by Max Haiven, Dissident Voice, November 2nd, 2012
For the past two days I’ve been volunteering with grassroots relief efforts in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. While the storm could have been a lot worse, and while New York is one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the world, the storm has swept the veil off of the entrenched inequalities at this city’s core.
In New York, a lot of public housing projects and poor neighborhoods are located on the beaches and shores of this maritime capital, and so have been hit hard. On the eve of a pivotal election, all the politicians and media stooges are eager to show images of action and recovery. But the reality is that you can drive out to any one of a number of neighborhoods and find block upon block of low-income high-rises, full of people and utterly dark. Inside, children, the elderly and the sick suffer with no heat, no clean running water, and no electricity. Relief and support has been slow in coming from the powers that be. And two days after the New York Stock Exchange opened, tens of thousands of poor and working class folks are barely scraping by.
Yet one year after Occupy Wall Street bloomed and was quashed it is at the heart of grassroots relief efforts. Much is already being made of the magic of social media and its capacity to connect donors with needs in the wake of the storm. But there’s a hidden story here. That social media process is enabled and facilitated by dozens of Occupy-trained and tested organizers working 10-16 hour days to get the word out about what’s needed, to coordinate the gathering of materials from multiple city-wide drop points, to organize the sorting and bagging of all those materials, to cook hot meals for blacked-out neighborhoods, and to send teams of volunteers out to areas far and wide to provide food, clothing, blankets, water, toys, diapers, medicine (asthma inhalers and insulin, mostly) and whatever else is needed.
I worked in an OccupySandy-run church kitchen in Sunset Park today and yesterday, and drove around doing pick up and delivery. I talked to a lot of volunteers. Some had been involved in the Occupy encampments a year ago and Occupy organizing since, though many had just admired the movement from afar. We all marveled at the efficiency and determination of those who had cut their teeth in Occupy as they gracefully coordinated the often chaotic volunteer efforts and the rapid flow of people and materials. But we also admired these organizers’ good nature and friendliness, their patience and their adaptability, all hard-won qualities that come from organizing under fire in a non-hierarchical, mindful, and consensus-based movement that’s seen its fair share of crises. No one is “in charge,” yet things get done and needs get met. People’s skills and abilities find outlets. People are at their best, despite everything. Continue reading