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November, 2012 | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Archive | November, 2012

Helping Out at Sunset Park

New York, NY–I made my way to Sunset Park last Sunday.  It only took 2 hours by subway from Washington Heights.  I helped St. Gertrude’s get set up as a resource center.  Worked with an incredible group of people who turned the auditorium from a mud-filled flood zone into an incredible resource for the community offering food, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc.  Thanks to Cathleen for driving us to and from St. Jacobis.  Had been watching the news all week from my dry spot in Washington Heights.  Had to do something.  Many thanks to Occupy Sandy group for their awesome organizing.  Will be back to help on Monday Nov 12th, Veterans Day in honor of my dad Mike, a WWII vet who passed away almost one year ago.  He never turned down a request to help a friend, neighbor or family member.

-Tina-

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Mutual Aid is a Social Relationship

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on the author’s blog and is republished here with permission.

Author’s Note: If you’re looking to lend some love and mutual aid in post-hurricane NY and NJ, look no further than http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/. And even if you don’t end up pitching in through Occupy Sandy Relief, the fantastic and fantastical legacy of Occupy last year, it’ll lead you — as it did for me today — to other sites of marvelous mutual aid. Here’s one story, amid so many right now.

*  *  *

Midafternoon on November 9th, I headed over to the new Occupy Sandy Relief distro site for Red Hook at 83 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Brooklyn to lend a hand for a bit. On my short walk there, I thought how the Occupy dream, which had turned into a nightmare for so many of us, was now not only persisting but in fact transforming into something far more dreamlike than any of us could have imagined a year ago — a self-styled and effective “hegemonic” force in what mutual aid looks like and indeed is all about, in sharp contrast to “The Persistence of Dystopia” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for some many in New York and New Jersey.

When I arrived at the new Red Hook Occupy Sandy Relief distro site, a gaggle of what appeared to be mainstream reporters with cameras, microphones, and little regard for anything except themselves were jostling to film a donation delivery out front. Inside, though, I found three incredibly nice folks, clearly just getting this new site set up. I asked if they needed help, but they said that the weekend would be better; it would get busy when folks came in to pick up material aid. They needed to organize things first so as to better integrate other volunteers into this space.

“I’m involved with an archive fairly close by, but won’t be there tomorrow,” I said. “How about Monday?” “Do you have a car?” asked one, and then without pausing, answered his own question, “No, I doubt it. Probably just a bike, huh? We need cars for deliveries.” “Do you have a laptop?” inquired another, who seemed the point person here. I affirmed that I did, and the response was, “Great! Could you bring that on Monday?” They then bent over their own computer, after handing me a whiteboard to write down my name, number, email, and availability.

“Did you say you’re an archivist?” they asked distractedly, staring at their laptop screen. “No,” I replied, “I’m an anarchist.” I instantly got a big smile and high-five from my new acquaintance. “Cool! I’ve never heard of that archive. What is it?” When I explained it was an independent space filled with social movement cultural production more for us than preservation — cultural ephemera like zines, posters, films, books, stickers, banners, buttons, T-shirts, audiotapes, periodicals, and more — and that we did related events, they eagerly asked, “Do you have ACT UP materials, especially from Philly? ACT UP was amazing in Philly.” A minute later we discovered that we had both sublet the same apartment at different times in Philly at Fancy House, one of those anarchic collectively owned West Philly residences. “Can I hug you?” they beamed. Hugs are always good, especially since genuine ones, and I thought, what a lovely interconnected world we’re trying hard to create, by design and spontaneously, and how much even the most minor of mutual aid attempts leads, serendipitously, to reshaping social relations in micro ways. Macro ways, too, perhaps, as Occupy Sandy Relief seems to be doing. Again that sharp contrast: our cooperative, communitarian, egalitarian social relations against the cruel backdrop of the competitive, individualistic, imbalanced ones instilled by capitalism.

Back to the new Red Hook distro site: My new acquaintance mentioned that if I still wanted to help today, I could walk over to Coffey Park in Red Hook, where folks were supposedly setting up tents for another, outdoor distribution hub. So I trotted off in that direction, walking across toxic Gowanus Canal and snaking under an freeway menacing high overhead as toxic-smelling fumes wafted by, to see if mutual aid was indeed needed in the park a mile away.

The minute I got past canal and freeway, into Red Hook, I found what shouldn’t be a surprise — and yet … I found another poor neighborhood shit outta luck in “natural” disasters. It was as if Hurricane Sandy had struck the night before. I walked past someone pumping murky-muddy water out of a basement, then a corner store lit by candles, and then public housing projects still sans lights and heat. On reaching the park, there was no sign of tents or Occupy Sandy Relief but plenty of signs of suffering and devastation: downed trees & debris lingering, fowl-smelling air and toxic-looking muck on ground, ConEd workers trying to get electricity going again and “restoration” workers with masks/gloves on, homemade and bilingual signs about where to get help or when/if school would be open, and police. Lots and lots of police — doing nothing (which is maybe preferable to them doing something!). I saw two Red Cross trucks, one handing out a few supplies to a few people; the other seemingly just parked and serving no one. Nearby to this Red Cross van, there was a Warner Cable van and and two Warner Cable guys had set up a tent, with a well-made banner with the Warner Cable logo that also said “recharging station,” but no one was there, and they decided to pack up and drive away as I watched. Failed effort number two to offer some mutual aid.

I stood in the big, desolate park, in this big, abandoned (by state, capitalism, racism…) neighborhood, trying to decide what to do next. Hmm, I could walk the couple miles or more over to 520 Clinton to the big Occupy Sandy distribution hub to see if they needed volunteers (the photo at the start of this blog post is from that site; more on that later).

Then, in the near distance, I spied a big National Guard truck, its green camouflage paint job seeming like an insult directed at the bare-limbed park trees and many wind-torn branches. Next to it were three cops cars with their flashers going, along with a group of people, so I wandered over. Troops and cops had blocked a street off, and they were chatting among themselves in the middle of it, between camo truck and cop cars, flanked by a dumpster overflowing with hurricane trash. A crowd of neighborhood folks — mostly black and Latina moms with kids, pushing various ramshackle carts and strollers to fill with material aid and wheel home (home likely being a place without power) — was congregating around an open garage. Inside the garage, clean-cut, working-class-looking folks in T-shirts and sweatshirts were giving out gallon jugs of orange juice, big packs of bottled water, and canned goods. “Are you sure you don’t want some apples? Take as many as you want!” said one man to a bunch of moms, who peered into a massive cardboard box filled with fruit. The troops and cops seemed done chatting, and took their vehicles and themselves and drove off. I heard one of the garage folks mention that they were with Catholic Charities; I saw them and the moms all schmoozing, in English and Spanish, about the storm, their situations, their lives, while the kids ran around and played with each other, apples in hand. It almost appeared to be, simply, a neighborly street fest. No one seemed to notice the cops and troops leaving, nor seemed to have any need for them. Nor need for me. They had each other.

Strike out three. Back to, hmm, maybe walking over to 520 Clinton? I turned the corner, and saw severl woman with overflowing shopping carts of material aid, including stuff I knew wasn’t in that garage, and continued down the block and around another corner. It was then that I realized that the garage was the back side of a big cathedral-like church. A big truck arrived just as I did, and volunteers streamed out of the church, laughing and smiling, to unload paper towels, coats, water, and so much more. I walked up the church steps to go in, but before I could even get in the door, a cheerful woman said, “Can I help you?!” “Yes, hello, my name is Cindy. I’d like to volunteer. Do you need people?” She told me her name, shook my hand, and happily ushered me inside, “Do we need volunteers?! Yes, of course!”

There was, it was instantly clear, so much energy, enthusiasm, and initiative in whatever Red Hook church I had stumbled on in my search for an Occupy Sandy Relief site. And it was apparent that the Catholic Charities’ folks who had borrowed this church put anyone and everyone to work the minute they walked into the entryway—even godless anarcho-jews like me. First things first, though, before I was given a task. The woman who greeted me offered me warm food and coffee, and then gave me a thoroughly warm hello again. Most people were wearing nametags, but everyone introduced themselves to each other anyway, as she had to me.

There was no power, no water, and no heat in the church; a generator (or maybe more) were keeping the lights on, although only in targeted parts of the massive church. For folks pitching in at the church and probably just folks in the surrounding houses, also without power, water, or heat, port-o-lets were placed outside in a neat row. A bit later, someone asked me to break down cardboard from all the donation boxes and then take it outside, next to those port-o-lets, to a “garbage area,” where within minutes of me bringing out a bunch of scrap, a trash truck of some sort came and took it all away.

Inside the cavernous church, there were mountains of donations, first unloaded by the front door, and then carried into the enormous main sanctuary (if that’s the right word for it; “no gods, no masters, no correct religious vocabulary!”), and then divided into areas between by type, such as paper products, blankets and clothes, or “babyland,” “baby world,” or “baby island,” as it was variously called.

At first, I was put to work hauling in rolls and rolls of toilet paper to the paper area, and each time I did so, over dozens and dozens of trips, a guy organizing that area with self-directed efficiency said, “Thank you, thank you!” “Thank YOU!” I started replying each time. When I’d run out of toilet paper to deliver to him, he explained how he was trying to set up that area so that people could easily get four rolls each tomorrow, when there would likely be a big distro push. A woman brought him a bunch of sponges, and he redirected her to the household cleaning supplies area.

A friendly Catholic Charities woman than asked if I’d mind helping to sort diapers in babyland, and even though it was self-evident how to find that self-created area, she patted me on the back, thanked me, and walked me over, again asking if I needed food or coffee first. The baby products area included diapers, diaper wipes, and assorted baby stuff like powder, but for some mysterious reason (like the ol’ gender binary, I suspect) also tampons, “sanitary” pads, and shampoo, and then for good measure, toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and deoderant. But the diapers overwhelmed all else. One woman told me that she had taken it on herself to make order of the diaper chaos, and between her, myself, and another woman, within forty-five minutes, the mayhem became manageable.

Two other folks joined us. One was from Park Slope and the other from Bushwick; they said they were still shocked by how their neighborhoods were untouched and here, well… yes, it felt almost as if the hurricane had just hit. One told me that they had tried to lend a hand with an Occupy Sandy Relief site, but “because it is so big, doing so much, it’s harder to instantly plug in.” She didn’t say this as a criticism but rather as an observation. Her matter-of-fact explanation underscored for me how, for volunteers like her and so many others, mutual aid has proved to be the mainstay of how people are helping each other after Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter; how longtime and large NGOs like Catholic Charities are now the little guys by comparison; and FEMA, the city, the police, the National Guard, “caring” capitalists, and other “from-above” people and institutions seem — and pretty much are — irrelevant (well, irrelevant in terms of offering help; dangerous and sometimes deadly in terms of most else). No one mentioned the standard “relief agencies” or city/state/federal officials that usually get associated with disasters. Instead, it was Occupy, or that “a friend” had told them about this church, or that they were already part of Catholic Charities (yet another friendly Catholic Charities’ woman came over to say good-bye to us, as she was leaving for the day, thank us yet again, and then offer her heartfelt “God bless you!”). The guy from Bushwick said that he’d been to DUMBO, and a fancy waterfront cafe where one of his friends work had been decimated by the hurricane. That cafe, he told me, “lost millions and millions,” and “will be closed for a year. They have insurance,” he observed. “I guess my friend is out of a job, though.” Her Park Slope friend remarked that she hadn’t thought of that at first — how even if big businesses she didn’t like and could afford it got destroyed, that meant lots of people making little money wouldn’t have jobs now. What about them? The Park Slope and Bushwick pair marveled at the profound unevenness of the destruction, relief, and reconstruction.

We were all getting overly involved in both chatting with each other and being super efficient, super organized. The first woman I’d met  — the diaper-organizer extraordinaire — commented that she was going to bring a big “organizer shelf” that she had at home to the church tomorrow, to make it even more clearly organized for the big distribution weekend and beyond. The Park Slope woman and her friend were putting together toiletry packets in ziplock bags, and she had determined that removing the boxes from toothpaste first meant fitting more toiletries in each baggy, so people would get more supplies in each ziplock when they came in. Plainly, there was plenty here, and plenty of need. We soon filled up a big cardboard box with smaller, glittery cardboard boxes extolling the virtues of each particular toothpaste — and I carted that outside to the garbage area. The third woman in our diaper-organizer crew realized that inserting pieces of paper indicating the diaper size in all the thousands of loose diapers she was sorting into plastic bags — a god-awful task, especially for someone like me who had no idea before today that disposable diapers came in so many different sizes! — so I found her some blank paper. She and another woman remarked that they didn’t have time to sort by color (blue and pink) or patterns (trucks or butterflies), but that likely the baby boys and baby girls wouldn’t care right now — or maybe they never notice.

The point here in all this mundane description is that the people in this church — and at so many other relief sites, growing little resilient weeds around NYC, the boroughs, and NJ — no matter who they were or why they had come to help, all seemed to proudly relish doing things well, in a way that would make easy sense when people came in to get material aid, and in a way that made the space itself feel tidy, friendly, and welcoming. Each person proudly relished their own innovations and self-organization along with the doing-it-together ourselves aspect. They wanted to bring dignity to their work and dignity to those who came in for needed supplies for homes without light, heat, or water. They wanted to treat each other as equals, as all doing a good job, as all needing to be thanked and all wanting to thank each other.

This and so much more is what, I think, gets lost when we use the phrase “mutual aid.” When it appears on banners, like the one pictured at this essay’s start: “Mutual Aid Not Charity,” even when we circle our A’s. The mundane usage of mutual aid as a term is simply an anarchistic version of charity (“we’re helping those people or that community, autonomously”) or a capitalistic version (it’s merely about reciprocity or more likely exchange, or a nicer version of quantitative aid). Its marvelous usage, and the one working at cross-purposes with state and capitalism, to paraphrase Peter Kropotkin, is the mutual aid that is cognizant of and reliant on its own self-organization; that is aware of the wholly egalitarian social relations it is forging explicitly against the wholly inegalitarian ones of the current social order; that is networked, grassroots, and confederated horizontally; that is about sharing, enjoying, and using spaces and things together in ways that highlight self-determination and self-management, even as we reappropriate and expropriate those spaces and things; and that sees each and every person (and the many animals impacted by this human-created disaster) as fully worthy, fully capable, in what John Holloway has labeled “a politics of dignity.”

I ended up in a good conversation about this with someone who shares work space at Interference Archive, David; he’s working on a dissertation about mutual aid, so we talked a good long while, interrupting both our projects for that day. The crux of our discussion, and what underpinned our numerous examples of what we both consider marvelous mutual aid, was: mutual aid is, and has to be, a social relationship — a profoundly different form than what capitalism tries so hard at socializing us into for the whole of our (then-miserable) lives, and succeeds so well at doing.

Wellness that warms the heart — or how folks in post-hurricane NY are prefiguring wholly new, healthy social relations through mutual aid, thanks to Occupy Sandy Relief self-organization. Fuck FEMA, Obama “Care,” and capitalism; “we got this.”

-Cindy Milstein-
@CindyMilstein

 

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Update from Cedar Grove, Staten Island

Thursday we will be riding into Cedar Grove in Staten Island with supplies and the arriving military tents. The community at Cedar Grove is in high spirits given the circumstances, most of which I’m sure was influenced by the amazing bike club the “hollowed sons,” who have been there since the day of the hurricane. After getting to know many of them and talking to them, I came to realize heir intentions, which weren’t very different from our own. These are our brothers, our sisters, our family, and we can’t sit around and wait for government agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross to get their shit together, if we did everyone would be in an even worse position. Don’t be fooled America, while you may see FEMA and the Red Cross on the news, they are not doing a damn thing. For example, the VP of the bike club was telling me how on the 3rd day after, they showed up and went straight to where media was filming people helping move things. Two FEMA officials were quickly put in the spot light to make it look like they were doing something, the camera went off, and the two FEMA officials went back to their relief tent, which by the way was more than a mile away from where the help was needed. When asking locals about the Red Cross, all I kept hearing is how the only thing they were doing was walking around with a clipboard being extremely rude.

My own experience with the military out here… While most of us are helping unload and load supplies, doing clean up and many other things, they can be seen sitting on their asses about 50ft away doing nothing. So again please don’t be fooled by the media. I was also told about a collective of EMTs that were discussing how many people they had found dead, and how the numbers they had between them was about four times as many as what they are reporting to the public through the media. Absolutely disgusting, but not surprising. If anyone is looking to get out to Cedar Grove in New Dorp please contact me because no community should be forgotten. As for the Occupy presence in Cedar Grove specifically, there have been 5 of us. I understand that many of us are in Brooklyn and other places, but if there are 50 of us in the Rockaways and 5 in Cedar Grove that’s a problem considering the equal amount of loss among the heaviest hit of communities.

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Strong in Staten Island

New Dorp Beach, NY–Went down to crossroads church in New Dorp Staten Island with cleaning supplies. There was a sign saying to just head down to the beach and help out directly.  Since I don’t know the area at all, being from New Jersey, I just drove through the neighborhood and went door to door with supplies.  Everyone was so grateful for everything and appreciated any help they were getting.  Received many handshakes, a few hugs and a ton of “God Bless.” There is so much work to do and they still need lots more help.  They want to know they’re not being forgotten and that the occupy teams are making a difference.

-Chris-

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South Shore Seniors Not Being Helped

Massapequa Park, NY–I live and work in the community. Personally my family lost nothing other than our heat and power. But what I feel strongly about, and the most devastated over, is the lack of communication and “Boots on the Ground” effort. Our own Energy company, LIPA, was nowhere to be seen the entire first week during the aftermath. I work at King Kullen in Massapequa, Merrick Road. I’ve listened to every sad story, comforted the seniors of our community who are lost and alone, and am left with no information. No one has come to their aid! We have FEMA, I’m hearing about just today (November 1511/5).

How were we expected to know about them without power, TV or phones? Every day we hear sirens. My power was restored last night. During the blackout I guarded my house from skulking looters, roaming from house to house with flashlights poking around our homes. We were left vulnerable and frightened. There were no police patrols on the ground, no National Guards, but for the first 3 days after the storm. The roads were hazardous, no traffic lights to navigate, and no one to police that either. It has been a complete fiasco here on the South Shore of Long Island. Terrible! We finally had trucks show up on our block filled with downed wires, poles, trees… only to back out and not reappear until we, the neighbors, cleared a path for their trucks to enter and fix the lines! I’m 50! Hauling tree trunks, branches and debris.

-Joanne Scarfo-

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Occupy Sandy Rescued Me from My Couch

New York, NY–After trying and failing to volunteer with a bunch of established organizations, I finally found Occupy Sandy — and more specifically, Astoria Recovers. Within hours of adding my name to a Google Doc on their site, I was offered a ride out to the Rockaways with a neighbor I’d never met. Five of us drove out to the firehouse on Beach 58th St. on Sunday morning with supplies that made sense, thanks to Occupy Sandy’s list of what was really needed (batteries, flashlights, toiletries, cleaning materials, and the like).

The folks at the firehouse directed us to St. Gertrude’s on Beach 38th St. Even though the church had itself suffered major damage, they were running quite an efficient operation, marshaling dozens of volunteers to get food, clothing, and supplies to people in the hard-hit neighborhood. In fact, things were run so well that we felt a little superfluous. So when a local woman grabbed one of us on the sidewalk and asked for help cleaning up her little storefront church around the corner, we took her up on it.

The five of us spent a couple of hours ripping up the church’s ruined carpet in semi-darkness, with only a Leatherman for a tool. We hauled the carpet scraps to the sidewalk to await the sanitation trucks. As we left, a group of church members shook our hands and thanked us profusely. They still have a long way to go toward recovery, but we were glad we could help in some small way.

The damage in the Rockaways was so staggering that I can’t stop thinking about it — or trying to help. Today I brought some mops and work gloves to a drop-off site in Astoria, then spent a few hours sorting donated clothes at a local gym. Tomorrow I’ll be part of a group making hot meals for delivery from northwest Queens to our neighbors in the southeast. It’s not enough — it couldn’t possibly be enough — but it certainly feels more helpful than sitting on my couch and watching horrific images on TV.

Thank you, Occupy Sandy. I am proud to be a part of this group.

-Susan-

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Clean Up from Cuba Avenue

New York, NY–My friend and I desperately wanted to get out and help in the Rockaways or Staten Island, but no one we knew had a car with gas. We decided to rent a car in Manhattan, drive to the Occupy Sandy hub and pick up more volunteers, and continue on to help. We picked up 3 extra volunteers and headed to what we thought was the Rockaways. A bad input on GPS sent us over the Verrazzano, so we quickly searched for opportunities on Staten Island. An occupy posting led us to a distribution center, who gave us a new address on Cuba Avenue. Here, several savvy 20-somethings were working like crazy in someone’s front yard to organize dozens of volunteers that were arriving, looking to help. I don’t know how they organized, or where the volunteers were coming from. But they were working frantically to help the community and keep everyone busy: sign in, get gloves, have a muffin, get your address, and get to work. And we were briefed in true Staten Island fashion: “Some people may say no at first. But they need your fucking help. They’ve got to clean up their shit, and you’re here to help them. So don’t fucking take no for an answer. (pause) But say it nicely.”

From there, our team helped a few families clean out their basements–families that days later were still clearly in shock with what had happened. They took our help immediately and gratefully. People were heartbroken but strong.

At the end of the tasks, they realized how much work got done with 10 pairs of hands instead of their own, and they couldn’t believe it. “How do you all know each other?” “We don’t.” I think that was one of the most surprising things to those we helped–that 10 strangers with a common goal of just helping people could work seamlessly to get a job done.

By the early afternoon, there were so many people in Staten Island that there wasn’t much to be done. The team on Cuba Avenue had organized the cleaning of over 50 homes in their neighborhood that morning. It wasn’t a lot, but collectively, hundreds of people helped a neighborhood clean up. Kudos to the team on Cuba Avenue who brought everyone together to make it happen.

-Anonymous-

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The Power of Love

New York, NY–When I got off of work last Friday, I ran over to the cheap 99-cent store to buy supplies.  At first I felt bad that I wasn’t buying a huge load of supplies but my reasoning took over and told me that a little can go a long way.  So I bought socks, razor blades, plastic gloves, coloring books, crayons and sponges.  I got on the R train and went to the 53rd street stop to get to St. Jacobi Lutheran Church.  Arriving at the hospital, I was stunned by all the buzz of activity there and by all of the donations.  Everything was organized in and people were sorting things out all over the large room.   After dropping off my stuff, I volunteered over at the clothes sorting section.  It’s so cool to joke around and do loving work!  I got to meet some really wonderful people there and I also was fed some rocking good vegetable soup.   So many people came to drop off supplies. I was overwhelmed by the love and generosity.   I have such respect for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  We don’t give lip service, we go out and do good.   Occupy Wall street people are all over the areas stricken by Superstorm Sandy and helping out.  Websites all over the place to give people information to get and give help.   They got together faster than any help group around and I want to especially target FEMA and the American Red Cross.  I will give props for the work that FEMA and The Red Cross is doing but I want to also give my love and respect to people who got together and showed what Do It Yourself motivation can do when you’re not restricted by bureaucratic red tape.

-Barbara R. Lee-

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Sheriffs, SWAT, and Assault Rifles

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at Occupy Denver’s website.

Idaho Springs, CO–Yesterday a highly militarized police force arrived at the home of 63 year old Sahara Donahue to evict her from her residence of 24 years. She was petitioning US Bank for an additional 60 days to remain in her home, so she could have some time to find a new place to live, secure her belongings and leave her home with dignity. She came to the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition and Occupy Denver General Assembly to ask for our help. She knew no one in Occupy Denver  prior to reaching out. We immediately started mobilizing to try to get her the assistance she needed and a group went up to her house for the first rumored eviction on Thursday 10/25.  When that eviction didn’t happen, we planned an in-town action at US Bank on Monday for Sahara to try to find someone to speak with about her situation, with carpools up to her house later that day as the eviction was said to be scheduled for Tuesday 10/30.   Occupiers laid barricades from fallen trees to prevent moving trucks and workers from entering the property and were able to stave off the eviction for a few hours.  

At 2:45pm ten or more truckloads of police in full combat gear armed with  live-ammo AR-15’s, and grenade launchers arrived on the scene &  forced occupiers to the ground at gun point. Police then made their way to the house, broke down the front door, threw Sahara to the ground in her own kitchen and pointed their guns at the heads of a mother and son who were in the house with Sahara along with others. They continued to break items in the house as they searched it. They unplugged the modem, which was the only mode of communication as there was no cell phone coverage in the area, in order to stop the livestream and all communications.  

After the livestream cut out, the Occupy Denver legal team spent a harrowing hour in communication blackout wondering if they would be receiving calls from the hospital instead of the jail this time. This psychological violence did not stop one brave activist from jumping into the bucket of the bulldozer that was going to tear through the barricades and forced the operator to stop for several minutes. Three arrests were made, two activists were assaulted and all have been released.   Many of the people on the ground have survived multiple occupations and riot cop lines but all agree that this was the most surreal and violent state repression they have experienced protesting.  There has been overwhelming community support as other activists and concerned people watched the unnecessary militarized drama unfold online. Everyone is asking “Seriously, why are they in military gear?” All captions for the following photographs are actual comments made on the Occupy Denver Facebook Page.

Sheriffs, SWAT, and Assault Rifles – A Foreclosure Story by Michael Steadman

Idaho Springs, Colorado may seem like a quiet, peaceful, and even quaint little town off I-70 in the mountains west of Denver. However, in the early afternoon of October 30, 2012, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that looks can be extremely deceiving. Make no mistake; this is not a kindhearted Mayberry RFD type of law enforcement. This was a tactical, military style assault against unarmed, peaceful protesters.

But first, let’s go back a bit in order to give you a little better understanding of the events leading up to, as well as during their demonstration of excessive use of force.

Sahara Donahue has lived in her home for over 20 years, has been a volunteer in her community, and was a decent law abiding citizen. She suffered injuries from a near-fatal accident, including a head injury that was not properly diagnosed until over a year after the accident. She could no longer perform the duties of her job, and therefore was forced to rely on the generosity of friends to help pay her mortgage for several years. She made every attempt to communicate and work with the banks, and even retained the services of an attorney, in the hopes of finding some resolution to keep her home. However, the banks (as well as a corrupt realtor) apparently had different plans.


These are protestors they are standing over with machine guns???? -L.R.

After she was given a run-around by US Bank, several of us made our way up the canyon to stand with her and support her in case the eviction went through the following day. Later in the day we were informed that the only compromise offered to Sahara involved her immediate eviction – BUT – they would be magnanimous enough to store her things for 30 days. Those of us at the house began planning our course of action for the remainder of the night as well as for Eviction Day.

We barricaded the driveway with fallen trees in order to limit access to the house, and held several impromptu meetings in order to discuss our tactics. Sahara’s wishes were for us to be respectful when the Sheriff arrived, since she has a history with this community. We agreed that we would all respect her wishes and approach the situation in a peaceful manner. We were led to believe that the realtor would be arriving with a crew of workers to remove items from the house, and the Sheriff would be there to “keep the peace.” Sahara had also asked one of the group’s members to be a spokesman. He would speak directly with those who arrived and deliver legal letters to the Sheriff. This way things would proceed smoothly and help eliminate any unnecessary escalation.

As night closed in we shared stories, discussed ideas, and enjoyed each other’s company in a very peaceful positive environment. Eventually people began to settle down for the night. Most were sleeping in the house on couches or on the floor, while I and another went out to sleep in our tents beside the barricade in case of any unexpected late night surprises.

The following morning we all began to stir as coffee was brewing. There seemed to be an overall sense of optimism among the group. We received word of some more people coming up to join us, and we had another meeting to determine tactics regarding the expected arrivals for the eviction. Several of us collected more timber to fortify the barricades, others were making food, and everyone was ready for whatever was coming (or so we thought).

The first arrival of the day was a truck hauling a dumpster that was apparently to be left there for the workers to put her things in. Seeing the barricades, he got out and spoke with us. He was very friendly and supportive towards us, and then called his supervisor who after several minutes instructed him to bring the dumpster back. We had our first victory of the day and the excitement filled the air.
A while later a white van filled with workers from a “day labor” company pulled up and stopped. These were the men who were supposed to remove her belongings from the house. They needed to wait for the Sheriff to arrive, and since there is no cell phone service in the area, they just relaxed and spoke with us for a while. We even tried to recruit a few of them to stand with us, but to no avail. Finally they decided to leave in order to go back down the mountain to find a place with better reception to make calls. We all began a second celebration as we filled the air with singing, “Na na na na, hey hey hey, GOOD-BYE!”

Things were really starting to look up for us. We felt we had made some incredible progress. Then we heard a vehicle coming. Around the corner I saw a Sheriff’s vehicle through the trees as it was approaching. Then I saw behind it another, and another, and another. About 10 vehicles filled with men in what appeared to be full battle gear (and assault weapons already in hand) began to fill the road in front of the house. In all our planning and meetings, we never expected this kind of response. After all, we were led to believe that the Sheriff was only going to be there to “keep the peace.” And don’t forget to keep in mind that we were unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.

The spokesman of our group got on the megaphone and began trying to get everyone to converge up at the house, but it was already too late. The Tactical Response Team had already reacted. As we were rushing up the driveway, we were cut-off by several men gripping their assault rifles as they began shouting at us to get on the ground on our knees. To my left, the spokesman was coming up, shouting on the megaphone, attempting to discern who was in charge since he had the letters to deliver. The officers didn’t care, in fact as the spokesman was telling them he had letters, one of the officers shouted back, “No, you don’t have letters!” and they continued ordering us to get on our knees. We remained standing and continued trying to open up some kind of conversation.

At this point, I was standing there with the spokesman, and a few others. Mind you, I am about 6’2” tall and about 200 lbs. The others standing with me were as big, if not bigger, with the exception of an older gentleman to my left. Since none of us would get on our knees, these fully armed, militarized officers decided to arrest the smallest and oldest person there. With all their firepower and intimidation techniques, they targeted the least imposing person there. They put him face down in the dirt and gravel, and cuffed his hands behind him with their zip-tie handcuffs.

Finally, the man in charge came forward, but when he was presented with the letters, he informed us that he would take them but it didn’t matter. He then folded them up without even really looking at them. It was obvious that those with the money and the guns couldn’t have cared less about the injustice taking place, and they were ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to shut us down.
I was offered a ride by one of the activists, since the Sheriff was so gracious to let some of us go without further incident. As we made our way down the private drive, we saw at the bottom of the hill the bulldozer that was just waiting to tear through our barricades, and the van of day labor workers ready to fulfill their job descriptions. After a couple turns down Hwy 103 another realization occurred to me. There on the shoulder of the road was an ambulance waiting on stand-by. Maybe I am mistaken, but it would appear that the Sheriff’s Department was prepared to do, and had every intention of doing, whatever was necessary to obey their bank’s wishes.

We pulled into a local convenience store after making it into town. As we sat collecting our thoughts, and trying to decompress after the events that had transpired, I was struck by something else. I watched the people of the town as they nonchalantly passed by and it occurred to me that this was a sort of metaphor about our entire society today. Just up the hill, innocent people were having guns shoved in their faces, people were being evicted from their homes, and much more. At the same time, the rest of the town went about its daily routine, completely oblivious as to what was going on just around the corner.


“Military tactics, Military equipment, Military mindset. Looks like this nation is occupied by the bankers military.” -K.Y.

Later around 6:45pm Occupiers and other residents returned with Sahara to help her sift through her things which were now thrown in piles on the outskirts of the property.  Many of her possessions were destroyed by the movers.  One Occupier who was there for the armed raid, and stayed to help said, “Seeing these things that represented a large cross-section of this woman’s life strewn across the front yard  was one of the worst things I have ever had to witness in my life. Why is the general population letting the big banks do this to us?”  As the temperature started to drop as night set in, the only thing people could do was to cover her piles of belongings with tarps, as there was nowhere for her to take her things.  Sahara was only able to take her two dogs, Rodeo and French Fry, and what ever she could fit in her small vehicle.  She is currently staying in a motel, and is uncertain as to where she will be able to live next.  Occupiers will continue to assist her until her living situation has stabilized.

-Michael Steadman-

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Today, Far Rockaway

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared here.

The second problem is the government’s inability to protect human interests. While armies and reserves are trained, resourced and mobilized to destroy, it seems like an overreach to ask for those same people to put down their weapons and pick up a shovel and some gloves. After not being able to point me in the direction of donation drop-offs or shelters when I first went out to Far Rockaway two days ago, an officer recommended I call 311 for information. Call. From an area where phones are mostly down, to a number clogged with phone calls asking for help. Not that I’ve ever been a big believer in the powers of government, but can’t they even organize volunteers better and drive them down in public buses to the areas where they’re needed?

I don’t even know how to begin processing the experiences I had today.

I woke up early to ride out to Far Rockaway with a friend of a friend who was one of the precious few with a car that had gas in its tank. My plan was to get to my friend Heather’s house, which I already knew had been severely damaged by the storm, taking three feet of water in the first floor because of its closeness to the beach. I brought along random things that I thought could be helpful – trash bags, heavy duty gloves, cleaning supplies, shovels, some extra apples.

We drove through mild traffic in the Brooklyn that didn’t have it so rough, the Brooklyn that still has power, working stoplights, open shops, and lots of people on the street trying to get back to their normal lives. As we neared the Rockaways there were subtle signs that things had been much more difficult out there: fallen trees, boats that got carried out onto the grass, debris everywhere and a puddle here and there.

As soon as we crossed the bridge onto the Rockaways, the day turned into a marathon of oh-my-gods and holy-shits that seem to be the only empty phrases one can call on when you’re driven speechless by what surrounds you. What happened here? How is this not in the news? Where is the government? What can I do? Where do we even start? The enormity of the desperation and destruction is such, that you just feel like it’s out of your hands, above your pay grade, beyond your biggest efforts.

There’s sand and rubble everywhere, like the beach stretched out for blocks into the streets and once the tide retreated all that was left was the bottom of the ocean. Cars are strewn about, some upside down, others on top of lamp posts, and some seem normal, until you get close and you realize they’re not parked on top of that sidewalk or across those two parking spots, that’s just where the waters left them. Everyone’s been taking out everything they lost and placing it on their sidewalk, so a drive around town is a tour through people’s discarded belongings, sitting like abandoned memories waiting for a garbage truck that no one knows if or when it will come.

Here and there sit houses and small businesses burnt to the ground, an image of desolation unlike any I’ve ever seen; and I’ve seen hurricanes, I’m from the Caribbean. Granted, in Puerto Rico I would see the devastation on TV, maybe drive out donations to a shelter. Now it seems like a premonition that the first thing the burnt block on 114th reminded me of was footage of the Detroit riots of decades past. Three days later, smoke was still coming out of the rubble, and one could see the occasional flame. Here a staircase that leads into nothing. There is a door that doesn’t open into anything at all anymore. Neighbors crowded around still staring in shock and taking cell phone pictures. Some held tissues to their face so as not to inhale the smoke or smell the burning. A mother told her child in rain boots not to step on the puddle, because there’s gasoline in the water running down the street.

We got to the house early and Heather wasn’t there yet to instruct us on how to help her out and clean the house. We knew a block away some friends had set up some sort of temporary donation drop off and relief center, so we walked over to lend a hand. First we met Wayne, a neighbor who seemed to have the situation under control. Next we met Sal, the owner of what a week ago was a brand new community center and is now this refuge. Less than five minutes passed before a church van pulled up with 25 boxes of pizza, and we started handing it out. The sidewalk flooded immediately and we ran out in a matter of minutes. The need became immediately apparent, and we started giving out everything we could that was in our hands. As time went by, more volunteers showed up, with more food, more clothes, a big Greenpeace truck with a solar power generator, lots of people anxious to make themselves useful, and fortunately for all, name-tags.

Outside on the sidewalk, the parade of pleas and horrific stories seemed infinite. A spanish-speaking family whose house was burnt down on the block told me of swimming out of their house and treading water while the flames took over it. Swimming over the train tracks behind the house, they had no idea what lied underneath or where this was going to take them. Half of the family walked away in the middle of the retelling, seemingly tired of hearing it again and again.

As the hours went by, we started learning peoples’ names and organizing things in shelves, by sizes, through committees and other intuitive classifications. Friends kept showing up with new energies and a clear sense of purpose. People asked who we were, where we came from, who they should thank. People asked “what’s happening everywhere else?” “When do you open tomorrow?” –and up close in a whisper- “Do you have sanitary napkins?”. I didn’t even have time to take my camera out of the trunk of the car.

Some came to get a plate of hot food and stayed to help out, charging phones or sorting out donations. A woman showed up and asked if anyone recognized her dads’ name, because he used to live in the street in front and she hadn’t spoken to him in years and wanted to know he was all right. I was serving dishes of food as fast as I could and had to stop and hold back the tears. I was holding back tears all day, it seemed. At the time, I was just glad the Wall Street Journal photographer had left and wasn’t around to capture that.

A woman who had been helping together with her family since early in the morning confessed to us that she had lost everything. She was happy to stay busy, give back to others and not think about it much. Still, every now and again, some relative would grab a nice comforter or a bag of breadsticks and sneak it out for her.

I don’t even know how many hours went by, I never made it to Heather’s house for anything else but to deliver hot soup and chit-chat. The sun went down and all of a sudden everything was dark. The first ominous sign of what was ahead was the military truck that lit our path as we tried to guess our way down the block back to the car.

We gave a ride to a neighbor and fellow volunteer that had walked 40 blocks to be with us. Suddenly, we found ourselves behind a Homeland Security armored vehicle parked on the middle of the street. Men in military uniforms and bulletproof vests climbed out holding long rifles and surrounded a group of three young black males. The guys put down the cans they were holding, put up their hands and smirked. The four women in our car looked on horrified, and I pulled out my cell phone camera as fast as I could, only to be confronted by one of the men in uniform. “There’s been looting”, he said, and I realized he was the first government official of any kind I’d seen outside of a vehicle today. Everyone else had been guarding a gas station or a cell-phone recharging generator. We were shaking with anger, and were instructed to move on.

After dropping our friend off, we started driving back home with a tank low on fuel and an extra empty seat. The streets were dark and there were no working stoplights. In the middle of the highway behind Jacob Riis Park, where the beach seems to have flooded over the entire parking lot, across the highway and met the water on the other side, we saw a silhouette on the side of the road walking. I jumped out of the car into the cold, cold night and offered a ride; we got thanks and blessings to last us a lifetime of mischievous deeds.

After dropping him off two hours early of his estimated time of arrival, we drove around frantically trying to fill up the tank with gas before getting stranded in unknown territory. Station after station was taped or boarded up, with sloppily written signs on the pumps announcing they were out of gas. The only station that was open we found after driving past over a hundred vehicles that were parked in line waiting to fill up. A hundred more people stood in line filling up little red tanks.

On the final walk home, as I neared ‘normality’, I walked past a woman talking on her phone. “Maybe this was a blessing in disguise” is all I could make out and all I needed to hear. I tightened my grip on the shovel still dirty with sand that I was carrying, wanting to hit her on the head with it. I kept walking, down the street full of leaves, past the car crushed by a tree (now partially removed and chopped up) and into my apartment. The first thought as I walked through the door was “why didn’t I donate that blanket?” “I don’t really even use those shoes” “what else can I give?” Nothing feels like enough.

At least, I can say, I went out there today, and will again tomorrow. At least, I can say, I kept busy and felt useful. It’s a magical feeling, at times. Other times, it’s not nearly enough. What breaks my heart is having lived through that for just a day and not knowing what to do with myself. What hurts is recognizing now more than ever how easily we detach from the reality around us. What pisses me off is how it’s up to ragtag teams of individuals to make things happen, in a rich city where until a week ago everything seemed surmountable.

There’s a problem with our attitude of measuring the damage of the storm by just looking at ourselves, our apartments, our blocks and maybe our neighborhoods after a leisurely morning-after stroll. There is no our. The thinking is, now I’ll go back to normal. I’ll take the unexpected vacation. I’ll finally finish that book, that TV series, that thesis. We reach out on facebook and holler out “I got power back! If you need anything just come on by!” and we feel good about ourselves.

The second problem is the government’s inability to protect human interests. While armies and reserves are trained, resourced and mobilized to destroy, it seems like an overreach to ask for those same people to put down their weapons and pick up a shovel and some gloves. After not being able to point me in the direction of donation drop-offs or shelters when I first went out to Far Rockaway two days ago, an officer recommended I call 311 for information. Call. From an area where phones are mostly down, to a number clogged with phone calls asking for help. Not that I’ve ever been a big believer in the powers of government, but can’t they even organize volunteers better and drive them down in public buses to the areas where they’re needed?

But maybe none of this is true and I’m just spitting out something that was brewing in my belly when I got home after a heavy day. The underlying problem is that after getting frustrated by the mild opportunities the bike-able city gave me to volunteer, I decided to go out to Far Rockaway to help my friend Heather out, because cleaning her flooded house sounded like a good, decent, concrete thing I could do to lend a hand after the storm. It wasn’t until I drove down Rockaway Boulevard looking at burnt down buildings and piles of damp furniture on the sidewalks. It wasn’t until I asked someone what they needed specifically that I could get them from our stash of donations and he looked at me half-proud, half-embarrassed and said “Everything. We have nothing.” That’s when my brain exploded.

PS: I’m not writing any of this to make anyone feel better or worse about how they’re dealing with the storm. I’m writing it because I needed to get out something in my gut and put it into words, share it with friends and leave some proof of this feeling. I don’t even know some of these friends that I talked about, I just shook hands with some of them today or tried to remember the name scribbled out on red tape on their chest. They are my friends, still. I hugged them and they looked me in the eye. They are people I want to call my friends, known or unknown.

—-

If you want to join storm relief efforts in Far Rockaway, our yet-to-be-named donation drop-off and relief center is located on Beach 113th street and Rockaway Boulevard, a block or two away from the 116th street subway station, which of course is out of service.

If you want to help the people of Far Rockaway, here are some ideas:

If you have a car with gas, there’s no excuse. Drive it out to where people need help, bring people and things with you. Lend it out to someone who’s willing and able, if you can’t. Worst case scenario, donate your gas, let’s suck it out with a tube. It’s simple.

If you have access to any of these or to money and stores where to buy them, here are some of the most popular requests of the day:

-Blankets
-Sweaters
-Batteries
-Candles
-Diapers
-Socks, gloves, scarves

If you have time on your hands, cook a big hot meal. We have ways of getting it there. Hopefully you do too and there’s one less thing to worry about.

-Sofía Gallisá Muriente

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