Ten Years Ago, Occupy Sandy Helped New Yorkers and Redefined Disaster Relief

A decade in the past, a bunch of pals who had come collectively to protest financial inequality as a part of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street motion needed to determine find out how to assist New Yorkers affected by Superstorm Sandy.

They realized folks wanted meals, garments and different necessities, and in live performance with group teams, they did what they may to supply. Calling themselves Occupy Sandy, the endeavor ballooned.

It grew to become a grassroots, people-powered response to a devastating storm. Sandy destroyed 1000’s of houses, precipitated about $19 billion in harm and resulted within the deaths of at the very least 43 folks in New York Metropolis.

Based mostly on relationships cast and logistical classes realized throughout Occupy Wall Road, when protestors camped out within the Monetary District’s Zuccotti Park, a community of about 60,000 volunteers spanned the 5 boroughs to distribute provides, join folks with assets and even assist rebuild houses.

“We have been like, present up and we’ll determine it out. We’ll strive to determine find out how to make you helpful,” mentioned Andy Smith, 37, one of many volunteers, who now lives in The Bronx neighborhood of Norwood. “This was a extremely, actually technical operation, and I believe that’s what I assumed was actually stunning as a result of like a yr in the past, we have been these soiled, disorganized occupiers.”

The volunteers arrange a web-based wedding ceremony registry to gather provides. They revealed a map with areas the place folks may search reduction. They folded in different New Yorkers from neighborhoods Sandy left unscathed. And so they canvassed social media and labored the telephones to determine the place to ship serving to arms.

The group arrange facilities to speak with volunteers across the metropolis, prepare dinner meals and go out garments, sump pumps and turbines. Smith joked the hubs — positioned in group facilities, in NYCHA developments and on road corners — have been like “catastrophe Costco.”

The hassle was so profitable that one yr later, the U.S. Division of Homeland Safety commissioned a report on Occupy Sandy, calling it “one of many main humanitarian teams offering reduction to survivors throughout New York Metropolis and New Jersey.

“In contrast to conventional catastrophe response organizations, there have been no appointed leaders, no forms, no laws to comply with, no pre-defined mission, constitution, or strategic plan,” the report states. “There was simply reduction.”

On this vein, Occupy Sandy and comparable tasks symbolize the casual emergency administration system, in accordance with Samantha Montano, a catastrophe researcher and assistant professor in Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s emergency administration division.

“It’s type of a part of our planning assumptions that these teams are going to type and that they’re going to be addressing varied wants locally as a result of we don’t in any respect have the capability inside our formal emergency administration system to handle all the wants that come up throughout a catastrophe,” Montano mentioned. “Our system isn’t even attempting to try this.”

The roots that the Occupy Sandy teams put down again then sprung to life once more through the COVID pandemic and in efforts to assist newly arrived migrants.

It’s an instance of a casual catastrophe response group’s potential to shift and adapt to new crises, counting on “muscle reminiscence,” as Montano put it.

First Responders

From the Decrease East Facet and Purple Hook to Coney Island and Midland Seaside on Staten Island, Occupy Sandy volunteers climbed countless flights of stairs in towers, knocked on doorways to verify on neighbors and even refilled medical prescriptions. They mucked out flooded houses. They related folks to authorized assist. And so they labored alongside native organizations that knew their communities greatest, at occasions coordinating with official authorities channels to share insights and distribute provides.

The construction behind this seemingly spontaneous collective was horizontal, with out clear leaders. However in some ways, some say, it was more effective than official reduction organizations, together with the Purple Cross, FEMA and the Nationwide Guard.

That’s what Matt Miner, a comic book e-book author who lived within the Rockaways, remembers: Occupy Sandy volunteers displaying up shortly after Sandy plunged the peninsula into darkness. Miner and his companion have been left with a flooded house and a small menagerie of pets to take care of — however no flashlights or batteries.

Satirically, Miner, now 44, occurred to have given his stash away to Occupy Wall Road members earlier than he’d moved to Queens from Decrease Manhattan. He discovered some Halloween candles and lit them for momentary illumination as he tried to salvage his belongings from the floodwaters.

Destiny would ship Occupy Sandy volunteers handy out flashlights and extra to Miner and his neighbors.

“The Purple Cross and different reduction organizations type of took some time to get there. They weren’t there the following day, however Occupy was,” Miner mentioned. “I’m getting choked up. … It’s onerous to elucidate how scary that point was with out having any mild aside from a few candles, how completely scary these first few days have been, and so Occupy being there actually meant so much to us.”

By 2012’s finish, Occupy Sandy had raised over $1 million in financial donations and provides.

“These behemoth help organizations play a task inside a broader panorama however are in the end unresponsive to group wants and aren’t designed to be agile,” mentioned Michael Premo, a Bushwick-based filmmaker and co-founder of Occupy Sandy. “They aren’t designed to speak long-term wants, and that’s what Occupy Sandy was actually attempting to do.”

Humanitarian Classes

Although the most important thrust of Occupy Sandy finally petered out a few yr after it started, it fashioned the roots for a number of the mutual help networks that arose to ship groceries and later make vaccine appointments for neighbors when the “shelter in place” coverage took maintain on the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandy Nurse, who was elected final yr as a Metropolis Council member representing northeast Brooklyn, spent months after the storm in Midland Seaside alongside her pals from Occupy Wall Road.

When the pandemic hit, she helped manage meals supply applications in North Brooklyn.

“The kind of mutual help that people have been compelled to arrange through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when it comes to materials reduction and boots-on-the-ground response for folks is strictly the identical factor that we simply did for 2 years with the pandemic,” Nurse mentioned. “The connective tissue continues to be actually sturdy and intact and has solely grown as extra, completely different waves of issues have occurred and extra folks have gotten concerned or plugged into teams.”

Mutual aid volunteers in Brooklyn pick up cardboard boxes from Lowe’s, Dec. 22, 2020. Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY
Mutual help volunteers in Brooklyn choose up cardboard packing containers from Lowe’s, Dec. 22, 2020. Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

In the course of the pandemic and after weather-related disasters exterior New York, different Occupy Sandy volunteers heard from individuals who sought recommendation about find out how to coordinate group reduction, preserve monitor of wants and deal with financial donations.

Devin Balkind, who works in software program growth, launched the umbrella Mutual Assist NYC website in early 2020, which featured an interactive map of the Covid-19 reduction teams all through the town in addition to the digital instruments used to trace volunteers and desires. Throughout Occupy Wall Road and later, for Occupy Sandy, Balkind helped run tech and communication channels.

The Occupy Wall Road motion had one other aspect past protests, he mentioned: humanitarian response, which tied in on to Sandy reduction efforts and others afterward.

“You might have a bunch of individuals in a spot they’re not speculated to be in the course of New York,” Balkind mentioned of the two-months lengthy preliminary encampment in Zuccotti Park. “How are you going to supply sanitation, meals, well being companies, all of the stuff that actually, a catastrophe reduction web site would require?” Mutual help networks enhance the town’s resilience, he mentioned.

Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz would agree. He was the chief at St. Jacobi Lutheran Church in Sundown Park, one of many primary Occupy Sandy distribution hubs (the opposite was Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill) and is now a pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, which served just lately as a central level for pandemic-relief applications. It’s additionally extra just lately welcomed a number of the migrants bused to New York Metropolis.

“We all know that salvation, so to talk, doesn’t come from the federal government, and we can’t watch for the federal government to behave,” Ruiz mentioned. “We’re those that should be energetic, organizing and ensuring that our neighbor is okay and effectively taken care of.”

After the Storm

Metropolis Corridor has more and more acknowledged the ability of neighborhood connections throughout crises. Via the Workplace of Emergency Administration’s Strengthening Communities program, for instance, native organizations create emergency plans, tying their networks to metropolis assets.

Jill Cornell, a group engagement specialist who helps run this system, credit her expertise in Occupy Sandy for sparking her ardour within the subject.

Ten years in the past, Cornell, now 62, was a stay-at-home mother who grew to become a steadfast Occupy Sandy volunteer in southern Brooklyn and the Rockaways, the place she knew many individuals from her household’s involvement in a seashore membership and a theater firm. Cornell — who had beforehand held jobs in drug and alcohol rehab, at a legislation agency and in fundraising — introduced provides to sewage-filled houses and have become increasingly more concerned, because the restore efforts have been underway.

“I didn’t know something. It was so model new to me … It was only a fully completely different approach for me to know find out how to be working in group with folks as a result of there wasn’t a top-down construction,” mentioned Cornell, who had not been concerned in Occupy Wall Road. “My time actually has helped me actually perceive the significance of sustaining connections with of us, and in order that’s what I carry into my day-to-day life right here in emergency administration.”

Cornell transitioned to coordinating the Brooklyn Lengthy-Time period Restoration Group, a coalition of organizations that centered on persevering with the rebuilding course of for a pair years after the storm. That gig became a job at OEM when a number of the workers there convened the long-term restoration teams to gauge curiosity in growing group preparedness.

Cornell’s expertise working as a part of Occupy Sandy offered some readability about find out how to greatest assist others. For some, the time after the storm proved extra complicated.

For multimedia visible artist Sofía Gallisá Muriente, trekking from Brooklyn to the Rockaways as a part of Occupy Sandy for practically a yr after the storm formed her understanding of “what’s at stake with local weather disaster,” and it additionally raised questions on her function and adequacy as a person responding to a catastrophe.

“You must come to phrases with a systemic drawback that you simply’re coping with past the storm that introduced you there, how a lot simpler it’s to put out blankets and scorching meals than it’s to determine find out how to take care of pre-existing crime locally and poverty,” she mentioned.

Rising up in Puerto Rico, the place she as soon as once more lives, Muriente, 36, felt that hurricanes have been routine. However now every time the island is battered by a storm, she says she experiences a type of “vertigo.”

“With Hurricane Maria, a lot of what I assumed and felt and believed received shaken up,” Muriente advised THE CITY, days after Hurricane Fiona devastated Puerto Rico final month. “A part of the explanation why I used to be so heartbroken so shortly, like simply actually distraught in these first few days, is as a result of I assumed again to Sandy, and I simply thought of how way more sophisticated issues are gonna get.”

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