On December 15, 2012 to expose the lack of aide received from anyone (other than volunteers) a day of action was organized by OccupySandy to illustrate the damage left by Hurricane Sandy in various locations hardest hit; the location I chose to document was Staten Island.
At noon a community discussion and speak-out took place where residents of the boroughs voiced their feelings of abandonment. The photo below is the gathering in Staten Island.
There were 16 people who spoke at this gathering not including the host (who also spoke briefly of his own experiences and relationship with the Staten Island community). There were so many experiences and grievances voiced during this 40-minute period that to try and summarize them into one short statement would be improper. Video clips of each speech can be found below. What can be mentioned briefly is how each speaker’s story was as meaningful and heartbroken as the next.
Here are some of the signs which could be found at the community gathering. The group also toured devastated houses with them.
Following the community experiences we took a tour of different notable areas in Staten Island. Some tour stops were more harshly effected than others. In each location though. The damage was obvious and crippling to anyone who had once lived there.
This was a sign on the woman’s lawn:
Following this house the tour continued and we happened by a gentleman standing outside his parents home at 588 Greeley taking a break from repair work. He was happy to answer questions and talk about his experiences.
Once again Lauren asked a lot of questions and the gentleman was happy to answer. Following the interview Lauren expressed her reactions to what we were all witnessing. You can find Lauren’s channel at“jnl_live”. The twitter for this channel is “@jak_nlauren”.
The tour continued on to another house. This resident’s name was Jimmy.
Next we entered his house to make note of construction efforts. This was the first house where we were asked to don construction masks prior to entering.
The tour now continued to a residence owned by a woman named Lynn.
The tour now continued. It was at this point I couldn’t help recalling the news coverage I’d already seen about Sandy and its aftermath. Unless I had just not seen the correct sources (which is entirely possible) the majority of what I’d heard was just about power outages and New Jersey residents. I really could not recall any news discussing what I was bearing witness to at the present moment.
At the corner an OccupySandy activist, Amin, was using his hand to show people the height of the water level against a store window.
The next stop on the tour was something which bore no resemblance to anything I could imagine. It could have been a store, or a house, or store with an apartment. Lauren had some background and discussed what she could of the some of the cleanup efforts around this location.
Next to that was this home:
The next stop was 84 Patterson Avenue. Here the owner stood on the steps leading to her front door and explained her experience when Sandy struck. She compared her experience with Sandy to her experience with Hurricane Irene; she told us about how her car ended up on the stoop; she said her husband’s car was seen “swimming away” and they found it on a tree later on; she also talked about the Con Edison bill and how there was a $38 restoration fee for damaged equipment.
Next we went inside 84 Patterson Avenue. This house was not nearly as bad as others we’d seen and much of the furniture was still in tact. The house was raised so really only the basement would have gotten flooded. The owner did however give us an idea of where the water had risen to in her house.
Amidst the heartbreak of each of these homes one of the nicest things about 84 Patterson Avenue were the dogs. Granted it’s not really an effect of the hurricane but when you open the door to someone’s house and you see excited dogs barking it’s very hard to not crack a smile.
On the way to the next house the owner discussed some of the warnings they’d received prior to Hurricane Sandy. Many residents had decided not to leave their homes because, as this gentleman said, they had only received warning of a storm surge (not necessarily flooding). As a result many were unprepared.
The speaker from the last video, Anthony Muzio, welcomes us to his house. He tells us how he was denied flood insurance because, among other things, the first floor of his home was considered a basement. This classification may have made sense if the front entrance to his house did not require you to walk down stairs to a lower-than-ground-level elevation. What was considered the basement was actually the place where the living room and bedroom were located.
Next we went inside Mr. Muzio’s home to document the extent of the damage. We were asked to not film the construction crews out of respect.
Note how you can see through the ceiling, from the first floor, to the second floor.
Now the tour continued to the last home. At the curb outside was this pile of debris:
The owner then answered some questions about her experiences before, during, and after the Hurricane. She described who had been helpful, who had given them the run-around and what they had to work with. She discussed how insurance companies gave her about $30,000 for repairs which would likely cost much more. She also described how the people who’d been the most helpful in Sandy’s aftermath were retired firefighters, mostly paying out of pocket, to help victims get through the hard times.
This concluded the tour and allowed for a break in the day. Many now went to get something to eat at the OccupySandy relief hub on Olympia Boulevard.
The next Sandy-related event happened later, at 5pm, outside Mayor Bloomberg’s house at 79th St. and 5th Ave. This would be a demonstration to demand the Mayor act and come to the aide of the devastated residents of the city he presided over. On my way there I ran into a few demonstrators who dressed up in Tyvek suits to demonstrate the health hazards of mold in the Sandy affected areas of New York.
Now the group in Tyvek suits headed to the demonstration area. On the way there we ran into a group of people who were likely residents of the upscale neighborhood. They addressed us humorously and asked “Are you against Tyvek?” We proceeded to explain that no we weren’t and that it was actually a really serious situation. As we left this exchange occurred:
Demonstrator: Ma’am have you ever been to the Rockaways?
Neighborhood resident: No, but I’ve *flown* over it.
The group walked for several blocks and then were told they had to make a short detour to the next block as Mayor Bloomberg’s block had been barricaded off due to the protest.
A little more walking was not too inconveniencing and soon we arrived at the demonstration.
Here is a video of the crowd at 79th Street and 5th Avenue. Some chants include “Bloomberg, don’t forget. Rockaway was the hardest hit.” Another chant was “Bloomberg, don’t forget, Staten Island was also hit.”
After a few minutes of chanting mic-checks began. The first mic-check was from an OccupySandy organizer who discussed the causes of Hurricane Sandy, its outcomes, and who could potentially benefit from it (namely, Disaster Capitalists).
Following this Judy Gonzalez from the New York State Nurses Association mic-checked. She spoke of the lack of supplies and overall carelessness of the Mayor.
As the demonstration remained at this intersection honks of support were heard from trucks and cars alike. As there were more than 100 people participating in this picket it did slow down at certain points. Also, when the Rude Mechanical Orchestra started performing a small crowd did gather around them to enjoy the music. Due to this small crowd the police gave a warning about blocking pedestrian traffic. The circular picket continued slowly but tensions did not drop between the two groups who had, since the start of the Occupy Movement, often been at odds with one another.
For the sake of comparison an observation is now in order. I was able to very easily move through the crowd at the time, I can vouch for the fact that pedestrian traffic was not obstructed. Was it crowded? Yes. Was it crowded to the point of anything worse than Times Square? No at all. In fact here is a random YouTube clip of people crossing a street in Times Square with Red Stairs in the background.
Though the police warning for pedestrian traffic did dull the mood briefly the atmosphere was regained when the Rude Mechanical Orchestra began playing again. At the 3:15 mark a protester read off a call to Bloomberg. It stated how, if proper aide was not given to Hurricane Victims by December 31, 2012 another demonstration would come to the Mayor’s doorstep demanding action and accountability.
Then the dispersal came. At the 1:45 mark you see the first arrest from behind a line of Police Officers. A minutes later you find the crowd walking away from the area. Then at the 3:50 mark you see the White Shirt on duty point out cameraman Jak of Jnl_live for arrest. The arrest proceeds in the middle of the street, blocking vehicular traffic, after the demonstrators were just instructed not to block pedestrian traffic. As can be expected this caused a good deal of resentment from the protesters. However, what needs to be acknowledged is the focus never changed from Sandy victims.
I had to archive the last video after the arrest. The push back however did not cease. Watch the rest of it here.
After pushing the group across the street to the Central Park side of 5th Avenue a line of police remained to prevent anyone from crossing back. At the 0:36 mark the camera settles on the line of officers.
As we stood there some reprimanded the officers. These reprimands however were still focused around victims of Hurricane Sandy. Just now instead of being angered with Bloomberg directly, though the Mayor’s inaction had not left anyone’s mind, the disapproval was directed towards Police Officers who had followed orders to disperse a peaceful protest. One where the only thing being requested was for help to be given to victims of Hurricane Sandy who could not be present themselves. Though accurate and important correlations may have been drawn between Hurricane Sandy and the wealthiest 1%, this demonstration was about one thing and one thing only: Sandy victims are desperate for help from a city which seems to have given them the cold shoulder.
In my mind, after this protest the city reached a new low. The fact always remains any demonstration would disperse on its own with no police interaction. No one that night was looking to set up an Occupation at 79th St. and 5th Ave. All they wanted was to ask for help for others. Though I might just be jaded at this point I likely would have just rolled my eyes had the police done nothing more than to disperse the picketing crowd. 2 arrests were made though (one of a livestreamer) at a demonstration which, unlike others, did not address economic injustice or problems with government corruption. It really left a sour taste and was a distinctively bad reflection upon the City of New York. A city which is already looked at with growing skepticism as the events of the past year and 3 months have exposed a great many more problems than were previously recognized.
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