New England Storm Front: From Boston to New York, Occupy Sandy Endures

Image of OB in NY by Jenna Pope via Sandy Relief Boston Tumblr. For more amazing Sandy pics check Jenna's blog HERE.

It's starting to feel like the whole eastern seaboard has gone mad. Since Hurricane Sandy tore up the Atlantic coast two weeks ago, and Occupy Wall Street quickly evolved into a complex human aid machine across the boroughs, attitudes toward the perpetually shat upon people's movement have shifted so dramatically as to cause whiplash.

In Brooklyn yesterday, delegates from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, as well as the NYPD and the National Guard, attended an Occupy Sandy organizational meeting. Not far from there, my own family has finally warmed up to Occupy after silently harboring contempt during my time covering their Wall Street demonstrations. And perhaps just as amazingly, right here in Massachusetts, the Boston Herald – hardly a fan of Dewey Square occupants last Fall – ran a glowing article about Occupy Boston's role in the rescue.

Owly Images

Image by Nina Mashurova

This is all positive, as they deserve the praise and acknowledgment – not just for the sake of applause, but so that as many people as possible in the Bay State and elsewhere can learn about Occupy Sandy, and perhaps even jump on board. From Rhode Island to New Jersey, much of the storm damage will impact people for the coming weeks, months, and even years – and Occupiers are emerging as the most effective line of assistance. That's the attitude motivating soldiers like Anne Wolfe, a Dewey Square veteran and Tufts senior who helped mobilize the response in Boston.

Image via NYT

I started reading about Occupy Wall Street forming the coalition, so I just wanted to hook in with them and volunteer,” Wolfe told the Phoenix on Friday. Aligned with the Occupy New England network, she's already been to New York once since the storm, and plans on making several more weekend trips in the near future. Wolfe continues: “None of us would have known that each other existed without Occupy. It's really powerful to have so many people to call on in times like this.”

Two Thursdays ago, Wolfe first realized that Boston activists were coordinating with counterparts in New York City. Three days had passed since the storm, and the group had set up a Tumblr and email to communicate with volunteers, plus arranged for four donation spots around the city. Soon after, Wolfe took her first bus ride down since the storm – a 2am Fung Wah out of South Station – and arrived in a deserted Chinatown four hours later. From there, her and the rest of the Boston entourage walked for hours until they arrived at St. Jacobi's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sunset Park, which is one of two main Brooklyn hubs where Occupy Sandy is operating out of.

Owly Images

Image by Nina Mashurova 

“It's pretty intense to see Manhattan that dark,” says Wolfe, a native of Medfield. “You have this very iconic image in your head of the city that never sleeps, and within a few blocks of Chinatown, it's just dead.” Wolfe immersed herself in volunteer orientations and medic briefings, keeping in mind that she'd be relaying tactics to the growing group of volunteers in Boston. “We'll be coming back a lot, so it's really great to have a sense of how things are going down there. We basically showed up at the church, not having spoken with many people beforehand, and were able to find out exactly where we were needed.”

Two weeks into this mess, Occupy Boston's list of donation spots has grown to 10, including locations outside of Boston in Cambridge, Arlington, Melrose, and Somerville. However, the efforts hardly end there – especially as Occupy Sandy has stopped accepting clothes (their primary needs are now consumables likes food and diapers). In the next few weeks, in addition to the medical assistance that Occupiers will continue to deliver across state lines, Boston area activists are planning to soon contribute time and labor to construction and rebuilding efforts. Until then, they're dispatching cars and caravans with donated supplies including two generators that they sent down this weekend.

Owly Images

Image by Nina Mashurova 

“It's easy to get people to donate things – it's harder to get everything in one spot, and to transport it to New York,” says Occupier Robin Jacks. Along with other volunteers, Jacks has spent the last week driving around Greater Boston and collecting goods. “We've built great affinity with people in New York over the past year, and now it's important to listen to people who we know on the ground there. It's also important for us to let everybody there know that we're in this for the long haul. We're not just going to do this until the power comes back on.”

Though no one likes to bash the Red Cross, New York officials have done just that in the aftermath of Sandy – particularly in regard to their slow response in the most devastated pockets, like Red Hook and Far Rockaway. On Staten Island, borough president James P. Molinaro even told people to stop donating money to the relief organization. As for federal and state agencies assigned to the scene – they all appear to be facing major challenges. Last week, for example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo went so far as to terminate his head of emergency management; despite dire widespread needs, the idiot ordered an emergency crew in Suffolk County to remove a tree from his front yard.

Image via Occupy Sandy FB Page

All things considered, it's no wonder that enduring Occupy relief efforts have prevailed in the midst of this tragedy. Perhaps most important is the crew's inclusive model; unlike the Red Cross, which has a history of turning volunteers away, Occupy Sandy has an assignment for everyone – from amateur weathermen and women to peanut butter and jelly sandwich makers. Jacks, a native of Memphis, has direct experience from which to contrast. Following Hurricane Katrina, her and other friends from Tennessee tried to join the Red Cross to help in New Orleans, but were told there was no role for them. “It was a weird feeling,” she says. “We wound up just doing food and clothing drives on our own.”

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Occupiers are the only helping hands from Greater Boston who are aiding disaster victims. Mayor Tom Menino sent about two dozen human services workers to assist, while the Red Cross has dispatched a fleet of trained volunteers from Eastern Mass. Nonetheless, it should be noted that this ragtag group – that's been decried as everything from a pack of “losers” to a gang of “rapists” – has come to the rescue, and proven itself more functional than established bureaucracies. The Occupy Boston contingent, for example, is even setting up a portal where people can trace how their donations are used.

Owly Images

Image by Nina Mashurova 

There's always the Red Cross,” says Wolfe, “but I've been really impressed by the whole grassroots side of things going on. What it's shown me is that everybody who wants to say that Occupy did nothing, and that we were just a bunch of homeless people yelling at each other – this disproves that, and shows that our network is more sustainable than most people believed. A lot of us have ideological differences – that's for sure – but we're all dedicated to community. We're all about creating a space where mutual aid can be delivered.”

DONATE to Sandy Relief Boston's WePay HERE

GET More Info On InterOccupy Sandy Efforts Nationwide HERE


Continue checking the Phoenix Phlog for updates on Boston's role in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Next dispatch, one week from today, will be from New York, where we'll be following New England volunteers on the ground.

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