Tag Archive | Occupy Sandy

Why Occupy Failed

I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me.  I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.

The best part so far - not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

The best part so far – not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.”  This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.

The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed.  Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks.  Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

The second reason is that Occupy did not fail.  Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US.  But it did change the conversation about these topics.  In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue.  Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.

More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast.  In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups.  In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access.  And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.

You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.

Occupy Sandy > Red Cross in NYC

So what is the career path for a group of people who are experienced with camping out in urban areas with minimal energy systems and many mouths to feed?  Of course, i am talking about the Occupy Walls Street group which exploded onto the political scene last year and has been in a homeless limbo for the much of 2012.  Well, those urban survivors can Occupy the relief effort for Hurricane Sandy right in their back yard.

Besides feeding the thousands of people without power or services, they are also providing bike powered cell phone rechargers, so people can call their families to tell them they are okay.

For example, where is FEMA and the Red Cross?

This leaderless popular movement has been seeking its direction since it was evicted last fall.  There have been many excellent initiatives but this represents a place Occupy can take DIY birth right and apply it both widely and popularly.

Steal the money:  More importantly than replacing the relief efforts of the oft legitimately maligned FEMA, what this does is push the case for independent citizen initiatives like Occupy to replace the administration heavy Red Cross. And Red Cross is big business at $4.1 billion dollars year.  And Occupy can have a larger donations front door than the Red Cross, in that it is already experienced in distributing things.  It also can distribute relief very directly as in this story. Here is the story about how Occupy Sandy is coordinating online donations like a gift registry.

There is a funologist angle here as well.  When we look at these big DIY festivals, like the Rainbow Gathering (or to a much lessor extent Burning Man) we see the same leaderless “get things done” style which pervades Occupy.  Problems pour in “these people need food”, “these people need cell phone charging”, “these people need dry clothes” and small groups take them on.  They don’t always succeed, but they are more nibble, more accessible and most importantly more joinable than the FEMA or Red Cross efforts.

Mutual Aid not charity – that is the key

What i mean by joinable, is there is nothing which prevents you from eating a meal at an Occupy Sandy kitchen and then staying to clean up and cook the next meal.  There is no distinction between the people who are serving and the people who are being served.  This is not true for the classical relief agencies.  There are badges and permissions and uniforms and bosses and protocols.  You can not migrate from being someone who is relieved to someone who is a relief worker.  Yet, there is a fantastic desirability to this capacity to join the relief efforts.  It makes you feel like you are part of the solution and you arrive with tremendous empathy for the people you are serving.  It also serves to break down class barriers, which the conventional relief agencies simply enforce.

The work of Occupy Wall Street is by no means complete and we need to be pressing more on the case for economic fairness and jailing corrupt banksters.  And what will help Occupy grow as a movement is to see the many niches where it can replace government and bloated hierarchical non-profits and provide direct services.

Well after this post was written, criticisms of the response by the Red Cross, which raised $150 million for Sandy, were coming in strong.