Where is Occupy Now?
June 1, 2013. Answer: Turkey.
Gliding down Broadway last Saturday, the blazing-red Mark di Suvero sculpture known to arts professionals as “Joie de Vivre” and to Occupy Wall Street as “the Weird Red Thing” comes into view. The scene is familiar. Facing west, I see white-shirt cops on Broadway and Liberty and the Imperial Walker-esque NYPD surveillance tower perched in the lower right corner of the park. More friendly are the falafel and juice stands lined up on the left. The 33,000 square feet of public/private space formerly known as Zuccotti Park pulses with energy: men and women waving red flags, shouting in unison and singing spirited songs in Turkish.
It is day one of #OccupyGeziParkNYC, an American offshoot of the Turkish #OccupyGeziPark, that began as peaceful sit-in demonstration against a shopping mall slated to replace Istanbul’s last major public square. The protest quickly morphed into a Tahrir-like movement to oust Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square were tear gassed, arrested in the hundreds, some beaten and killed by the police. Within hours, a solidarity group called #OccupyGeziParkNYC had begun to organize a response. There were even those from the OWS movement who flew to the action, like Justin Wedes, a member of the communication working group in Zuccotti. “The revolution has just begun,” he tweets, the first of a day, in seemingly hundreds he sends out. (He also files regular posts at Animal NY).
This converged last minute with a planned OWS re-occupation or “homecoming” action for June 1 which I was attending. Since the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15th2011, big days of action such as May 1st (M1) or the September 17th anniversary (S17– we activists convert important dates into codes to make them sound ominous) partially fell into the shadow of the original Occupy season. Each big march provided proof that the movement is still here but dwindling. You’d see many familiar faces from the glory days of the park, but a reunion just does not equate to a movement that can take on Capitalism. Especially a slightly dysfunctional reunion. Occupy was slowly fragmenting into groups (though impressive ones); big moments where Occupiers came together were becoming less and less convincing.
Saturday felt different though, and it looked different, too. I saw very few familiar faces in the park, now filled with Turkish protesters. “It’s exciting” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me, speaking of the new upbeat energy in Liberty Park. This energy flows in from elsewhere causing creative hybridized memes to pop up like wildflowers. OWS posters from 2011 have been re-tooled for Turkey, yellow “Occu-tape” is wrapped around trees to highlight the eradication of green space in Istanbul, those famous ragged cardboard signs are scrawled in Turkish. Someone bangs a pot with a spoon in the protest style of the Quebec student movement or “Casseroles.” Others hold signs that say “Turkish Spring,” harkening back to Egypt and Tunisia. It’s as if all the movement memes from the last couple years have ended up in a common whirlpool.
By noon, the park was so packed that all I could see of the movement were those squeezed up against me. I made my way through the dense crowd to catch a better view from Zuccotti’s northern wall (hallowed site of the speakers’ area in the very first OWS general assemblies). There I met a Turkish woman in her fifties, Lutfiye Karakus, a nurse from Staten Island, who has been in the US for twenty-one years. She’s part of the 99%, having lost her home to foreclosure, and watched the American Dream slip away. She made it out to Liberty Park once in 2011 to join the protest.
This time, she tells me tales of Turkish corruption where the 1% straddle the financial and political lines, similar to the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. Luftiye was enraged at the Turkish media blackout, including even CNN Turkey, during the protests and police violence. “The police sprayed tear gas in people’s eyes and blinded them,” she told me.
The focus on Turkey– with red crescent flags, pictures of Turkey’s modern state founder Ataturk, and chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye! Turkiye!”– may seem strangely nationalistic for an Occupy movement. But Occupy doesn’t espouse a singular political view. The activist and anthropologist David Graeber reported from among the different political players in the planning stages before September 17th; not only Anarchists, but members of the Democratic Party and quite a few Ron Paul followers. (One of the “bottomliners” of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City was a big fan of Ayn Rand). And then once the movement went viral, hundreds of cities interpreted Occupy differently, from Oakland’s militant style to El Paso’s protests against the government.
After we parted ways, I began to wonder why Lutfiye and her Turkish community decided to use Occupy to raise their voices. A few years ago, she had participated in a large Turkish protest outside the United Nations. Why head down to Lower Manhattan this time? “Because they’re not appealing to the UN” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me. She believes the slowness of a bureaucracy is unappealing to many, particularly now that there’s a little Occupy-inspired Anarchism in the air. Appealing to fellow citizens directly may be more effective than the state, and Occupy is building a platform for it.
That’s exactly why it’s exciting. For one, the “Occupy” meme itself can be interchanged with other locations and causes like Legos (Occupy Gezi Park, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Museums, etc).
Second, it offers tools for communication, whether through social media mutual aid efforts or offline “social software”: the hand signs, and the people’s mic, which allow large groups of people to project their voices without speakers or microphones.
Third, Occupy serves up a toolbox of direct action tactics: the long-term holding of space (Tahrir Square, Liberty Park, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) shorter-term occupations (a 2011 sleep-in at Lincoln Center, a 2012 occupation at the Berlin Biennale, and last month’s occupation of the Ludwig Museum in Hungary) and spectacular actions (just today, Occupy Gezi crowdfunded a full-page ad in the New York Times).
Finally, Occupy offers a form of horizontal organizing which discourages the centralization of leadership. These tactics have diverse roots, from the Zapatista Movement of the 1990’s to Spanish Anarchists. But this time, an unprecedented ability to socially network makes it possible for these tactics to flow in bursts of energy across the globe, and also to rapidly morph and develop in a co-authored but connected way: kind of like the Internet.
Circulation is happening offline as well, as occupiers travel the globe to exchange movement experiences and tactics. Hundreds of occupiers, for example, attended The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis as part of a group called Global Square. Their attendance, fellow occupier Marisa Holmes told me at Zucotti, took the form of an occupation. “They didn’t know how to relate to us.” she said, explaining this was in part due to a generational clash and in part due to an entrenched vertical leadership. Still, group met every day, and over all, Marisa concluded that “It was really great for us.”
I got that sense from other occupiers as well, but it’s important to remember that these movements have a darker side as well. Damage to the body can easily occur during protests, as police violence is common. Activists can lose jobs or damage professional reputations by standing up for strong political positions. The time and risk required in the heat of a movement can destroy relationships; a member of Occupy Museums went through a divorce, partly due to her strong commitment to the movement in 2011. Activists have power struggles with other activists, and most of all, exhaustion. Most of us have gone through some form of movement trauma.
At this point, Occupy Wall Street increasingly operates within totally separate networks. When the Turkish community began to thin out that evening, the tribe reconvened in little clusters to discuss re-occupation. I heard many woeful tales about power struggles, people’s Occu-nemeses, their banishment from groups, or just sense of burnout. Although there was a 6 PM assembly to discuss re-occupation organized by a group called Occupy Town Square, it became clear that any sort of large consensus wasn’t going to happen.
These may sound like big problems, but they don’t define the movement. It just means that the movement is moving along in stages. To name just a few of the many efforts in the last 9 months, Occupy Sandy has figured out a new model to provide direct relief to those affected by global warming-fueled catastrophes. Strikedebt has come up with ingenious new economic proposals such as the Rolling Jubillee, a crowdsourced fund to buy up personal debt, and it’s produced a manual for debt resistance. Occupy the Pipeline is putting up a spirited fight against fracking. The group I’m in, Occupy Museums, is launching Debt Fair: an experimental art fair spread throughout the streets of New York City that invites collectors buy art in exchange for artists’ debt.
These projects flow naturally from a view of the world you acquire by fatefully stepping into the public squares. But they take a tremendous amount of energy. As we enter the long-haul, this practice can seem like a heavy burden to bear.
Yet on June 1st, I remembered something that is actually totally obvious: Occupy is no one’s burden. It’s an uncontrollable open source project where all responsibility is shared, and in that way, I see Occupy as an alternative model for culture. For a generation, the private sector has been encroaching on the public, reenforcing the mentality that we must achieve individual goals at all cost to shared resources. As depicted in mainstream entertainment and news organizations, we are people who distrust strangers and associate the public realm with poverty. Occupying a park challenges these assumptions through practice. Serving food in a park, chanting, or organizing actions with people you just met points toward a culture based on shared, rather than private, space. There’s a sublime feeling of connection with fellow protesters anywhere in the world.
From its inception, it was a perfect storm of talent, wisdom from past movements, catalyzed by economic and political shocks. It’s always had a random quality: the name and initial call itself was coined by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, who didn’t even show up to their own party! I have learned to suspend disbelief as the protest unfolded differently than any script I could imagine.
Yet another chapter is unfolding as thousands of Turkish protesters fill Liberty Park on June 1. This time however, the novelty has worn off, and Occupy is looking like a permanent part of our post-crash reality: a direct democratic forum for citizens to highlight and link political situations globally. And, as I stood there looking at a poster of Ataturk printed out on foamcore and decorated with yellow Occu-tape, I had another thought: Occupy just may be ahead of the curve.
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.]]>
Recently I was arrested in Brooklyn while driving a van outfitted with a projector. Long story short, it was pretty horrible; friends and fellow activists have encouraged me to set down precisely what happened and put it in the public record.
If you don’t know, there is a van with a heavy duty projector that comes out of the roof like a turret. It was created by an OWS offshoot with funding from Ben Cohen, and was named The Illuminator. Some months ago, ownership and control was passed on to a campaign called the Stamp Stampede, created by Ben Cohen, and was referred to as the Project-O-Van.
A month ago, Animal New York, a website that covers culture and politics, arranged to carry out a joint action withthe Stampede campaign, using our van.. Together, we visited a number of locations throughout the city to project images highlighting the problem of money in politics corrupting our democracy. We visited the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Trump Tower, some walls in Soho and the LES, and…. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home on 79th Street.
It was exciting to get a picture of a ballot box being stuffed with money projected onto Bloomberg’s 3rd floor. As the residence is protected by police, our team was approached by cops who chatted with Animal New York folks and filmed our van. I stuck around for about one minute – just long enough to take a few photos.
The next evening I got called at 11pm by police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. They wanted my address so they could visit me at home and ask a few questions. It turned out they were researching the ownership of the vehicle and trying to track me down for many hours. An entire team was active on this ‘case’ which included sending two officers to Ithaca (4 hours away) to track down whoever lived at the address on our registration form. (This was the head of a nonprofit used briefly as a fiscal sponsor of the nonprofit that actually owned the vehicle.)
My concern was having some cop cars with lights flashing show up at my apartment building and then getting arrested in full view of the neighbors. So I persuaded them to meet me at the nearby police precinct (the 90th). I spent an hour answering questions about the van, it’s history, ownership, how it operates, and the absence of any ongoing threat to Mayor Bloomberg. They explained that the order to take such drastic measures (midnight interrogations & a trip to Ithaca) came from very high up, and they simply had to make sure that any and all questions could be answered. Their immediate superior in this was Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division– the same unit that engages in counter-terrorism.
Fast forward to last Friday. Our van had spent 10 days at a garage for repairs. I was driving in a light rain for two blocks, when an unmarked SUV pulled me over. A plainclothes officer told me I was driving with my lights off in the rain – very unsafe. A few minutes later I was arrested for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
The arresting officer? Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division. Did I mention there were three unmarked police vehicles that were part of this operation?
[Side note: perhaps a year ago, I was given a summons for riding my bicycle on a sidewalk in Bushwick. Stupidly, I neglected to take care of the matter. This was the reason why my license had been suspended, and I wasn’t aware that this had happened.]
There are many things that could happen at this point. For example, they could have allowed me to leave the vehicle where it was (I pulled over into a legal parking spot) and given me a ‘desk appearance ticket.’ Instead, they impounded the van ‘for evidence’ and sent me to Central Booking. I ended up spending 36 hours in jail. When I appeared before the judge for arraignment, attorney Yetta Kurland helped me to plead guilty to a violation, amounting to a $75 fine.
Many of my friends have been arrested before, usually with other protestors engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, or for things like stepping off the sidewalk during a demonstration. I’ve been arrested before, mostly in Israel, where I once spent two months in prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. If you haven’t been arrested, please know this: it can be traumatic. The facilities in Brooklyn are filthy beyond belief, the food is disgusting, some of those detained are pretty ripe, and folks have to arrange themselves on the floor with no bedding or bunks. On the other hand, most of the cops behaved decently towards the detainees. (Yes, that surprised me.)
Thinking about what happened to me, the first thought that keeps rattling around in my head is how stupid I was to have allowed my license to become suspended. And then there are some other questions:
PS: I mentioned Yetta Kurland briefly. Knowing that she was out there working on my behalf was part of what kept me sane in jail. She is a fighter, a friend, and a leader. And she refused to take a dime for her services. God bless her.
PPS: At the start of the video embedded above, you can hear me say “this is of dubious legality, but fuck it!” Folks should know that was part of a conversation about parking, not about the operation of the Project-O-Van.
New York, NY–I ran like a fleeting shadow up a dark New York City street. All about me was the occupation. Not the “take a plane to NY and lounge around Zuccotti Park for the afternoon on the One Year Anniversary of OWS” crowd. This was the night-time Birthday March to Times Square on the night of September 16th, 2012–a hardcore crowd. It was unlike any other occupation experience that I’ve ever had. What is the occupation? Who are you people? Tonight those questions would be answered to me in a more profound way. We’re the glue that holds American society together. The playful spirits who appear, not with violence nor its threat, but with a vision of how the world could be—and act on it. But all around us on this march were dozens and dozens of NYPD cops on foot, in cars, in vans, on motorcycles, etc., to keep, in a sense, Queen Hippolyta’s order. But as Bottom’s head was transformed into an ass—magic was soon to be squeezed into the cops’ and the world’s eyes.
At the head of our column was Puck. That’s not his real name, of course, but still apropos. His delight in playing pranks on these foolish mortals no less than the enchanting sprite. We took off from Zuccotti Park on a trek to Times Square—many, many blocks away—to be there when the figurative ball would drop on our one-year-old world. Night time, long urban march, lines of riot cops, the press nowhere in sight—this is where things get violent quickly. But you wouldn’t know it from observing Puck. It was as if, literally, he was from a different world. He’d wander this way, that way, ahead of the group, behind the group, but he was leading us. Not like the NYPD Commander leading his troops a few feet away. It wasn’t just that the local occupiers would defer to him at key points—an undercover cop could pick up on that—if they could get this close to us.
No, this was different. We weren’t being sucked up a river like in Apocalypse Now. We were being compelled forward, by an unseen energy as if from the shadows, much like what compelled us all to show up in the tents last year. A sense that the order of the world was against the common man and something must be done to change how the people around us see the world. What would Puck squeeze into their eyes? We were about to find out. We were hippies and trouble-makers to many of the cops on this march. Would we make asses of them? We are America. Just as the Tea Party is also, but we’re very proud of our inclusiveness. The Tea Party panders to peoples’ dark side, their fears, intolerance, selfishness, etc. Preaching loudly to their flocks, but then shying away when the mainstream media arrives. At the end, in the glow of Times Square, celebrating the fact that we’re still going strong, even the cops seemed uncomfortable, out of place.
The march came to a pause by Macy’s. “We have to keep moving!” It was Puck’s voice. Suddenly, very much in this world. Our “escort” of motorcycle cops slowed also, sheepishly staring at us from their bikes. BEEP, CRACKLE, WAIL. The strangest sounds will pop out of some of these police vehicles. Occupation marches are like snakes. They coil and contract. Punkish girls with red, white and blue spiked hair, teens with backpacks pockmarked with political and social buttons, glistening young eyes above bandit-strewn bandanas. But NY is very different from LA. Where are the U-Streamers? I could swear that I’m one of the only people taking photos while the group’s moving—still and video. The group “coiled” forward. A chant began: “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Over and over, echoing throughout the Manhattan canyons. And then–and then–there it was. Glowing in the distance. Times Square. The pace of the march picked up. The cycles dropped off and lines of cops on foot would take over. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP. Puck would be here, then there, then disappear. Closer. Wow! Talk about lights. Story after story of commercial ads packed with models up into the dark sky. It was then that the real symbolism of this march became clear to me. Yes, be where the ball drops at our midnight, but also be at the center of the over-commercialization of American society. We flooded into the center of the square as if from another world, and we are, aren’t we? We speak the truth when your normal world of TV channels and news rags seem morally empty.
A cake appeared, as if by magic. Occupiers delighted in taking a bite, though there were no forks. The police formed rings around us. We ignored them. Our eyes were on the figurative ball in the sky Puck had brought us here to imagine. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, Puck sat down. Others joined him. 5, 4, 3, 2, and then Puck spoke. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard from an occupier before. Why we were still here after a year… What we’d accomplished… But in my mind’s eye I heard: Why the potion had worked that we’d all squeezed into society’s eyes. How people stopped focusing on distractions such as whether or not to raise the debt-ceiling limit, but on the reality of the plight of our very real fellow Americans whom we care about deeply—who have been deceived by the serpent’s tongue of the ultra-rich. After Puck’s speech, the crowd dissipated and even the cops fell away—as if the occupation had been a dream. Puck from NYC, Nowhere Man from Hollywood, all of us “meddling fairies” vanished back into the semi-darkness of Manhattan like shadows who’d overstayed their welcome in the mortal world of driven, but dishonest men. But all of us, Puck included, had one phrase on our minds. “We’ll be back.” We are the pressure in society to make amends.
I’ll let Shakespeare’s Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) have the last word:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck,
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long:
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
These words now echo in my mind as I sit in the freezing darkness of the Rockaways, after less than a week of relief work with the communities here that were devastated by superstorm Sandy.
I’m sitting in the dark under the light of a tiny flashlight writing from the second floor of my beloved friend Heather’s house. I hear the buzzing of an infinite line of ambulances brought from all over the country by FEMA as they burn precious gas outside waiting in line to evacuate seniors from a nursing home in preparation for a new storm coming our way tomorrow.
I still remember all the work we put into fixing up this house when my friend decided to move out here last summer. I took the long train ride out here a couple of times to help her rip off carpeting, tweeze out staples from the floor, stop by the beach for a quick swim and then back to painting walls and building a library. So much work went into making this house a home.
Today I walked in surrounded by total darkness, to find myself in an emptied out living room. Around the corner, a hub of kindness and solidarity has been built in the last few days as Occupy Sandy Relief set up shop in order to put words into action and show what mutual aid really looks like.
It almost sounds unnecessary to recount the myriad encounters of the last few days, and the stories that accompany the flood of strangers that have become brothers and sisters in this enormous effort. I don’t want to fetishize their need or glorify our instinctive desire to lend a hand.
I just came out here to help my friend clean her house after the strong winds and high waters battered it, my friends from Occupy just happened to be around the corner.
Perhaps it’s just that the personal is political. Always. Blah, blah, blah.
I could hardly care less who my overlords are by tomorrow.
All I know is, there’s a storm coming tomorrow, and I need to make sure everyone is safe and warm.
-Sofia Gallisa Muriente-]]>
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.
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.
Occupy Wall Street participants have been pitching in all around the city. The below updates have been collected from coordination emails and Facebook status posts on Occupy Sandy’s facebook page. Shoot your relief stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish them as they roll in…..
Michael Premo: Rockaways
‘The air was thick with water spray and smoke…. a line for food at the community hub just opened tonight at B113th Street and Rockaway Blvd. We had the generator up and running with lights and served 60+ people warm food and distributed clothing, blankets (It’s cold tonight!) and supplies. We also met some really great new friends from the neighborhood. The FDNY continued to battle a fire throughout the evening behind us.’
Jackie Sheeler: Harlem
‘I made 60 sandwiches at home & gave them out to residents at Baruch Houses. NYCHA workers suggested a fire hydrant as a good place for food distribution, & they were right….people (were) carrying their buckets & bottles of water up many flights of pitch-black stairs in the projects. Many of them are doing it for elderly or disabled neighbors as well as their own families. The few open bodegas can’t take food stamps (the card readers are out) and some of them are price-gouging. $8 for a half gallon of milk. Sickening.’
Timothy Wheldon: Chinatown
‘…many of us spent the entire day in Chinatown at the CAAAV office talking to residents; manning our portable generator/cell phone charging station; handing out food, water, flashlights, and batteries; and going door to door in buildings to make sure people are okay and have what they need.
At one point, almost ten cops came with their lights flashing to tell us we had to stop, because all the people on the sidewalk were creating a “safety hazard,” and they were worried about “rioting” and “theft of iPhones.” They said this was all in the name of “helping the community.”
They made several announcements to the crowd of residents to disperse, at no point letting us interpret what they were saying so that the crowd of mostly Chinese Mandarin/Cantonese/Fujianese speakers could understand what the cops were telling them.
We were able to negotiate with them to keep our adhoc relief center open, but it was a stark reminder of who actually keeps our communities strong and resilient–our residents and our neighborhood organizations who actually give a damn.
At no point did we see anyone else from a city agency, or any relief agency (Red Cross, where you and your billions at?), or any elected official’s office.
SO MUCH LOVE to CAAAV members, staff, volunteers, and supporters who came out today to help. I’m feeling very tender-hearted today towards the city that I love and its people who keep it going.’
Danette Chavis: Chinatown (Smith towers)
‘…Please inbox me as soon as you hear “electricity” has been restored in the area! I couldn’t get any information about it and went there personally this morning… (There are elderly tenants in those high rise building, in the dark, with no heat and the elevators are not working) The manager of La Guardia apartments told me they had just got the “cold water” turned on today, and the information they’re receiving about the “electricity” being restored in the buildings “keep changing”.’
Stephanie Johnstone: Chinatown
‘There is definitely still a great need for…especially humans to go door to door – there are so many people stranded (especially in the projects at Cherry St.) who are without food and water. And those who could get down all the stairs often didn’t have clear information about what is going on or when power would be back on, etc….
…one woman, who barely spoke English said to/about us “This is why America is Number One. Because it is built on love. People loving each other.” I felt great warmth towards this woman, and also the statement is so layered, I don’t even know where to begin!’
Maria Gianas: Chinatown
‘We were there yesterday and although building doormen are saying they are knocking on doors, we contacted and gave bags of food and water to elderly residents who had not been contacted by anyone….especially on upper floors. Just show up with water and food and knock on doors. Give them time to get to the door!!!’
“Trick or Aid”: Greenpoint
‘North Brooklyn was hit hard in places too, but since many of us retained power and stayed dry, we may have a lot of resources direly needed by others…let’s go “trick or treating” for direly needed supplies. Wear your costumes–or don’t worry about it–but make sure to dress warm, it’s getting chilly out there!’
Daniel Florio: Central Jersey
‘Call for assistance: I’ve had no power since Mon night. We’ve been using a generator for my respirator and the boiler.
Will run out of fuel tomorrow and there doesn’t seem to be any in the area. My brother has tried many gas stations today! If anyone in N or Central Jersey can get cans of gas please do so! I live in Maplewood, but someone in my family could pick it up from you if necessary. I don’t have Internet or phone access.
UPDATE: I’m literally overwhelmed by the generous response from friends, acquaintances, and strangers to my posting asking for gas. I’m just now in a place a few towns away from home with internet access, so I literally haven’t started reading all of your posts. I’ll respond and thank you all individually when I’m better able, but I’m very grateful for your thoughts and concrete steps to help alike.
I now have enough gas for a couple more days, and there are some solid leads on getting more…. Thanks to my Aunt Elaine for the acting as Coordinator. This role was sprung upon her, and we had no idea how daunting the magnitude of the response would make this task. Thanks again, and hope you’re all safe.’
Udi Pladott: Rockaway
‘I would (send) some pictures of what I saw at Far Rockaway, but since the entire place is smothered in utter darkness, there’s little to see. You couldn’t really fully grasp it from the pictures, without breathing in the smell of recently burnt down city blocks. The scene is post-apocalyptic: entire streets blocked with huge pieces of the boardwalk thrown around like you would cast a bunch of tooth picks on your dinner table; some streets are just not passable with a conventional car because there is no remnant of the pavement; countless cars lying on the street at odd angles, some perched on top of other cars; more than anything – entire city blocks completely lifeless, without even the flicker of candle lights in the windows. But then, in the midst of all that, there are small groups of people huddled together, either around a bonfire, or around a generator. They need food. They need blankets. They need flashlights and batteries, and so much more. Some of them just really appreciate knowing that they’re not forgotten. They thanked us for simply being there.’
Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department: Rockaways
‘PBFD firehouse has severe damage we lost most of our equipment, our 2 engines are still operational but on borrowed time, we lost a Chevy Tahoe, everything was under 4 feet of salt water. If any departments have spare supplies we could really use it, flashlights, radios, turnout gear, 4×4 apparatus, office equipment, mobile trailer, etc. We rescued many people and saved a lot of houses under some extreme conditions. FEMA and OEM have been useless. Please spread the word and repost and share. Thank you’
Agnes Johnson: Rockaways
NADLER SHOULD BE CALLED ” The National Guard and FEMA were to distribute meals at 3:00 pm in Coffee Park, where over 200 people stood in line since noon to receive food. At 3:00 pm the supplies and foods were not at the site. I asked one of the lead Guards/Organizers at what time was the food expected, only to get a pathetic “I don’t know” look.
This is yet another example how the people cannot rely on the government to fulfill the needs of our people. When this system has never been able to serve the basic need of our people, we must take a step back and evaluate the work that we do and who we are working for. Only People Power can ensure the survival of our neighborhood no matter how many lies Bloomberg, the President and the Ruling class wants to feed us.’
Sofia Gallisa Muriente: 4 a.m. 11/2/12, Far Rockaway
Homeland Security personnel in military gear, bulletproof vests and holding long rifles pull over three young black men in the middle of blacked-out Far Rockaway as they walk down the street for a glorified Stop and Frisk justified as crackdown on looting. Meanwhile, the streets are full of people in desperate need for help, food, water, electricity, support and other resources.
Kelli Daley: Brighton Beach
The Warbasse houses are still without power making it difficult for the many elderly immigrant residents on the upper floors to get adequate food and water. On Friday there was amazing outreach as several unconnected groups teamed up to make sandwiches, donate groceries and bring those supplies to those in need. That could only be done by navigating the dark stairways, up to 23 floors, with headlamps and flashlights. Everyone was pitching in to share their lights and translation skills.]]>
New York, NY–Today, Thursday, was my second day of volunteering for relief efforts in Red Hook. Overall it was a successful day of intaking donations, coordinating volunteers, and moving supplies out to the community through the Red Hook Initiative. Our organization was better today than yesterday, but the need was also greater. People in the community are still learning about the work we are doing so more are turning up as the hours and days go by. We continue to be a lifeline to a huge number of residents in public housing who lack power and water. The larger infrastructural pieces are coming together and will hopefully be in place to sustain this work through the weekend and into next week as residents continue to wait for power and water to be restored to their buildings and businesses to open their doors. The following is my personal account of the work that I did today and saw others do. Please bear in mind that a lot of things are happening that I don’t see, so this is by no means a complete account.
This morning I debated whether to drive or bike down to Red Hook, and in the end chose my warm comfortable car. I regretted that decision when I saw the dense traffic on the highway and decided to take side streets south to Red Hook. I doubly regretted it when I later learned that there is no gas to be had in NYC for love or money (luckily I had a full tank thanks to my saintly husband who wanted on line for 2 hours last night). All the gas stations are cordoned off – the rumor was that only taxis and government vehicles can get it, though it’s totally possible even they lack access. In the absence of public transport, people are relying heavily on cars. Starting today the rule is you must have three people in a car in order to cross any of the bridges over the east river (necessary to deal with massive traffic). As the fuel runs out (go here for a great review of the fuel situation), people will be totally cut off from their jobs in the city and key services like grocery stores.
Upon arrival at about 10:30am I took on the role of volunteer intake, information gatherer, and team lead coordinator, meaning I spent my morning circling around Red Hook Initiative checking in with everyone to see what they needed and attempting to give it to them while gathering information to share with others. The scene was fairly chaotic though we all managed to get our jobs done in the midst of dozens of incoming volunteers, a constant stream of donations bags, many people from the community moving about the facility through tight hallways and narrow spaces between work tables and walls, and all while managing communication with the staff of the Red Hook Initiative (who have been Amazing and deserve massive credit for opening their doors to this operation. RHI is absolutely a worthy recipient of any donations you care to give).
Several very talented and hard working folks were managing operations today, processing a huge amount of donations, volunteers, and questions from the community and preparing hot meals at 12pm and 6pm. Our leads included Rachel in the supplies intake zone, where she, assisted by 7-10 volunteers at a time, received bags, unpacked them, and sorted them into piles for repackaging and sending out to the community; Paulie Anne in the kitchen, who coordinated the preparation of two large hot meals today, including dinner for several hundred people (with a line stretching around the corner for over an hour); Lisa overseeing kitchen and supplies infrastructure and distribution; another Rachel in the batteries and lights room (closely guarded as these are the most prized supplies); Kirby up front overseeing volunteer groups going out into the community doing needs assessment and fulfillment for individuals and businesses; an incredible nurse from NYU who oversaw distribution of basic medical supplies as well as walk in care and on site care in peoples’ homes where necessary; a lovely woman who stepped up to process the needs assessment forms into a huge spreadsheet; Zoltan providing admin and organizational support as well as helping to lead the needs assessment and fulfillment volunteer groups; and several more key people who worked tirelessly to organize the efforts of the dozens of volunteers from outside and inside the community and to ensure that the dinner line moved smoothly, the batteries got bagged up and sent to where they needed to be, information and forms were properly handed out to people with questions, and much more. The talented staff of RHI were on hand working hard to move out the supplies and helping to coordinate work and facilitate our interface with the community.
I’d like to say a bit more about the needs assessment and fulfillment as it was a really impressive piece of work. Starting at 10am, volunteers fanned out to all the public housing buildings without power (and water!) with forms for people to fill out with their names and addresses and specific needs. Notes were made about home-bound people who could not come down to get supplies from us. Volunteers brought back those forms, which were catalogued and organized. Bags of supplies were prepared in the distribution room, carried to the front desk, and sent back out with volunteers who delivered them to people who had made requests. Hot food was also delivered. I think that we sent out at least 200 bags today, and have specific information on more needs that need to be filled in the coming days (we will continue to deliver to the home-bound each day). Additional supply bags were made to be handed out with the hot meal at 6pm.
At around 4:30pm, I walked with a staff member from the city council member for Park Slope (who has been trying to assist Red Hook even though it’s not his district) to a nearby park, where we had heard that FEMA and the national guard would be distributing at least 1000 meals to people at 1pm. When we arrived, we found a line of several hundred people waiting in the cold (for over three hours) for a truck that was reportedly still struck in gridlock. We spoke to the one FEMA person on hand, who said he had nothing to do with food distribution and was only passing out flyers with information for people about reporting damage to their homes and cars. The man in charge turned out to be a 7 foot tall major from the Salvation Army, who was extremely pleasant but short on information about the delivery as he had no direct line to the truck, which was being brought by the national guard. When we left there was still no sign of the truck, though we later heard that it did arrive and successfully distribute a ton of MRE’s (meals ready to eat), which are military food packets that have to be mixed together in a certain way to prepare the food. My understanding is that the MREs are complicated for those unfamiliar with them and not that tasty. Certainly better than no food, but still problematic. RHI continues to be the effective lifeline for this community providing hot food and supplies in a friendly personalized and humane manner. As a side note, I have not heard of any Red Cross sightings in the city yet. They may be present or about to be present, but they are invisible to us on the ground.
On our way back to RHI after the Salvation Army field trip, we passed by some guys from NYCHA (housing authority) manning pumps that are still getting water out of the building basements, which is a predicate to restoring power. The guy said that they would be on site around the clock until the water was gone. He said he had three pumps going and would like to have a fourth but did not have enough fuel for the generator to make that happen.
Late in the day, we learned that the great people from Trinity Church had coordinated with NYCHA to open the Miccio community center down the block to receive, process and distribute donations starting tomorrow. Miccio has a lot more capacity than RHI and will be a great step up for our infrastructure. There will be a large pallet of supplies coming from the Trinity truck that will augment the stream of donations that we have coming in. RHI will continue to coordinate and process volunteers and hot food distribution.
Now that you have a sense of what we were doing, I want to emphasize how crucial the Occupy network has been in providing organizational backbone to this operation. All of the team leads as far as I know came through the occupy network, as well as many of the volunteers. The Interoccupy site (http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/) has been updating information about service points throughout the city and resource needs on their main website, and has been responding to our tweets regarding specific needs at our site. We were able to send car loads of donations that we didn’t need to the occupy distribution hub which could then send them on to the Rockaways and other hard hit areas not receiving the same resources as we are. Throughout the day I was able to push out messages via twitter and email requesting specific supplies such as flashlights, batteries and water, and those messages reached people who brought us those things. I was also able to learn what was going on at other sites and share that information where I was. As one person put it on twitter, Occupy was born last year but has come of age during this crisis. It is incredibly heartening to see this network spring to life and be put to work.
A few more thoughts before I close. I have seen many commenters online saying that residents of Red Hook housing have only themselves to blame for their woes, as they were told to evacuate. However, people were justifiably wary of the shelters. I heard one report that the shelters available in Manhattan for example had no food and no blankets and felt unsafe, so people who went there just came back to their apartments because a dark home was preferable to an underresourced, scary shelter. Furthermore, I do not think that thousands of residents should be expected to pick up and move in the face of a storm that no one thought was going to cause this type of damage.
Second, the residents who we served today were, all things considered (days without power and water, where people are living on the 14th floor of a building that has pitch black stairwells), incredibly good tempered and thankful for our efforts. Notwithstanding changed distribution times (we cancelled a noon distribution and moved another from 4 to 6pm), everyone was very patient with us. They can see that we are working as hard and as fast as we can to do what we can do for them. I did hear a lot of frustration voiced at various city agencies and utilities, who do not have a relationship of trust with this community.
Friday will be my last day on the site as I am going upstate to take a break from the intensity of this storm aftermath. Next week I may be back on site. The situation is constantly evolving and we don’t know yet what type of non-immediate infrastructure we are prepared to help coordinate and implement. The coming days are going to test our limits. If you have not yet volunteered or donated and would like to figure out how to do it, please let me know.
There is an amazing gift economy at work all over the place. You can have free ramen on 8th street in the East Village, fancy caramels down in TriBeCa, spaghetti in Alphabet City. People are on the street giving it away and it’s a joy to watch. And there is incredible anger too, some of it focused, some of it more of an atmospheric spray–the inevitable frustration of life without electricity and elevators and working toilets and food anxiety turning into outright hunger. There are all kinds of lessons for us here, though I’m afraid most people don’t seem to recognize the lines at the gas station as anything but inconvenient, so maybe it’s just too soon for a deeper reckoning.
Our immediate community is sheltered and safe, many of us have friends and family with lost homes and property. No doubt about, it the storm HIT. We have it in our bodies now. We are grateful for all your support and good wishes. Lets not be sentimental, let’s be strong and clear, let’s get down to some serious revolutionary skill-sharing, pitch in where we can and keep our Love on the Prize–EARTHALUJAH!
-Savitri D, Director of the Church of Stop Shopping-]]>
New York, NY–We were far from Wall Street.
The sidewalks were strewn with rotted furniture, tattered clothes and assorted debri. Families and friends huddled around doorsteps, doors swung open in the hopes that fresh air would drive out the stench of the sitting flood waters.
The Mayor said New York City was back to business as he rang the opening bell.
Jose Luiz said “Fuck Bloomberg” as he lifted an axe to the long, thick tree trunk that had lied down flat on his block. Its roots tickled the metal fence on one side of the street while its branches poked at the stoops on the other side. He stood atop the tree, conquering it with his feet, while his pals tied a rope around it and then to the bumper of a worn-out old 4-door.
“Who you wit’, the city?” they asked suspiciously as we approached. If so, we would have been the first to take notice of what was happening on that block off Neptune Ave. Besides those imposing police vans with their glaring lights at night, lights that reflect off the walls of darkened, powerless buildings. Lights that say “Keep calm. Don’t riot.” The police surely wanted to help, but their orders were clear. “We were told to [go up and down this street with our lights on],” one told me. The National Guard had 4 tanks on the next block, and three Guards stood eyeing passerbys on the next street. Stand your guard. Marching orders.
We weren’t with the city, we explained. And we didn’t much care for Mayor Bloomberg either, considering that he evicted us from Zuccotti Park and threw away all our books and tents. We had something deeply in common with these young men, living on the periphery of the 1%’s city, under the heartless dominion of Bloomberg’s Army.
They looked worn out but persistent in the face of 3 days without power, hot water or gas. If they wanted to fill up their car tanks, the closest station had 300 other Brooklynites snaking in a line around it, gas cannister in hand, to fill up from a single pump. A line of cars a mile long paralleled them.
This is disaster-zone Brooklyn.
This is climate changed.
Welcome to New York City. Brighton Beach. November 1st, 2012.