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Occupy Sandy – the 99% organizes for disaster relief

photo of Sepp Hasslberger

Sepp Hasslberger
2nd December 2012


Occupy Sandy is a series of spontaneous relief efforts by people inside of and close to the occupy movement. It came together in the first days after the storm devastated large parts of the eastern US coastline and did quite some damage to New York City transport infrastructure and housing.

In what seems an uncharacteristic turn of events, occupy Sandy soon found itself cooperating with what some months ago had seemed the enemy – New York’s police and national guard. Time magazine reports on this in
Best of Enemies: Why Occupy Activists Are Working with New York City’s Government

Being among the first to move made Occupy a vital part of the city’s hurricane relief infrastructure. As a result, this radical nonstate movement finds itself in the unlikely position of coordinating with government institutions it might otherwise be in conflict with. The group is now in contact with a wide range of agencies, and organizers said they participated in two recent conference calls that included FEMA.

Nowhere has cooperation been closer than in the unique case of Red Hook, where the joint Occupy-government relief point was set up on Nov. 11. That center was the result of an unusual 30-person meeting that reportedly included four members of the National Guard, a police officer and Andrew Olsen from the CAU and took place in Occupier Desmarais’ Red Hook loft on Saturday.

The New York Times also reported on this: Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief

In the past two weeks, Occupy Sandy has set up distribution sites at a pair of Brooklyn churches where hundreds of New Yorkers muster daily to cook hot meals for the afflicted and to sort through a medieval marketplace of donated blankets, clothes and food. There is an Occupy motor pool of borrowed cars and pickup trucks that ferries volunteers to ravaged areas. An Occupy weatherman sits at his computer and issues regular forecasts. Occupy construction teams and medical committees have been formed.

“It’s a laterally organized rapid-response team,” said Ethan Gould, a freelance graphic artist and a first-time member of Occupy.

OCCUPY SANDY was initially the work of a half-dozen veterans of Zuccotti Park who, on the Tuesday following the storm, made their way to public housing projects in the Rockaways and Red Hook, Brooklyn, delivering flashlights and trays of hot lasagna to residents neglected by the government. They arranged for vans to help some people relocate into shelters…

One could say that the occupy movement, true to its name, is occupying spaces and gaps in time here that the official relief organizations left uncovered, especially early relief and real human contact with those affected by the hurricane. So one could say the 99% are starting to self-organize, no longer just waiting for disaster relief to come along but getting organized in a flash and doing what can be done with limited means. Where the big relief organizations such as the Red Cross and even FEMA can throw a lot of money at the problem, bringing in trucks of blankets and food, the occupy effort is more fine grained and immediate.

It seems we may be seeing the beginnings of an important change here – the appearance of a spirit of self-organization that will in time reach into community organizing, and expand into matters of government at the state and national levels. Time will tell, but we can already say that the occupy spirit has expanded into a new area. The 99% is finding out about its own power…

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