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Solidarity | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "solidarity"

Strong in Staten Island

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


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Occupy Sandy Rescued Me from My Couch

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

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

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

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

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


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The Power of Love

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

-Barbara R. Lee-

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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:

-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

-Jenna Pope-

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Words of Thanks & Life-Changing Moments

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared here.

What an AMAZING day!

When I first walked into the American Legion (209 Cross Bay Blvd) there was NOTHING…by yesterday afternoon my jaw dropped — then today — OMG! What an amazing day of community rally! If I had to pick one “faith in humanity restored moment” it would have to be when the truck rolled up with 600 pizzas for Portland, Maine. The guys set up a propane heater and started re-heating the pizza. AMAZING!!

I made my first trip to the Rockaways this afternoon. Words escape me to describe the need, I cannot justify it properly in a few sentences. Tomorrow we are going to focus on helping situate the Red Cross in the Rockaways for hot food distribution and a facilitate medication distribution in both Broad Channel and the Rockaways.

A few urgent needs, in order of greater need first:

**A registered organization with medical doctors who can supervise the distribution of medications to the people of Broad Channel and the Rockaways. We have the promise of AmeriCare that they can provide all the medications that we need. **THIS IS AN URGENT NEED**

**On the ground contacts in the Rockaways who can help us understand the BEST places for Red Cross to set up hot food distribution. We will be meeting up with Red Cross leaders at 11AM tomorrow. **Distribution will be at Beach 95th & Rockaway Fwy — if other distribution points are needed, please let us know ASAP so we can pass the message directly to Red Cross**

**A registered organization that can receive amazing care packages from AmeriCare. Many distribution centers are now filled to capacity with donations, if there is anywhere with continued need — PLEASE let us know so we can pass on the information.

**Additional volunteers to help organize and manage distribution at the American Legion, 209 Cross Bay Blvd.

High priority needs right now for the distribution center (they change frequently) include:
power strips/heavy duty power cords, duct tape, plastic sheathing, rope, tarps (things to try and keep the draft out), contractor-sized trash bags, personal care items like razors, always need flashlights and batteries, baby formula, diapers ***AND** we need hot food throughout the day plus packaged food is ALWAYS welcomed. **Blankets, socks, underwear, jackets are ALWAYS welcomed but no other clothes can be accepted at this time!**

Please email me if you can help in anyway!

Thank you!


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Status Updates: From the Rockaways to Chinatown

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at

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 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.

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Post-Sandy Relief in Red Hook

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at

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 ( 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.

-Chloe Cockburn-

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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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My #S17

We were at the Red Cube by 7:15am, joining hundreds of other Occupiers and supporters for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Liberty Square itself was barricaded, a dozen or so people inside – I assumed Occupiers, since what neighborhood resident would be trying to enjoy their park this early on a Monday with so many barricades and police about?

The brutalization of random protesters was rampant throughout the day, apparently as another tactic by the NYPD to punish political dissent, and intimidate those not brutalized into leaving – and to intimidate those who were not there in the first place from ever coming to a subsequent protest or event.

The day began for my group (me, my girlfriend, and friend, who all trekked in from Brooklyn) similar to last year’s #N17 action. We left in a column from the Red Cube and marched down Broadway to Pine & Nassau. Some Occupiers sang parody lyrics to the tune of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” including lines like, “Hurry hurry hurry / Get me out of jail / I am an occupier / I can’t afford the bail / Oh no no no no / Ba ba ba / I was incarcerated.”

Police lined the streets facing protesters, who mostly stayed on the sidewalks. A saxophone-playing Occupier played The Star Spangled Banner. Protesters massed on all four corners of the intersection. As the song reached “the land of the free” climax, a glitter bomb was popped over Nassau Street. An arrest most of us couldn’t see occurred in the intersection. Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Then the saxophone played and we sang, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” Someone berated the police about how Bloomberg would be stealing their pensions and laying them off soon enough, and then they’d be on our side.

An occupier Mic Check’d saying, “If they block the streets here then go around!” But those of us who were attending and not wanting to be arrested didn’t know where to go around to – we were trying to be witness to those participating in the traffic-stopping sit-downs, as planned and announced on the S17 website.

From @occupiedstories on Twitter

The Amalgamated Bank (a Union-owned bank; and the bank I switched to from Chase last autumn) on Broadway greeted the day’s protesters with a large poster in their window: “Amalgamated Bank supports the UFT and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

By 8:15am, we decided to go find the Labor protest contingent, slated to begin at 8:30, and started heading back up Broadway. But this proved difficult with police lining the sidewalk (on the street). Particularly so because the police themselves relentlessly insisted that we “Keep moving. If you don’t keep moving you will be arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic” even as they themselves impeded more pedestrian (and vehicular) traffic than anyone else. (Many Occupiers were sure to let the police know about this with chants of “You are blocking pedestrian traffic! You are impeding pedestrian traffic!”)  One female protester called out, “The NYPD shuts the city down for us. Great job, boys!” I was reminded of May Day 2012, when police were so concerned that protesters would shut down the Williamsburg Bridge that the police themselves shut down the Williamsburg Bridge. Obviously who shuts it down is more important than that it is shut down at all.

As we marched north on Broadway on the sidewalk, spirits were high. A band of horns and percussion had everyone clapping and feeling good; spoons were used on scaffolding to accompany the band. And right on time the police entered the sidewalk, waded into the crowd to randomly grab a protester, slam them to the ground, and arrest them. This split the march into two as people recoiled from the brutality. Several white-shirt police with macabre faces lunged at us, grabbing a protester next to me by his backpack and slamming him to the ground, and then a blue shirt cop jumped on him, then cuffed him. I had no doubt that he was grabbed instead of me because he was black, young and male – and I was let alone because I was a white male.

It was at this moment that I felt a peculiar failure as a protester: I didn’t grab my fellow protester from the police and try to pull him back to me. In the split second between being grabbed and being thrown to the ground, he looked at me and said “Help me out!” and I didn’t do a thing. Should I have grabbed him back and probably been arrested myself? I don’t know. I know I should have gotten his name and followed up with jail support, but in the chaos I lost him and did not. The money I was able to contribute later was a minor penance for this failure, which I partially blame the police for creating (he had done nothing to warrant the arrest, after all) but mostly just myself, for not knowing enough going into the action and not being confident enough to know what I should and would be willing to do at any given moment. I hated the police for having created this situation, but that is a futile waste of time and energy.

Wall Street itself was barricaded at Broadway, with police behind the barricades, in front of the barricades, and on the street. Protesters were attempting to move their way north, but the police suddenly cut the march in two, separating me and my friend from my girlfriend. Several people were brutally arrested. The police pushed us north onto the sidewalk, and then stopped. Then they came at us again and pushed us further and further north, until we were practically to Pine Street.

I began calling my girlfriend over and over waiting for her answer, fearing she’d been brutally arrested. Finally she answered the phone and we re-convened. She told me that the police had been pushing her from behind to move south, and she’d told them she wasn’t going to push the people in front of her just because she was being pushed by the police. She told them she wasn’t going to hurt someone else just because the police were pushing her. Then a protester near her was thrown to the ground and arrested. The police continued to push her, and she asked them if her moving south was more important than the brutal arrest going on right in front of them. The police told her, Yes, it is more important. She told them they had fucked up priorities. They told her to move.

Eventually we found our way to Bowling Green, where hundreds of protesters were gathering. An enormous Debt Bubble was pushed from hand-to-hand over the top of the crowd. We set out to peacefully march around the bull, which was at least triple barricaded by this time, as well as lined with police on foot and on scooter. We were pushed back almost immediately, and ended back where we started. The immense resources going to protect this bull are always astounding. Protecting the bull from what? An occupier straddling it? Graffiti? What other harm could befall it? It is as though the city fears that Occupiers “taking the bull” would mean the downfall of the whole establishment. Is there a secret self-destruct button on there?

From @occupiedstories on Twitter

Back at Bowling Green near the Museum of the American Indian, some musicians playing guitar sang songs I didn’t know and some I did – including a rousing cover of Sublime’s “What I Got,” which rang true and pure over the OWS crowd: “Loving / Is what I got.” Signs in the crowd hailing the Love Generation, or Time For Love, were, like the Troggs song says, all around.

I felt transported in time, as though it were 1968 and 2012 at once. It was like I’d imagined the 60s generation, and I was no longer wishing it was the 60s – I was ecstatic to be alive today, to be alive to witness and participate in OWS.

At Bowling Green several people spoke using the People’s Mic, including Rev Billy, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who said that the world was “on a breaking point. It’s time to change the breaking point to a tipping point” for the movement. Helicopters overhead lowered as though to drown us out with their noise, and then elevated again.

Taking a break for a seat, some coffee and a salad in a nearby lunch counter, we overheard some exhausted-looking protesters needing ibuprofen. We provided some from our pockets, glad to be helping.

In the afternoon protesters swarmed into Liberty Park. I was surprised the police had allowed anyone in at all. And of course the population was diverse: young and old, whites and blacks and Latina/o and etc., LGBTQ, the disabled. I spotted again the French fellow who’d kept shouting over police brutality all day, “This is a peaceful protest, thank you!” I spotted at least three city council-members. And perhaps best of all, plenty of people who supported OWS even though they had serious problems with it. It is a place of solidarity, but also a place of disagreement and debate.

For about an hour, I stood in the midst of the drum circle (complimented with sax and trumpet; drummers banging on drums, staircase-handles, the ground, etc.) and joined Occupiers in the jubilee of celebration. As someone announced after calming the drummers into quiet, “The greatest thing we have done is meet each other.” The number of actions, groups, events and change that come from us having met each other can probably never be quantified – which means Wall St will never understand or respect it. But it is an amazing achievement.

I and a few other ebullient, celebratory souls led the chants over and over, familiar ones like, “Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!” and “An / Anti / Anti-capitaliste!” But mostly the one refrain: “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!” The refrain, repeated so many times, took on new and different meanings. For one, the initial meaning: Occupiers occupying Wall Street non-stop demanding change. But further, it also meant: We support the movement that is Occupy Wall Street, and we support it all day and all week. Or: There is a movement called Occupy Wall Street, and it exists all day and all week; it exists in me right now as I stand here in the midst of my fellow Occupiers; and it exists in me as I move through the world making decisions and taking actions; it exists in me as I try to learn about the world and better the world; it exists in me and changes me, and I change it. And in Liberty Square it exists within me and all around me, palpably.

A drummer, taking a momentary break, reminded the crowd via the People’s Mic: “All you need to solve all these problems is to love each other.  And that’s the truth.”

-Joel Chaffee –

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