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that the Defense Department would distribute free fuel from five mobile stations. But that effort backfired when too many people showed up.” Suddenly, Cuomo’s mastery of natural disaster response has now been inverted by fate and chance, or the whims of fortuna as Machiavelli once said, and he has been reduced to merely reassuring New Yorkers that “there is no reason to panic.”
Occupy Albany met the morning of Nov. 4 to load and
deliver essential goods to areas of New York City
in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
So who will provide food and shelter to the newly-created refugees of Staten Island, of Red Hook, of Coney Island, or of Rockaway Beach (who include our own family members)? Interestingly enough, the same New Yorkers who have been in a state of rebellion since last summer via Occupy Wall Street are now filling the gaps. All those smelly hippies without jobs just activated their own logistics and procurement networks and have begun distributing essentials like food and water to those who have been left with nothing. Community social justice networks forged through the Occupy demonstrations (think of InterOccupy, New York Communities for Change, and The Free University of New York City) have tapped into the dense web of interpersonal connections and social relationships forged over months of political protest and, on a dime, pivoted their efforts into citizen-led New York City disaster response. Sociologists describe this capacity for organization as ‘the power of weak ties‘, and it’s a pretty impressive feat of spontaneous information sharing that enables collective mobilization.
At the St. Francis de Sales church on B-129th Street [in Belle Harbor, Queens], the church hall has been taken over by Occupy Sandy—an offshoot of the still-active networks of Occupy Wall Street. Supplies have been driven here from all over Brooklyn: back there are piles of blankets; on the tables here are diapers, baby food, and cleaning supplies; over there, clothes (grownup, child, baby); more than a hundred pairs of shoes lined up neatly on the bleachers. Residents of the neighborhood wander around the hall, filling bags. In the front entranceway Occupy volunteers are unloading cases of bottled water from a truck, handing the heavy cases one to the next, a bucket brigade to the back of the church. The volunteers move fast but the job lasts more than half an hour—it’s a big truck. In front of the church, long tables have been set up on the sidewalk, where volunteers are serving hot food and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
The Red Cross doesn’t accept individual donations of household goods—these things, it says, need to be cleaned, sorted, and repackaged, and all that takes up more time than they’re worth. It asks for financial donations only. New York Cares requires its volunteers to go through orientation sessions, all of which are full till late November. But Occupy, as you would expect, has a different style. For instance: as soon as it was safe to go outside after the storm, first thing Tuesday morning, Michael Premo and a couple of people he knew got in a car and drove over to Red Hook.
“The lightning response to Hurricane Sandy is one of our movement’s most meaningful expressions yet. What first emerged in Zuccotti Park a year ago has now blossomed into direct community aid and empowerment in at least a dozen areas around NYC,” posted Conor Tomas Reed, an adjunct instructor at Baruch College and a student at the CUNY Graduate Center who was been heavily involved in the Red Hook Initiative and Occupy Sandy relief efforts. “Food, water, medicine, shelter, politics, vision, scale—recovery efforts have met basic needs and posed radical alternatives in a dialogue now reaching thousands of people daily.” In the midst of on the ground mobilization of communities in response to sustained Hurricane damage, we still haven’t heard from the New York Times or other major media sources about who are the disproportionately affected by the storm. If this hasn’t taught us anything, it is really that Sandy has uncovered yet another “Tale of Two Cities.”
This may seem obvious to some readers, but since the major media has been so neglectful, it seems to make sense to set the record straight. The majority of districts that are the most affected by Hurricane Sandy via power outages, no running water and lack of access to food are the same that are affected by broad, systemic patterns racial and economic injustice. Historically, most of the neighborhoods are the very same that experienced white flight during the mid-20th century while simultaneously being disenfranchised via redlining by banks and real estate agencies–a legacy that still greatly affects residents of these areas access to a long list of things other parts of the city take for granted: public parks and healthy, affordable food. Redlining succeeded in shutting off all opportunities for loans and other forms of economic investment in poor, minorities neighborhoods (in the instance of areas such as the South Bronx, Red Hook and East New York in Brooklyn).
The comparisons to Katrina have been everywhere, of course, but for me they hit home when, safe in my Crown Heights apartment that never even lost power, I saw friends and acquaintances who’d been involved with Occupy Wall Street tweeting their relief activities under the hashtag #OccupySandy. I couldn’t help but think, as I watched them tweet their setup of a hub in Red Hook, of Common Ground, of Malik Rahim, of New Orleans’ mutual aid after the storm, and how leftists and radicals (Rahim, a former Black Panther, learned about community care from the Panthers’ free food and tutoring programs) step quietly into the spaces that are left vacant by the wrecking crew that’s laid waste to social welfare programs and the churches and charities that Republicans keep telling us will step up to provide care.
You can follow the cooperative relief effort on Twitter with the hashtags #OccupySandy, #SandyVolunteer, #mutualaid, @occupywallstnyc. There is also a Facebook page. And some websites: Red Hook Recovers and Interoccupy.
Reports are streaming in from all over the country about long lines for early morning voting (no surprise there). About 1,000 students reportedly were lined up at Penn State before 7 A.M.
We're also getting our first reports about machines malfunctioning or other polling place problems. Over at the OurVoteLive blog, we see reports of some problems in Virginia, confirmed by CNN, regarding machines that broken down before voters could even cast a vote. At one polling place, per CNN, almost all of the machines failed. State law permits those voters to vote on paper ballots for the time being.
Here in Chicago, Barack Obama just cast his vote, with his daughters at his side. Update: Just to note that we'll be seeing a lot of glitches today. As with the long lines, it won't be surprising. States have back-up systems, and when the machines break, like at the VA polling place, voters can still cast their votes, just using another method. Typically, we see a flood of reports like this in the morning, when the machines are just being turned on for voting. Those machines are typically either recalibrated or taken out of service and replaced, so ideally, all the kinks are worked out by midday, as far as voting technology goes.