Last September 17, the newspapers unanimously wrote their obituaries of Occupy Wall Street in occasion of the movement’s first anniversary. Six weeks later New York was hit by hurricane Sandy, the worst natural disaster in its history. In the wake of the tragedy, neither the government, nor the Red Cross, showed the same reflexes as OWS.
All over the five boroughs of New York, Occupy Wall Street activists organised a grassroots relief effort which collected food and supplies, and distributed them to those who needed it most. Not only is OWS alive and kicking, but the movement also gave a superb demonstration of the fact that spontaneous self organisation can beat any hierarchical system if needed.
In Queens, two days after the disaster, desperate residents came close to rioting when representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) failed to show up as promised.
On Staten Island, the president of the borough, disgusted with the organisation’s inadequate response, urged citizens to stop making donations to the Red Cross.
At the same time, OWS was setting up shelters, establishing communications between the boroughs with bikes, serving meals, distributing blankets, etc. The operation is hashtagged #OccupySandy and #SandyRelief. It’s ongoing and coordinated through the InterOccupy website, which features lists of what is needed, where it can be dropped off in which part of which borough, and how people can plug in.
By now, five days on, the government is still having trouble restoring power to the city. After the hurricane passed, the skyline of Manhattan was all blackened out, except for one building. Goldman Sachs.
A curious story was developing in the immediate aftermath of Sandy. There were fears that some people would take advantage of the situation to go looting. Those fears seemed to materialise when #SandyLootCrew went trending on Twitter and people began posting pictures of flatscreen tv’s, playstations, subwoofers and other stuff said to have been taken from abandoned houses and shops.
At the end of the day, the hurricane showed the power of people as opposed to the weakness of institutions. It also highlighted the devastating effects that may or may not be attributed to climate change. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or the other. We lost thirty years in this discussion already. It’s time for ‘change’. Four years ago, as it turned out, it was only a slogan. It wasn’t the first black president who proved that it can really happen.
It was Occupy Wall Street.