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A symphony for Trayvon Martin


Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.

Atlanta, GA–I had been to Atlanta, Ga., before — running trainings with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta as part of the Wildfire Project. But until Saturday, I had never been to Atlanta the day George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In some ways, it was strange to be away from New York when it happened — the city whose streets I’ve gotten used to marching in, the people I’ve struggled alongside for years, the cops I’ve learned so well. But in many ways, being in Atlanta felt lucky — away from the shiny glass of Wall Street, the manufactured dreams of Times Square, even the quiet Park Slopes that blur our vision and obscure hard truths. Instead, I was in a place where the faces of slave-owning Confederate generals still stand chiseled into the sides of mountains commemorating them, where a sizeable majority of the population is descendant from people kidnapped, enslaved and brutalized ever since. Being in the South felt somehow closer to the truth. But you know what Malcom X said: “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re south.”

The first night after the verdict came we marched in the streets, and the march grew with the very real anger and sadness and fear and hope drawing people out to join. The next day was even bigger, in the thousands. We must have marched five miles, much of it in the pouring rain. The city erupted in a symphony of car horns honking in solidarity, echoed by people cheering and clapping from their windows, emboldened by thousands of people stopping on every sidewalk with their fists up, and strengthened by people jumping out of homes, restaurants and cars to join. The music was loud — genuine mourning, righteous fury and deep purpose. I remember thinking, while marching to the beat, that this is the kind of music that revolutions come from.

The sound of the car horns struck me most — in anger, but not anger that they couldn’t get through, all in solidarity and encouragement. I heard from friends who were part of the demonstrations that took over Times Square that even there — in a city where people are so stressed out that they eat while walking — the honking was supportive. Tens of thousands were in the streets in dozens of cities across the country, and the media couldn’t help but report on it. Friends and family who have never identified themselves as political or radical were furious, and many of them took their first steps into a march. Maybe people have had it. Maybe the music is finally getting loud enough.

I suppose it’s like Aura Bogado wrote in The Nation: The question is not whether the Zimmermans of the world (or the rest of us) are white, brown or black; the question is whether we uphold white supremacy or fight to dismantle it. Oddly enough, in this sense, this case is black and white. In a country where a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante every 28 hours, where more black men are in prisons today than were enslaved just before the Civil War, where drones come home to rest after bombing people of color all across the world in the service of U.S. imperialism, you are either for white supremacy or against it.

The honking horns seemed to compel us — white, black and anyone else — to choose a side. They pierced through the wall of white guilt that threatens to handicap some of us, booming: Yes, you are different, your experience in this country is different, and your role in the struggle is different — but you, too, can choose a side.

Rather, You must choose a side.

As the march snaked through downtown Atlanta, the protesters flooded around cars like water. The drivers — the musicians of the day — sat with their windows down, high fiving or clenching a fist in the air. And every so often a marcher would stop at an open window, have a conversation and take down the driver’s phone number to put it on a list for future organizing. At moments like those I was reminded that people don’t march forever, that crisis moments pass and that we must always think of tomorrow today.

The sight of a young woman taking down people’s numbers reminded me how too often we tell ourselves the myth of spontaneity to avoid the hard work of organizing. There is nothing spontaneous about people streaming into the streets. It comes from a rage that builds over years and centuries, the hard work shifting narratives and raising consciousness, the organizing to bring people in and connect groups to one another, the movement-building to create structures to carry us as we fight. And, of course, people join only when an organized community is willing to step off the curb in the first place, ready to go into motion when confrontations are thrust on us and lines are drawn in the sand.

Then I drifted back into the music, an epic score dedicated not just to Trayvon Martin, but also to all the kids carried through the streets those nights by their parents, whose raised fists seemed to declare that they would no longer permit a world in which they were forced to fear for their children’s lives. The horns — and the rest of the music that gives life to our struggles — blasted through Atlanta and all across the country. The tune was unmistakable: Choose your side, organize and take to the streets.

-Yotam Marom-

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Where is Occupy Now?


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Art F City.

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.

-Noah Fischer-

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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A Midsummer Night’s Occupation


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at Occupy LA.

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.

Occupy!

-Nowhere Man-

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Heartbroken and Defeated


By trade, I’m a high school teacher and had, since 2009, been working in some schools that would scare the slacks off Tom Berenger in The Substitute.

I’ve been laid off for over six months and have not been able to find work anywhere; I literally can’t even get a call back from Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  I’ve exhausted my UI benefits and just received a 14 week extension and that’s only if Congress approves the funding by Dec. 31.

I’ve done everything I can to cut expenses.  I gave up my new car for a 15 year-old car with more than 200k miles and a lot more problems, reduced my cell phone plan to the cheapest available, moved into a studio apartment that offers week-to-week rent, been rolling my own cigarettes and getting many food from food pantries.

I’m so depressed and Sallie Mae is relentless.  They won’t stop calling and, despite what they say, they’re completely unwilling to work with me at all.

My debt is preventing me from so many things I want to do in my life, and my girlfriend of two years won’t marry me because of my student loan debt and I don’t blame her.  I’m 27 and I’m worse off now than when I was 17 and that is not hyperbole.  At least at 17 I was working and had no debt.  The right-wing Oligarchs or Plutocrats (six one, half dozen the other in this country anymore) who keep spouting off about low marriage rates among young people and the high marriage failure rate need to re-examine the leading causes of both these phenomenon: IT’S DEBT!

Next time I hear someone say something cliché like “tighten your belt strap,” “pull on your boots,” or “just get a job,” I’m going to kick their teeth in.

Things just keep compounding, pun definitely intended–if you catch my drift.  I can’t cut any more from my budget between rent, gas, and the groceries I need to purchase because they aren’t at the food pantry and I have no money.

So, I’ve lost my job, and instead of flexibility or compassion the vulture capitalists line up at my door trying to get as much out of me is possible before the next one can push through.

I’m at my end.  My student loan is crushing.  It is literally stripping my life away. I can’t get ahead because of it and it is preventing me from ever achieving any sort of economic security.

-Andrew Breen-

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Election Day, 2012


New York, NY–Recently someone asked me if it was true that most people that joined Occupy did so for “selfish” reasons, meaning their lost home, lack of steady employment or underutilized college degree. I told her I thought for some it might have started that way, but Occupy was a place where those people had encountered others like them, where they had built a community, and where they had come to understand that their personal grievances were tied to a larger structural failure.

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-

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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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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-

Read more #OccupySandy Stories >>

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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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Photos: Devastation in Staten Island


Editor’s note: More photos are available at the author’s blog.

New York, NY–Today I went to Staten Island to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation was completely unimaginable, yet the folks who were stepping up to help out were completely inspiring. Seeing these people suffer makes my heart hurt in ways I never thought possible. I wish there was a way I could help every single one of them, but I know that is not possible. Instead, I will share some of the photos I captured in order to get their story out there, and to help others at least begin to understand what they’re dealing with. Hopefully those of you who have the ability to help, will do so – whether that means putting on your boots and gloves and grabbing a shovel to help them clean up, or donating money for supplies. If you wish to help these folks in Staten Island, check out StatenIsland.recovers.org.

-Jenna Pope-

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On a Street Far From Wall Street


Editor’s note: this story originally appeared at the author’s blog.

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.

-Justin Wedes-

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