Is Occupy Wall Street Outperforming the Red Cross in Hurricane Relief?
Nov 4, 2012 | Katherine Goldstein
In Sunset Park, a predominantly Mexican and Chinese neighborhood in
South Brooklyn, St. Jacobi's Church was one of the go-to hubs for people
who wanted to donate food, clothing, and warm blankets or volunteer
help other New Yorkers who were still suffering in the aftermath of
Hurricane Sandy. On Saturday, Ethan Murphy, one of the people heading
the kitchen operation, estimated they would prepare and send out 10,000
meals to people in need. Thousands and thousands of pounds of clothes
were being sorted, labeled, and distributed, and valuable supplies like
heaters and generators were being loaded up in cars to be taken out to
the Rockaways, Staten Island and other places in need. However, this
well-oiled operation wasn't organized by the Red Cross, New York Cares,
or some other well-established volunteer group. This massive effort was
the handiwork of none other than Occupy Wall Street - the effort is
known as Occupy Sandy.
The scene at St. Jacobis on Saturday was friendly, orderly chaos.
Unlike other shelters that had stopped collecting donations or were
looking for volunteers with special skills such as medical training,
Occupy Sandy was ready to take anyone willing to help. A wide range of
people pitched in, including a few small children making peanut butter
sandwiches, but most volunteers were in their 20s and 30s. A large
basement rec room had become a hive of vegetable chopping and clothes
bagging. They held orientations throughout the day for new volunteers.
One of the orientation leaders, Ian Horst, who has been involved with a
local group called Occupy Sunset Park for the past year, says he was
"totally blown away by the response" and the sheer numbers of people who
showed up and wanted to help. He estimated that he'd given an
orientation to 200 people in the previous hour.
By midday, a line stretched all the way down the
block of people who'd already attended orientation and were waiting for
rides to be dispatched to volunteer. Kiley Edgley and Eric Schneider had
been waiting about 20 minutes and were toward the front of the line.
Like several people I spoke to, the fact that this effort was being
organized by the occupy movement wasn't a motivating factor - they found
out about the opportunity to volunteer online and just wanted to help.
So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless
movement that brought international attention to issues of economic
injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial
district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts?
Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had
been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there
wasn't any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers
would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath. "This is what we do
already, " he explained: Build community, help neighbors, and create a
world without the help of finance. Horst said, "We know capitalism is
broken, so we have already been focused on organizing to take care of
our own [community] needs." He sees Occupy Sandy as political ideas
executed on a practical level.
As frustration grows
around the city about the pace and effectiveness of the response from
FEMA, and other government agencies and the Red Cross, I imagine both
concerned New Yorkers and storm victims alike will remember who was out
on the front lines.