In the wake of one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the East Coast, stories have surfaced about the phenomenal job Occupy Sandy has done to bring relief to some of the most affected sites in the New York area. For anyone who has not experienced the organized chaos that have marked Sandy volunteer efforts, it may seem surprising that Occupy, the group which US media outlets have criticized for disorganization and lack of clarity, has emerged as one of the most effective implementers of hurricane relief efforts.
Not only does Occupy continue to successfully manage two major distribution hubs in Brooklyn, which daily disperse thousands of materials to other hurricane relief sites, but Occupy volunteers have proven their ability to provide aid to affected populations even when government agencies have not.
While FEMA was setting up its relief stations miles from some of the most vulnerable populations, Occupy volunteers were hiking up dark stairwells in buildings without power, bringing supplies and medical aid directly to doors. When FEMA abandoned relief efforts during the nor’easter which hit the region shortly after Sandy, Occupy volunteers were still on the ground, dispersing supplies and helping residents clear out their waterlogged homes. Pictures snapped since then have documented FEMA workers turning to Occupy organizers for information about how to best serve the neediest communities.
Ironically, one year after its organizers were routinely rounded up by the NYPD for arrest, Occupy has turned out to be the most invaluable asset to New York’s largely unprepared first responders during this $42 billion crisis. The aftermath of this hurricane has proven that the months of group discussions and deliberation surrounding economic justice in Zuccotti Park last year were not “occupied” in vain. Today, anyone who walks into one of these Sandy relief centers will see those same communication systems in use.
Volunteerism in the Rockaways is a brilliant example of Occupy’s mutual aid in action. The Rockaways’ narrow strip of land, which juts westward at the bottom of the Long Island peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the areas hit hardest by Sandy. At one point during the storm, the water from the bay and the ocean met on the Rockaway peninsula, filling the first story of many homes and storefronts with water and destroying hundreds of parked cars. Streets were left filled with piles of sand. It is also an area where Occupy’s organized volunteerism has had the biggest presence.