Sunday, November 04, 2012

That's All Right, We Got This

View of downtown Manhattan after the Hurricane Sandy blackout showing only the Goldman Sachs building still lit.

At the height of hurricane Sandy on Monday night, lower Manhattan was plunged into darkness. As the wind buffeted the city and the waves overran low-lying coastal areas, electric power failed in many parts of the city. My Brooklyn neighborhood was lucky, surviving with only a few downed trees. In lower Manhattan, one building stayed alit: the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, the massive Wall Street firm legendary for corporate greed on a massive, should-be-criminal scale. This symbolic coincidence has not been lost on the people of New York City. Fuck Goldman Sachs. Fuck Wall Street. We don't need you.

Occupy Sandy Relief NYC: almost ten thousand likes on Facebook in 4 days translated into many hundreds of volunteers on the ground and significant real-world mutual aid.

While Mayor Bloomberg debated cancelling the New York Marathon with the tabloid press, while President Obama claimed to be sending massive amounts of FEMA assistance, as the Red Cross started cranking up its donation engines, the people of New York also noticed something else: nothing was actually happening on the ground to help the thousands of people either displaced by wind, flood and fire, or trapped in powerless, heatless homes no longer served by public transportation. Enter the Occupy movement, yes the Occupy Wall Street movement derided as dead by so many on all sides of the media. Occupy activists gathered together and quickly formed "Occupy Sandy Relief: NYC," simultaneously unveiling a Facebook page and going out to the ravaged Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook to see what was up with our neighbors and try and lend a hand. Fuck the liberals who are phonebanking for Obama this weekend. Fuck the smug pundits writing their contemptuous obituaries for Occupy. Fuck you Mayor Bloomberg and your private NYPD army. We don't need you.

Outreach for Occupy Sandy at a Brooklyn Church (photo by me)

Within a day the Occupy Sandy activists had a food kitchen set up near a blacked-out low-income housing project and were prowling the flooded streets reaching out to frightened hurricane survivors. In a few hours they expanded operations to the Rockaways, both to the middle-class neighborhood ravaged by a massive fire, and the working class areas full of people seemingly abandoned by the city and alleged relief agencies. They soon began to reach out to Staten Island, where angry residents were feeling ignored and forgotten. (While Staten Island is home to a notoriously right-wing white community it's also home to large working-class communities of color: A community of color which just lost two of its youngest sons, swept away in the flood to their deaths as their mother cried for help, ignored by cold-hearted neighbors.) Politicians started to tour the scenes of devastation. And yet, people were still left to fend for themselves. Grassroots organizations started to follow Occupy's lead and soon started helping to fill the void. But one thing became very clear: those who were most effected by Frankenstorm Sandy needed mutual aid. We would have to do this ourselves.

After my small neighborhood General Assembly meeting this morning, now held in the lobby of an apartment building on rent strike because of the machinations of a charitable agentocracy, we walked over to St. Jacobi's church and joined the hundreds of people arriving every few minutes to make donations of food, material goods, or their time to the cause of people's hurricane relief. We sat through a quick volunteer orientation where it was explained that this was not about saving other people it was about empowering communities to help themselves. It was explained that this was Occupy walking its principles of anti-oppression and horizontal organization. Racism, sexism and homophobia were condemned. We were advised to treat each other and members of the afflicted communities with respect, without being condescending or patronizing, to listen for what was needed. Each of us could be a leader in the relief effort. In a half hour I was leading volunteer orientations myself. This was Occupy's radical vision in action. Fuck the nonprofit industrial complex with its overpaid staff and its penchant for channeling people's rage into harmless nonprofit triplicate. We don't need you.

Altar for the Day of the Dead at St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in the recreation room being used by hundreds of volunteers to sort donations and prepare food for meals to be delivered to hurricane victims. (photo by me)

Tens of thousands of meals were prepared for people in affected neighborhoods. Carpools were organized to ferry goods and people between Occupy Sandy intake centers and those neighborhoods. Donations flooded in. People spread out to help neighbors support each other, help clean up, help find out who was in need. People were motivated and stayed enthusiastic and united. This happened under the leadership of a movement led largely by anarchists and social justice activists radically influenced by anarchist thought. An activist friend of mine complained on facebook that a "socialist" acquaintance had shouted at her, "we need solidarity not charity." Which is sadly typical of much of the left's sneering dismissal of Occupy. Because this is real solidarity. This is the real world. This is what it means to organize, to relate to real people. These downtrodden and oppressed people don't look like a history book, they look like your neighbors, surviving a hurricane. Fuck the social democrats waiting for an imaginary labor party they can make themselves head of. Fuck the trotskyists and their world of weasel-word formulations. Fuck the condescending saviors who think they know everything but don't even know who the workers are and won't lift a finger to be with them.

Time has moved on. This is not the world of 2008. This is not the world of 2010. This is why I am not voting for Obama. This is the future. This is hard work. This is painful. This is joyful. This is the not-so-slow-motion apocalypse that we can only stop if we get real busy now with our friends and comrades. This is the possibility of winning. This is the possibility of losing. This is fear, this is hope. This is how it's going to be, from now on.

Fuck the government, fuck the state. We don't need you. People's power is coming.


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  2. Great piece on relief effort and government neglect by my friend Sofia: