The closing of FEMA (our national disaster response team) because of bad weather struck some as ironic. Activists in the Occupy movement were able to provide relief immediately after Hurricane Sandy struck, often in places where the Red Cross and FEMA had no presence.

The #OccupySandy Relief Effort: People Power in Action

By Mike Bridges

The closing of FEMA (our national disaster response team) because of bad weather struck some as ironic. Activists in the Occupy movement were able to provide relief immediately after Hurricane Sandy struck, often in places where the Red Cross and FEMA had no presence.

Following Hurricane Sandy, the conditions on the East Coast have been extremely harrowing, but Occupy Wall Street has transformed into #OccupySandy and made a difference. It started organizing immediately after the hurricane and is still building momentum while the utility services, nonprofits and government agencies have continued to struggle and point fingers. Whether a supporter of the movement or its harshest critic, no one can legitimately disavow the incredible accomplishments achieved as a result of Occupy’s hard work and coordination.

Two weeks after Sandy hit (as of this writing), many people still do not have power, heat or running water. With nowhere to go, many residents are trapped in their apartments high above the ground. Imagine living on the fifth floor, let alone the 25th floor, of an apartment building with none of those things that we take for granted. Now imagine having physical disabilities, or being of a seasoned age that makes it impossible to go up and down those stairs, especially to gather and take home supplies. Stairs have been reported as dark, filled with garbage and having human waste in them. Those same dark stairwells have also had instances of violence, including rape.

Unlike in New Orleans after Katrina, however, the victims cannot be seen by a news or rescue helicopter from above, especially those who most desperately need help. The incredible rescue operations performed by the Coast Guard in the aftermath of Katrina are impossible in New York. Many residents trapped high in their apartments have said that no government agencies have been by to check up on them, but Occupy and its communities have.

Critics would argue that these people should have evacuated before the storm, but much like Katrina all too many people do not have the money or other resources to do so. The agencies and organizations depended on for help were either ill-prepared or did not put the effort into a strong enough response.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and especially the Red Cross have received criticism about their preparedness and response, or for not being in some areas at all. The biggest concern is that two weeks after the fact they still have not helped some of the hardest hit and poorest areas.

The Red Cross has by far received the most criticism for being largely unprepared and absent in general.

FEMA was again severely criticized for closing offices due to a secondary Nor’easter storm. While Occupy and the community were going door to door trying to assist people in need, anyone who went to those FEMA offices were greeted with a sign that said “FEMA Center, Closed due to Weather.” Imagine the pain and disbelief of trying to seek help and realizing an emergency management agency was closed because of weather. That doesn’t seem much different than a firehouse closing due to the neighborhood being on fire, or the police evacuating because of a riot. Although the offices closed for just one day, it seems unreasonable that the people in need would be abandoned if anyone had been in their area at all.

It’s not the volunteers or paid workers who deserve the blame, but the bureaucracy, red tape and top-down authoritarian wastefulness that the Occupy movement has risen against. OccupySandy has not only stepped up to the plate to fill the void, but it has outperformed the Red Cross and in some areas FEMA as well. Occupy has received praise from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the National Guard. At one of OccupySandy’s relief hubs in Redhook, it has raised the city’s banner next to its own.

And there is another interesting twist in that on Nov. 15, the anniversary of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, Mayor Bloomberg, FEMA, the Red Cross, the National Guard and even the NYPD have now two weeks later started to work together with OccupySandy. They are learning what people power is all about.

If not for this disaster, there would undoubtedly have been a large celebration at Zuccotti Park followed by a confrontation between the protestors and police. That now seems unlikely, and instead there is this incredible story that has the potential to change the opinions about Occupy in the city, the country and the world. History tells us that the likelihood of the establishment cooperating long term may be a pipe dream, but if this changes the minds of the average New Yorker, then that’s a sentiment that could spread like wildfire leaving the establishment few options.

OccupySandy is not an official nonprofit, but it is doing what few nonprofits or government agencies can. Highly organized horizontal teams avoid the red tape that often stifles relief efforts. They have abandoned the hierarchal bureaucratic systems that waste and abuse so many resources.

OccupySandy has many hubs for organizing and has set up a WePay account for donations. As of Nov. 15, it had raised just under $500,000. That is only in New York City and does not include what OccupySandy in New Jersey or supportive Occupy locations, communities and organizations across the country and globe have done.

There was also another ingenious idea to create a wedding registry on Amazon.com. The registry lists what is needed, and the world fills those needs to be delivered directly to the necessary locations. UPS has now devoted an entire fleet of trucks just for OccupySandy’s efforts.

It does have to be pointed out that OccupySandy is not doing all of this work alone. There are a good number of people involved who never considered supporting the movement, or did and just never found their way into the streets. Occupy has done something that few nonprofits or government agencies can do. It is organizing and empowering communities to learn how to do for themselves. Occupy is planting the seeds in each community so that they can become self-reliant and rise to the occasion.

There are so many stories, but not enough space to include them. To learn more, visit www.youtube.com and enter the title of the below video; also, enter key words “OccupySandy,” “Rockaway” and “Sandy Redhook.”

View “Occupy Sandy on NBC Nightly News” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeTXQWyB_BA. Donate at www.wepay.com/donations/492531958. Or visit http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/ to find other ways to help.

*****

Mike Bridges got his start in activism with Occupy Fresno in November 2011. He helped to start the local Overpass Light brigade and is a member at large with Peace Fresno and a member of the local Progressive Democrats of America chapter. He is still active with the international Occupy movement through social media. Contact him at 559-412-7852, mikebridges126@comcast.net or www.facebook.com/fifth.mikebridges.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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