Occupy Wall Street's new job: disaster relief 

How the leaderless movement reignited to fill gaps in New York City's hurricane recovery effort

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SARAH BERMAN - After Sandy, Occupied Even at night, the epicentre of Occupy Sandy, located in a central Brooklyn church basement, is bustling with volunteers.
  • Photo BY Sarah Berman
  • After Sandy, Occupied Even at night, the epicentre of Occupy Sandy, located in a central Brooklyn church basement, is bustling with volunteers.

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I ask some residents whether they are able to boil water at home and if they have any food allergies. Others focus on cleaning needs. This info allows other volunteers to assemble meaningful care packages that account for family size and level of damage.

Personalizing relief in this way defies the militarized traditions of Red Cross and America's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The boxed rations these organizations distribute come with English instructions only; many immigrants do not realize the meals are "self-heating."

In this sense, FEMA is one kind of disaster Occupy has already rallied against: a top-down government agency offering victims more debt (albeit at reduced interest rates). "The problem with FEMA or the Red Cross is they come and impose a model and that's not what Occupy is about," says González. "It's more of a network to see how people can self-organize and access resources to rebuild their own communities."

Occupy's quick response in the week following Sandy earned shining press coverage across various media. But as Nick Pinto of the Village Voice points out, Occupiers can't restore power to the blackened stairwells or inspect houses for structural weakness; there's a wider institutional failure at play.

Sarah Berman is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. View full article and comments at thetyee.ca.

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