Local people know best what's going on on a local level. Federal agencies busy appropriating budgets and following protocol will never be able to compete against competent, well-organized local networks.
When Hurricane Sandy swept New York City earlier this month, people waited for Red Cross and FEMA to respond, seemingly under the impression that the right and responsibility to react to a disaster laid solely in the hands of the state. When it became clear that the urgent response needed was never coming, people who were already organized as part of ongoing anti-corporate and banking protests used their infrastructure to begin relieving affected people.
The Black Agenda Report's article, "The Hurricane and the Failed State," notes that:
So-called advanced nations are never so advanced that they can stand up to the forces of nature. New York and New Jersey are just the latest examples of seemingly safe and “developed” places which were laid low by a change in the weather. Then again, things outside of human control can expose what was already present but kept hidden. Hurricane Sandy showed us that our society is in reality, not advanced at all.The article continued:
After the hurricane struck the east coast, it was clear that the United States is nothing more than a failed state with a big military and a strong currency. There is nothing in place to help the masses of citizens in times of crisis. That is because the system isn’t meant to help them. It is meant to help certain individuals and corporations, and everyone else is on their own.
The charitable organization most people were directed to was the Red Cross. That same Red Cross did nothing after receiving millions of dollars in donations during hurricane Katrina, yet is still forced down Americans’ throats as the only solution in every catastrophe. The borough president of Staten Island, righteously angry about Red Cross inaction, used the occasion of a press conference to tell the public to stop giving them money.The article concludes by stating:
While the Red Cross collected more than $23 million dollars during a celebrity telethon but did nothing with the money, Occupy Sandy had no money yet managed to provide food, clothing and medical care to the hardest hit neighborhoods. The Occupy teams pumped water from damaged homes and even gave direction to the National Guard and FEMA teams. The least effective group got all the cash, but Occupy did the real work without help from the public or private sector.
The new lessons are the same as the old. Activism without acquiescence to political power can succeed in bringing about tremendous change. There will always be catastrophes but we should not expect a failed system to save us from them.The conclusion is particularly meaningful and should remind us all that ultimately we ourselves are the only ones who truly have our own best interests at heart - and the interests of our friends, families, and neighbors.
If ever a sentiment has been qualified by a real world example, the community response marshaled by the underfunded, underrated Occupy Sandy movement - working in the shadow of multi-million dollar federal agencies and international organizations - is it. Occupy Sandy's advantage was that despite the little resources they had, their intentions were genuine, their purpose was both urgent and personal, and the stakes were a community they themselves must live in and the benefits of getting it back up and running again as quickly as possible.
Whatever one may blame Hurricane Sandy on, or what the political beliefs are of Occupy Sandy may be, when the moment of truth came, they put politics aside, and successfully utilized pragmatism to solve urgent and overwhelming problems.
Whatever your organization may be, coming up with your own local contingency plans, as well as studying the successes of movements like Occupy Sandy, should become a priority. Because whatever the constant din of reassuring federal propaganda may have you believe, from New Orleans to New York, the real message is clear - get a plan, get a program, and do it yourself or it won't get done.