When Occupy Wall Street pitched up at Zucotti Park in New York over a year ago, many people, even those of us involved, doubted it would be much more than a predictable street battle with the cops before we were all dispersed and sent home. I had the same feeling a month later when Met officers kettled thousands of us around St. Paul's Cathedral during our attempt to occupy the London Stock Exchange. The following morning, when Canon Giles Fraser kindly asked the police to leave, and announced that the protestors were welcome to stay, that kicked off, for me, months of intense organizing with amazing people, both within and without of, Occupy London. We definitely changed the conversation and made some interesting allies, but concrete achievements are harder to identify.
Almost fifteen months later, with Occupy Sandy, we see dramatic achievements daily, communities empowering themselves, and a truly organic movement becoming more decentralized, more efficient, more focused, and receiving praise from some very unlikely corners, including The New York Times, Mayor Bloomberg (he's still a asshole though,) Governor Cuomo, and even Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze (that guy is definitely still an asshole.)
The roots of Occupy Wall Street are the anarchist traditions of mutual aid and mutual respect. That each person can contribute value, that most will, and that given the opportunity to participate in decisions that affect them, and the autonomy to act, people will collectively implement the most fair and effective way of delivering the results desired by the community. It's really a simple concept, but one that can be hard to articulate using real world situations. Like many things, you need to experience the benefit of mutual aid, not be lectured about it.
With Occupy Sandy, these values at the core of Occupy Wall Street, have lubricated the swift, organic creation of an operation that has included tens of thousands of volunteers, millions of dollars (transparently) raised and spent (in some cases, as with the Amazon wedding registries, decentralizing finances further by allowing donors to purchase and ship needed items themselves,) and distribution, training, and communication networks that rival any major corporation or government agency on a thousandth of the budget any of those institutions enjoy.
Participation and decisions are democratic. Individuals plug in where they can contribute the most, and take the initiative where they see a way to improve results. Communities support each other and coordinate with those who share their goals, and dismiss those that don't. There is no hierarchy that stifles innovation, no profit motive that stifles fairness, and no bureaucracy that stifles effectiveness. And as even news outlets that have traditionally opposed Occupy Wall Street such as The New York Times, the BBC, Financial Times, and the New York Daily News have admitted: it works.
In contrast, the incompetence of the State and hierarchal aid organizations in response to Sandy have been and continue to be on display in the communities hardest hit by the storm, and on the pages of the nation's papers. They provide a status quo "control" group to Occupy Sandy's mutual aid "experiment." For many people the experiment is working.
Over the next week I'll be writing a series where I detail my continuing experiences over the last month as an organizer with Occupy Sandy.
Adam Jung documents his experiences with Occupy Sandy on a Tumblr at Dispatches from Staten IslandSuggest a correction