Interview with two Occupy Sandy New Jersey organizers
Occupy Sandy New Jersey Organizers
Interviewer: Max Liboiron
Interviewer: Okay, if you could start by saying and spelling your name for the record, and then what your affiliation as far as Sandy goes was, that would be great.
Nate: My name is Nate Kleinman, N-A-T-E-K-L-E-I-N-M-A-N. I’m an organizer with Occupy Sandy New Jersey. And I got involved because before that –and still I’ve been involved with InterOccupy.
Dylana: My name is Dylana Dillon, D-Y-L-A-N-A-D-I-L-L-O-N. And I’m also an organizer with Occupy Sandy.
Interviewer: Are you in New Jersey?
Dylana: Yes, primarily focused in New Jersey. Though I have trouble with the discerning titles. So I like to just say Occupy Sandy.
Interviewer: Okay. Can you guys start by just telling me what your sort of experience of dealing with Sandy was? Either your own personal one or via Occupy Sandy?
Dylana: Well, it’s been…it’s been a really interesting journey for me. I haven’t–I’m from the East Coast but I haven’t lived on the East Coast in three years. I’ve been living abroad. And so I came back, and then shortly thereafter, the storm hit. And I was up in Vermont. So my initial response was ‘I got to get down there and do something and help out and jump right in.’ So it was a very kind of crisis mode from the very beginning, I think, getting swept up in a lot of the media stuff and then immediately connecting with the Occupy folks who I had never worked with before and never been a part of but had been really–I have a lot of friends in the movement and was really interested in how this all came to be and how Occupy Sandy kind of rose to the top of being the first responders in and after the storm. So I came down and just started volunteering. And then because I had flexibility–have sort of flexibility to be able to be in different locations, I’ve just been roving and helping out as much as I possibly can since the beginning.
Interviewer: What do you mean when you say swept up by media stuff? What do you mean media stuff?
Dylana: Well, meaning that, you know, I think the storm and weather events in general has become increasingly kind of broadcast and increasingly dramaticized–dramatized as of late. And so in saying that I mean that because I wasn’t on the ground and the hurricane wasn’t very bad in Vermont other than watching and seeing the sky moving really, really rapidly, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I knew that it was going to be big. And so–and that’s what the media was saying as well.
Interviewer: So is it fair to say that the media’s sort of what gave you the impetus to, like, get down there and do things, or–?
Dylana: I think it’s probably more fair to say that I was–I would say it was an equal combination between understanding and having, you know–predicting that a storm like this was going to happen and doing–you know, being involved in the environmental movement and understanding the projections that have been coming for a long time, so understanding the reality of it. A combination between that, the media, and then my need to, like, get out and get something done as well. I’d say it was a combination of all of those things.
Interviewer: And was the media mostly social media or mainstream media that you were looking at?
Interviewer: Like Facebook?
Dylana: Yeah, social media, but also–yeah. And talking to people–I mean I have family down here and a lot of friends. So, a combination.
Nate: So I was involved in Occupy Philly since October, 2011. And I got involved in Occupy Wall Street as well. And I was one of the early…early folks involved with InterOccupy, which is a communications platform for the movement. I also have a lot of friends here in New York, and a lot of them who are InterOccupy people were some of the first people who started Occupy Sandy, who got in their cars and friend’s cars and drove to the Rockaways and drove to Red Hook when–right after the storm. And I was reading–I read about the reports from them, and I was excited about what they were doing. I live in Philadelphia, and the storm–the eye of the storm kind of went right over Philadelphia, but we didn’t have very much damage at all. I knew that Jersey had gotten slammed, but most of the barrier islands and the parts that were easily accessible from Philadelphia were closed. I was hearing from the media that you couldn’t get onto the islands, the police were turning people back, even the people who live there. And they had fully evacuated most of those…most of those islands. And you know, they said New Jersey was–there were four-hour gas lines, and it was just ‘don’t go there,’ which would have been my first inclination. But some friends of mine with InterOccupy got in touch with me and said ‘hey, we really could use…we could really use some help with New Jersey. We know you guys are in Philadelphia and you’re close.’ They knew that I knew how to work the conference call technology. And, um, so we called a conference call. And it was an Occupy Sandy, New Jersey call about a week after the storm. And there were seventy people on that first call, from across the state, from New York, from Philadelphia, from Michigan and North Carolina. And everybody just wanted to…wanted to help. And we decided on that call that we were going to have calls every night at nine o’clock until we…until we needed less calls, basically. So it was a few more days before I actually got to the shore, and then really a few weeks before I got to some of the…some of the harder hit communities, and the ones that are not at the shore as well, trailer parks in Bergen County and some of the Bayshore towns in Monmouth County. So being involved on the, the conference call level and from Philadelphia, I pretty quickly got a broad understanding of what was going on in New Jersey from all of the–from having different people on the call every night. The numbers went down from that peek of seventy, on the first call. And we settled in for the first few weeks at probably twenty-five or thirty people on most of the calls. After a few weeks we…we…we settled on three calls a week. And then, and now we’re still having one call a week every Monday. And that’s become the decision-making body for Occupy Sandy, New Jersey, which has increasingly become more like an organization than just a…just a disconnected network. We’ve got different working groups like an advocacy working group, PR working group, finance working group, um..
Nate: Outreach. Case management. And a lot of our–a lot of the people who were on the first call have, um, have stuck with it and are part of this core of organizers up and down the state. We–yeah, that’s probably a good start.
Dylana: She only asked you about the beginning. [laughter]
Nate: That’s true.
Interviewer: So can you tell me about sort of what your main tasks were at the beginning and how those have changed over time since it’s now, you know, April sixteenth and you’re still having calls? So clearly you’re–
Dylana: And what I was going to say too is, just to make a full circle, is I actually–I came down originally and was working and volunteering in New York. And through a friend of a friend, I found out about the conference calls. And the conference calls was what—that brought me on board and to get to New Jersey. So it’s a key part of our organizing work.
Nate: And it’s been a key for outreach too, because the calls are all public. We’ve had…we’ve had organizations from AmeriCorps to–
Nate: –FEMA to the teacher’s union, to Sierra Club getting on the calls to tap into what we’ve been– we’ve been doing.
Dylana: You should get on some of them.
Interviewer: What are the calls…what are the calls mostly for and about? What do they…what do they do?
Dylana: [sighs] It varies. We’ve been trying to generate structure. Like he said, through doing the working groups, we’ve been trying to filter a lot of the work. I’ll first speak to your previous question about the tasks. I think it will help sort of show the progression. I mean initially, when I came down, I took a bus to Philadelphia. And they were like, ‘we have a warehouse hub. We need people to come here and help organize’. So I went down. And the TWU had given us a–their warehouse space to use in Philadelphia as a distribution hub. So at the beginning, it was primarily receiving donations and getting them out to who need–and distributing them. And also receiving volunteers and directing volunteers to the locations that we knew needed help the most. And that’s still happening. I guess at the beginning we were kind of referring to it a lot as triage work although I’m not sure how I feel about that term. And really just kind of scrambling to get people whatever they needed and, you know, resources as well. And I think the system that we used to organize is a database, which we are still not completely on the same page about, but kind of generating resources and also generating directories of people with resources and people with skills as one of the main things that we’ve been able to do that’s really valuable and has started since the beginning. So just really matching…matching people in need with resources. And at the beginning–and it still is the beginning. In a lot of ways, it was very much, you know, kind of just scrambling to be like, okay, donation– And people were giving so much stuff, clothing, I mean tractor trailers of clothing ,like, every other day. So much clothing, food, cleaning supplies–I guess those are probably the main thing. I remember thinking back, and it seems so long ago, but like one of my quotes when an interviewer came to–when a reporter came to interview us at the warehouse is like–what was it? “We need drywall, not deodorant.” [laughter] Or something like that, because it was just, you know–we were recognizing the scale of it and trying to match the needs as best we can. And you can speak more to that, Nate.
Nate: Yeah, she mentioned the database. Oh, for–and TWU is the Transportation Workers Union, the Philadelphia local. They gave us their space probably three…three weeks after the storm or so. And, uh. We’re not using that space anymore. We don’t have a warehouse in Philadelphia because it was too far away and it wasn’t working out. But yeah, that database we use is called the CiviCRM, and it’s an open-source database system. What do they call that? Constituent something Resource Management or something. I’m not a tech person.
Interviewer: It’s like small “civi,” big “CRM?”
Interviewer: I’ve seen it, yeah.
Nate: And CiviCRM I got–I became familiar with it because we used it for InterOccupy. That was how we kept track of our email list, how we sent blast emails. And the InterOccupy team very rapidly focused all of our energy on Sandy. So we had people in Buffalo, New York and in Indiana who were– and Michigan who were reading the inbox, the Occupy Sandy inbox that was–that all the traffic from the website was going to. And there were times when, I mean, when the website, the InterOccupy website was getting more traffic in a day than we had gotten in the entire existence of the organization in over a year. So the–there was an urgent need to figure out how we were going to keep track of all of the volunteers and also of, um, survivors that we met. And so one of the things that we did really early on that I was involved with was develop a needs assessment form that took a couple of different forms early on. And we put that on the website. And we had a paper copy as well that we got out into the field. And so people were…people were out collecting that information from people and then entering it directly into the website so it would go into the database. And that was our way of keeping track of needs. And then because we had–we had been using it already to keep track of volunteers, folks with Occupy Sandy, New York had already set up a volunteer form online. The volunteer list really quickly got up to, like, thirty thousand people. Because they were able to check boxes with what skills they had, we were able to connect volunteers with certain skills to people who needed help.
Dylana: Right, and also filter it, be able to search …filter for certain skill sets.
Interviewer: How did you determine what counted as a need or what counted skill in the early, sort of, forms?
Nate: Most of the needs were things like “clean up,” where people needed someone to muck out their house or they needed transportation. They needed to get–they were displaced and they needed to get to a doctor’s appointment back where they lived or something like that. So it was a lot of that just trying to…trying to pair people up. And a lot of it was trying to just figure out how to make this system work. Because it was–because it’s complicated when you’re dealing with–we had hundreds of people in the database, in the needs database, and then thousands of people in the volunteer database. We didn’t have enough people out there doing needs assessment. And we needed–we also realized there were a lot of challenges in needs assessment in general. We couldn’t get to–for all the people who were displaced, we didn’t know where they were. We tried to get lists of hotels where displaced people were, but FEMA wasn’t sharing that. And so a lot of it was kind of happening at an ad hoc basis. And so–because we were–so many of us were in Philadelphia or in New York and trying to kind of cover the entire state of New Jersey, we ended up only being able to focus on the places where we had people on the ground who were regularly participating in the calls. And so our efforts became focused in those…in those areas. And it’s really about four counties in New Jersey. And they are some of the hardest hit counties but there’s definitely been gaps from the beginning. I mean this was a massive disaster, and it’s still— We’re still uncovering communities that haven’t been visited. Just last week, we were at a couple of trailer parks in–outside of Wildwood, New Jersey all the way south in Cape May. And these were places where people had two feet of water. It wasn’t–you know, it wasn’t massive destruction, but they’re still living in moldy…moldy trailers, getting sick. And nobody has ever knocked on their door until…until people from Occupy Sandy came. And one of our organizers got–was the person who actually got FEMA to go knock on doors themselves. But FEMA has gone once since then, knocked on doors. Plenty of people weren’t home. And so some of those people haven’t applied for their benefits, and the deadline is now coming up May first. So it’s a constant scramble to make sure people are applying to FEMA, applying to the Small Business Administration for a loan, which they need to get denied in order to access state grants later. And that just brings up–I mean a big part of our role has been just trying to wrap our heads around the official response, the official process because it’s such a bureaucratic mess. It’s almost impossible for people who are kind of trying to watch objectively to wrap our heads around. I can only imagine how impossible it is for people who are suffering from the trauma of the storm and trying to get their lives back in order.
Dylana: Yeah, and I think that kind of summarizes where we’re at now compared to where we were five months ago, in terms of really just trying to get to the core of a lot of these processes, understand them, and either be liaisons, you know, or facilitators for communities and survivors, and, um, just trying to strategize and figure out, you know, what the best way forward is and how we can communicate that, develop proposals, develop platforms to be able to make sure that, you know, everybody’s needs are taken into account, and that–you know, we’re just being innovative about the solutions and…and making sure that everybody is getting their fair share and also that, you know, we’re rebuilding sustainably and making sure that it’s all part of the process, so. And it’s interesting to me, you know, as an activist coming into a situation like this, which involves many–a lot of the same issues that we deal with all the time, but based around–it’s just– It’s a combination of so many things, all in this very specific kind of bubble that is the official response in dealing with disaster recovery work, and also so new to everybody that’s doing it. I mean even the folks from the quote unquote “official response,” haven’t really had to do it in this part of the world before. So it’s a lot of initial conversations about systemic issues that we’ve all been talking about for a really long time, on many different levels. So we think for Occupy Sandy and our role as organizers, there’s like being the liaisons and sort of the middlemen for a lot of these conversations is a big part of what we’re doing, yeah.
Interviewer: Can you expand on what some of these system issues that you mentioned are, that have going on?
Dylana: [sigh] Oh. Yeah. Well, unemployment–huge one, people not having jobs. Health issues–really serious health issues. Nate mentioned the trailer parks. I think out of eight of the people that we visited, one was on dialysis, one person’s liver was failing, kidney failure–
Nate: Congestive heart failure.
Dylana: Congestive heart failure.
Dylana: Cancer. Like everywhere we go, there are really serious health issues that have only been exacerbated by the storm and living in mold and not having all the proper things that we need. So the health issues, unemployment. I mean…
Nate: Mental health.
Dylana: Mental health issues.
Nate: Substance abuse.
Dylana: Substance abuse.
Interviewer: Has debt been coming in at all or is that part of–?
Dylana: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, that’s a really good point actually because the way that the FEMA applications and the way that the money is being distributed is through the SBA loans, the Small Business Association. And so yes–
Dylana: Administration. Isn’t that what I said?
Dylana: Administration. So yeah, I think that’s something that really needs to be looked at because people don’t want to apply for a loan because they’re already so far in debt. And I actually haven’t had a specific conversation about that with anybody but I’m sure that that is a big reason why a lot of folks aren’t applying. And that’s the only way to get benefits, and the only metric that the government is using to gage who is out there, what they need. And so it’s really backwards.
Nate: Right now, the SBA person we talked to said that it’s sixteen percent of people who–of the people who have applied with FEMA, only sixteen percent of the eligible people have applied for the SBA loan. So there’s eighty-four percent of people out there who need to apply for these SBA loans. They’re not – they’re not going to. And that’s…that’s just of the people who they know are eligible. Then there’s people–if you actually look at the bulk numbers, it’s about–it’s slightly less than ten percent of all the people who’ve applied to FEMA for aid have applied for an SBA loan. And we’re–we keep hearing that the state of New Jersey is going to use the SBA applications to determine who gets…who gets the state grants when they start giving those out. And so if you don’t get a denial letter from the SBA, if you don’t apply for an SBA loan, you’re not going to…you’re not going to even be eligible for a state grant. So we’re looking at ninety one percent of people who’ve applied to FEMA will be ineligible for any further aid potentially. And, um. And yeah, it’s a real–and I’m sure that there’s some–that for some people it has to do with debt– I’ve had people tell me that they’re not interested in a loan because they can’t…because they can’t go into debt anymore. So they don’t think they should even apply.
Nate: And you’ve got some FEMA people telling people that they should–that ‘oh, you’re not going to qualify, so don’t bother applying.’ And then you have the SBA people saying ‘everyone should apply because you’re not going to be able to get grants later.’ So one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. And you know, the flood lights are gone. The media glare has shifted. And so it’s hard to get these stories out to a wide audience. And it really takes one on one communication with people, knocking on doors. And the government is just not doing it. They may have the resources but they’re not…they’re not expending them on actual outreach to people. They are still relying on people to come to them. And so many people just, for many, many systemic reasons, are not.
Dylana: Yeah. And I think also, you know, the main one is just–you can call this systemic or not, but just the dependency on external sources that I mean everybody that we’ve seen pretty much, that’s been the most affected by the storm, it’s because they didn’t have access to food or energy or healthcare or support systems in any capacity, and are just really reliant on external sources to come in and fill those gaps after the storm hit, so.
Nate: And one of the other big problems that we keep running into is displaced people. And I know it’s a problem in New York as well. In Jersey, when people were displaced from their communities, if there wasn’t–if the hotels nearby were full or there wasn’t available temporary housing, they were sent very far away from their homes. Some people were sent an hour or two away with– their cars were destroyed or they didn’t have a car. And so they’re just–they’ve essentially been dumped. And people are…people are moving to new communities where they weren’t living before, hours away, and in other states in some cases. But we’ve been dealing mostly with the people who have been internally displaced in New Jersey. And there’s no–it really seems like there’s no process for it. The only kind of aid that they’re getting is the transitional shelter, the TSA assistance.
Dylana: Which expires May first.
Nate: And that–yeah, that’s going to expire May first. But there’s been so many deadlines that keep passing. So people are constantly living on edge that they’re going to be…that they’re going to be kicked out of the hotel that they’ve been staying in. People are cooking all of their meals in microwaves. Just there’s absolutely no stability. And when they…when they’re finished, especially people who are renters, they have no…no home to go to. The landlord has, in many cases, told them that they’re not–there’s no place for them anymore, that they’re still fixing it up, or that they’re selling it. And in this trailer park in Holgate in Long Beach Island where I think a hundred forty families lived. And they–there was so much devastation there that they were just told ‘we’re closing.’ This is—‘we’re not…we’re not going to be a trailer park anymore.’ And I just heard yesterday that the property was sold for forty million dollars.
Dylana: Yeah, so control of land, another huge thing that we’re trying to advocate on and maybe hopefully develop some community land trusts for the future. And what was the other thing that I wanted to make a point about? Oh, the lack of public transportation. There has been no increase in public transportation. In fact, it’s been the opposite, which has created–a lot of people have lost their jobs. We’re working with the community up in Queensburgh, New Jersey. And because a lot of people commute into the city and to New York to work and couldn’t, many, many, many of them lost their jobs. There was nothing put in place to make sure–I mean you can take a boat over. You know what I mean? We have boats in this country. Like, — its just– the lack of innovation from the government and the lack of–I mean the army hasn’t been present. Like nobody has been on the ground. So it’s just–it’s really unbelievable.
Nate: Yeah, and now almost six months after the storm some of these communities are still–you walk into them and it’s as if the storm happened yesterday except that there’s sand drifts that have gone into the buildings now and you can tell that it’s been a little while.
Dylana: Yeah. And in New Jersey, because a lot of the communities on the shore are summer communities, it’s like a new wave is just starting to hit right now because everybody’s scrambling to open for the tourism season. So A, that creates a problem because it’s going to kick all everybody out of the hotels that’s been living their temporarily. And also, landlords, many of whom–I mean most of the population doesn’t live here in the winter. So people are going to be coming back, opening their houses for the first time. We had just saw that the other day. We went into this guy’s property, he’s a — He’s a man that lives in Delaware–came back. Really one of the worst cases of mold I’ve seen in his basement in an apartment building. So this is affecting everybody in the community. People are going to be opening these doors. These mold spores are going to be flying everywhere. And I think that’s something that’s definitely a little bit different than the New York situation.
Interviewer: I’ve been hearing a lot of people–that it’s not going to be different because a lot of people left and went far away. And now that it’s warm enough, they’re like okay, now I won’t freeze to death ‘cause it’s not winter, now they’re coming back and the same thing’s happening.
Dylana: Yeah. Right.
Nate: And there’s still–there’s so many places where people still can’t come back, like places where the–where no one’s allowed to live because the natural gas lines haven’t been repaired and they’re not letting people in until they fix them. Places on the Delaware Bay shore, which is really far from the main devastation, where bulkheads were destroyed, and so houses that were already on stilts, even if the houses survived and they weren’t damaged, they’re not connected to the land anymore.
Nate: So people can’t…people can’t get into them. And I was just in this community that I hadn’t been to yet called Bay Point, that’s a really small community. And it was–I had no idea but it was just abandoned. There was nobody there. And it’s a poor community. So it’s not like some of the places–some of the richer places in New Jersey, there’s still police cars guarding the roads all the time where most of the destroyed houses are to prevent looting. But in some of these poor communities, there’s just… nothing. Anyone can go in and walk around.
Dylana: Yeah. Just one more thing. I mentioned dependency before. But I didn’t say specifically the dependency on fossil fuels is one of the biggest issues, in my opinion, obviously. [laughter] And many of our opinions. So I just wanted to say that before I forgot. Can I–is there a bathroom close?
Interviewer: Yes. It’s a little complicated to get to.
Dylana: Okay, sorry.
Nate: It’s going to be in the transcript.
Dylana: I don’t care.
[laughter] [quiet directions] [long silence]
Interviewer: Alright, we’ll do a little one on one while she’s–
Nate: Can I really take books from that…from that shelf?
Interviewer: Yes. You’re welcome to it if that’s what makes you happy. Yeah.
Nate: It does.
Interviewer: Excellent. So can I ask a little about the data stuff, because you sound like you’re more involved in the data stuff than she is? A little bit? Okay.
Nate: Yeah, she’s gotten as involved pretty much.
Interviewer: Okay. So where does this data go? How do you…how do you verify it? How long is it around? What is the data supposed to tell you about the shape of the crisis?
Nate: We’ve not exam–the data that we have is so spotty it hasn’t even really occurred to us to examine it kind of holistically and to look at it as a data set. We’re really looking at it as individual cases, a bunch of individual cases in there.
Interviewer: It’s like a collection of case studies as opposed to–?
Nate: Yeah. And it’s for case management really. We have case management software in the database. We haven’t really been using it. We’ve kind of been figuring out our own case management style for it. The official response has–they use this system called CAN, Coordinated … Assistance Network or something. And that’s a Red Cross-implemented program. It’s a database that they create. And all of the agencies that do case management all can tap into it and add information that everybody gets. But it’s been months. And in some places, they’re just now starting to use that database. So for months we even had a lot of interest from local long-term recovery groups in the places that set up those groups early and were unable to get access to the Red Cross database early enough. They were really interested in using the Civi database that we had. But some were nervous because we were Occupy and they didn’t want to trust data with us. And we were already building our own database ourselves. And so some of these communities we go–now we go to the long-term recovery groups. And they’re talking about–you know, they’re talking about the couple of dozen cases that they have. And we have—we say, well, we’ve got a couple of hundred cases already. And…and so that data is–
Interviewer: [to Dylana, who has discovered the free book pile] It’s not as good as it looks, by the way. Look at the table of contents. Sorry. Go ahead.
Nate: So that database is on–it’s online. And anybody who we trust, we give access to only people who are going to be using it. It’s–we keep the data. The data’s been pretty separate. So most of the people who have access to the New Jersey data only have access to New Jersey data. And yeah, it really has just been used as a way for people who in the field to keep track of all of the data and for people who may encounter our website, read about Occupy Sandy, and look up the website–can click a link and input the data themselves. And yeah, it hasn’t been–we haven’t used it as much as we would like. And again, it’s been a matter of not having enough people, not having enough bodies on the ground to do needs assessment, and then the people being scattered around. So–and then also reluctance on the part of some organizers on the ground, especially some of the local organizers who are uncomfortable with technology and are getting the data but keeping it on paper themselves and not entering it. So sometimes it takes awhile for us to get it into the system. But as long–we’re comfortable with that as long as they are on the ground dealing with the needs as they arise.
Interviewer: Okay. I just want to make sure I’m not– Okay, so there’s two more main topics. Well, actually, before we move into that, so you guys have already been talking a bit about the temporal extent of the storm and how you’re just beginning, right, even though the government is like, May first, you’re done. Can you guys talk about maybe how you see the extent of the crisis going? Like will there be an end? Will there be a recovery? Is “recovery” a horrible word? Like what…what do you guys think about that sort of topic?
Nate: It’s a long process.
Dylana: I don’t–I prefer– I don’t know. We’ve been talking a lot about recovery as… And I mean one of–our main thing is called “Community Recovery Network,” building a Community Recovery Network.
Interviewer: Like a working group?
Dylana: No. It’s kind of–I mean, what would you say? I guess it’s almost our mission in a way, although we haven’t really defined any of that, like solidified it, but yeah. You know, we saying working to build a community recovery network.
Nate: And it’s a mutual aid network really to–
Nate: –to build a network that…that will allow people to drive their own recovery process and not be reliant on the government or the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, because the skills and the generosity exists in the community to make it–to really make things better than they were before the storm. It’s a matter of convincing people that they can do it and that they should do it. And then having the people on the ground speaking for themselves and saying what they need and requesting what they need, and actually working with the people who can provide it to make sure that they’re getting what they want and not getting–
Dylana: Right, and just–
Nate: –forty million dollar developments instead of a nice place to live.
Dylana: And having–I mean I know this wasn’t the question, what we provide, but just to finish that thought, you know, Occupy Sandy provides a pretty cushioning network. We’re a vast network of people. So we can really kind of advocate…advocate well for some of this stuff just naturally by the nature of our network. I think though in terms of what’s the future has in store, I mean, I’m really worried about the progression in a lot of ways. You mentioned developers; that’s a big, big concern that a lot of these people–you know, we’ve seen it in history all over the world. After a natural disaster, tsunamis, etc, all of the folks who live there, especially in areas of tourism, get kicked the heck out. And up go new hotels. And we already are seeing that happening, so. I don’t think there’s any way to actually define it. I mean I think–yeah, I think it’s really tough. I think recovery is weird word. Resiliency is good, is a good word to use. And measuring that, I mean I see–I guess I see the recovery effort and it kind of serving as a platform to create a lot of the change starting from the grassroots up, that will prevent some of these atrocities from happening in the future. But it’s tough to predict. We’ll see. I mean.
Nate: I think a lot of us in Occupy Sandy have been viewing this as a classic crisis slash opportunity. And it’s…it’s an opening for so many conversations about climate change, about economic justice, about food justice. And I think dealing–using this storm and the resources that are coming and the opportunity to bring communities together towards a project of long-term recovery is a really…is a really unique opportunity. And we have the chance now to make a big difference, I think, to make–to really, yeah, to really use this time to help communities and help people in communities come together around a bigger…a bigger mission.
One of the things we’ve been starting to explore is helping to develop worker cooperatives because there are so many…there are so many unemployed people, so many people with skills who are ready to work but just nobody’s ready to hire. But they could be…they could be creating opportunities for themselves and for their communities. We’re starting to–now that it’s spring, we’ve really gotten…really gotten excited about agricultural projects. We’re–on Sunday, we’re putting in a sixty foot by sixteen foot community garden at a church in Queensburgh, where they’ve had a food pantry for months that’s–in order to supplement what they’re giving out because people are eating all of this horrible crappy packaged food instead of fresh local, organic vegetables. We have a possible opportunity to start a community farm somewhere inland, an area that’s not likely to be flooded, that wasn’t flooded, on a six-acre spread. And I’m really excited about the opportunity to give- to create jobs for people, to create a livelihood that doesn’t involve the existing system and doesn’t involve people being exploited by people, people making opportunities for themselves.
Dylana: Yeah. And I would sum that up by saying an opportunity for lots of projects is on the table. But it’s going to be a continuing battle to figure out how to funnel the resources into the right places.
Interviewer: Absolutely. Okay, so there’s two more points that our research interests that we haven’t hit on. I feel like class has been really implicit in a lot of what we’re talking about, but race and gender as categories of difference that are often systematically disenfranchised in disasters and other times. Have they been? Could you talk maybe about how you’ve noticed or not noticed race and class playing into this? Or sorry, race and gender playing into this?
Nate: Class and gender, you said?
Interviewer & Dylana: Race, class, gender.
Interviewer: I made a mistake. Got it straightened out.
Nate: Got it. Okay. Got it.
Dylana: Yeah, I mean we have honestly, as a group, been addressing them more internally. I mean the way that our dynamics have been working–it’s open to everybody. So everyone can come on board. But there are very specific kind of ethos behind Occupy and behind activism and within our groups. So we keep a lot of that in check and are constantly talking about it internally as a group. I think moving forward we’re hoping to be able to address that more in the form of conversations, workshops, trainings, etc. on the ground and, like, out with a lot of the communities that we have been working with. And in terms of observations, I mean… in what I’ve seen just in terms of having conversations about horizontal organizations or cooperatives, it’s hard for people to accept, in terms of race and class–race and gender– I think it’s been–I’ve noticed, like for example, when we have conversations about having a cooperative, right, people are like, “well who’s the boss?” Like “I want to be the boss.” You know, “I’m the boss.” And I’m just trying to think if I’ve seen that more in men or women. And to be honest, not really. Moving forward, I think it will, once we actually implement a lot of the stuff that we’ve been trying to for a long time, which is like assemblies and meetings and workshops. It’s certainly something that I’m sure will come up more. And I’m just trying to think–I mean I guess, yeah, like single moms have been an issue. I don’t know, Nate. What do you think? I’m trying to think of specific examples.
Nate: I–yeah, I’ve noticed there’s– From the beginning, there’s been a real disparity in the official response. And in the media attention –seems like based on race because you have in New Jersey some large urban areas like Newark and like Atlantic City where the population of people of color is much higher than in other parts of New Jersey. And the attention has been focused on the places where there was big dramatic-looking damage. And so there’s always been cameras at the shore where a bunch of white people live and rich people live.
Dylana: Primarily second homes.
Nate: And then there hasn’t been much attention to the places where people live in basement apartments that are flooded and lives were destroyed and they’re renters and they’ve got nothing now. But yeah, they come from already marginalized communities, and so there’s been very little attention paid there. And those are some of the places that Occupiers went to immediately after the storm and were much more involved in. But in a lot of those places we’ve had trouble…we’ve had trouble kind of establishing a foothold. I think in many ways it’s because the communities–because these communities were so ripped up by the storm. And they were relatively disconnected before the storm as well. And you have people who are forced to–people who have nowhere to go. And they can’t stay with a neighbor because all their neighbors are in the same situation. So they’re just going to totally random places. So the communities don’t have places to gather anymore and they’re just–they’re not communities anymore in some cases. There’s been–it seems as though there’s been less–there’d be a lot of less attention and energy paid toward immigrant communities as well. Although I’ve–in the last week I’d been to two long-term recovery group meetings, one in Cumberland County and one in Cape May County. And both of them–people who were heavily involved–and in one case the chair of the long-term recovery group mentioned the specific outreach that they were doing to immigrant communities and specifically to undocumented immigrants. And I was kind of surprised by that, but I think…I think people are recognizing that those communities were really hard hit and there’s extra challenges there because they’re unwilling or afraid to accept government help. So they know that they’re in a position where they can help these people without turning them in, and they’re not going to get in trouble for that. And I think some people are taking that seriously. There seems to be a lot of genuine energy there.
Dylana: I’ve also seen tension in responders, like groups working on the ground trying to figure out how to identify people that need support. And I have seen racial tensions in there too, like people coming in that may not have had a home that was flooded but really need food and really need support, and people being resistant to that because they’re doing Sandy relief work. And definitely some tones of racism in there. I mean I’ve heard people saying “they’re not storm victims; they’re just, you know, the Mexicans from around the way.” That kind of thing. And so it’s definitely a thing that needs to be addressed. And again, trying–positive. I think that this has opened an opportunity to have a lot of these conversations with people that might not normally be open to having them. Yeah.
Interviewer: Alright, in our last ten minutes, it’d be great if we could talk about climate change. These questions are couched for people in case they’re climate change deniers. But I’m assuming that you’re not based on what you’ve already said. But something like: okay, some people say that the storm was caused by climate change or at least we’ll have more storms like it going forward. What do you think about this? And also, if it is connected to climate change, how do we go forward to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t keep happening or keep getting worse or having the same effects as Sandy?
Dylana: We have to completely overhaul developments and get all of the money and resources to go towards green and sustainable developing and contractors and construction, and do training based around those for all of the people who are working on the ground.
Nate: We got to use this moment to mobilize a new community to advocate for massive change in policy and energy use across the country. Obviously, the U.S. uses so much more energy and contributes so much more than our share to green house gas emissions, yeah.
Dylana: Yeah. It’s been interesting. On this point as well, folks are definitely resistant to change. But I mean the best–I mean I do some environmental consulting. And the best argument and best thing we have is it actually ends up saving people resources, whether it be money or anything else. So I think making sure that we’re being strategic about our frameworks, how we’re framing the conversation, what it looks like, what the benefits for all parties are. And we’re currently trying to bridge this gap in terms of development. We’re actually meeting with somebody, a community planner and developer at three o’clock today to talk about how we can start to create some of these proposals that are going specifically towards green development, green building, and I think–well, I said before–overhaul the entire thing. Well, of course we’d all love for that to happen. I think that starting small, I mean, and looking at some of the smaller–we mentioned that mobile home park in Wildwood. And looking at each individual ecosystem and how it might best function in sort of using permaculture and other design systems to really figure that out. I think the opportunity is there because people need new homes and new structures, so. What was the original question?
Interviewer: Just how climate change fits into this giant mess moving forward.
Dylana: Yeah. So generating small scale community-based alternative energy systems like mini, hydro, solar so that people are not dependent on the grid, decentralizing completely for a lot of these places, using wave energy. I haven’t really seen anybody talking about that, so.
Nate: And yeah, part of that first question–I think so many people are increasingly aware that this is–we keep hearing people say that this is the new normal. And so they’re not just–so many people are not just trying to recover from the storm; they are trying to prepare for the next one at the same time. And whether it’s being mandated by government slash insurance companies or when it comes to raising homes up or just deciding where you’re going to live. And people in that trailer park were talking about how everybody’s planning to leave because they know…they know it’s going to happen again. And I think there’s some–there does seem to be an increasing awareness that this is sadly the new normal, and if anything, it’s likely to get worse.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you want to mention that I didn’t ask? Are there any other questions I should have asked?
Dylana: Well the role that, like, the insurance companies are playing within this all I think is really important because they are controlling a lot of what’s going on. And there’s complaints across the board, across all classes. And I think that’s something that we really need to advocate for and rethink in our systems. And yeah, there’s a lot to do. I mean building coalitions is really–and this is the main streak of every effort that we see and that we talked to, and everyone we talked to is just making sure everybody is building alliances and communicating and building this network and finding our own niches within it all so we can all kind of tackle part of it without duplicating efforts all over the place and just really making sure we’re being strategic about best practices and the best way to move forward and making sure that each community are the ones that are communicating that to begin with and just facilitating the conversation.
Nate: And we got to tell this story better.
Dylana: Telling the story better, yeah. We’ve been bad in Jersey about doing that.
Nate: We had our hands full.
Interviewer: Yeah, well thank you so much. I appreciate the talk. And I might follow up with, like, just email questions for things that I was thinking of that left my head. And once everything is transcribed, I will send it to you guys so you guys can look at it. First, I look at it to look at transcription errors and stuff like that. And then I’ll send it to you guys if you’re like, oh yeah, I just sent the whole thing up or, like, this should probably not be public or I didn’t really mean that or whatever.
Nate: Can we ask you a few questions?
Interviewer: Absolutely. I’ll interrupt the recorder for that.
Nate: We were curious. We were talking beforehand about whether…whether this– [phone rings] Sorry. That’s my phone telling me I have to move my car in twelve minutes. We’re a block away. Whether your research collective is interested in kind of collaborating with some…with some of the work that we’re doing and developing some…developing some research projects. We were thinking specifically about diet. That’s one we’re really interested in, the diet of people since the storm because it’s, from our experience anecdotally, it’s been terrible. Probably a lot of people had terrible diets before the storm, but I’m sure it’s–it seems like it’s only gotten worse.
Dylana: Or more generally just helping to do the needs assessment piece of it because we’ve been doing canvassing since the beginning. Other people are doing canvassing. But they’re looking at very specific metrics that aren’t addressing a lot of what we were talking about, the systemic things, things like climate change, and kind of gaging where people are at. And I know that’s what you all are doing. But it would be really great if maybe we could do a study on the ground. I know some other universities are doing, like, resiliency studies, very, very small scale though. And it might be interesting to kind of put something out through our network and throughout the state to kind of generate some results to see what the community needs are so we can know best where to focus efforts now.
Nate: Yeah, so much of what we’ve been asking has been geared towards the immediate triage, immediate needs. But we haven’t been–
Dylana: We have questions about environmental campaigns.
Nate: We do. Whether people want to engage in our activism, we do ask questions like that. But–
Dylana: Would you like to be put on the list?
Nate: But we haven’t been asking kind of the questions that would help…help drive long-term advocacy and things that could be…things that could be used as ammunition essentially in our…in our advocacy efforts and in grant applications in requesting funding for certain things. So yeah.
Dylana: It would just be really great for academia to fill that niche, because we don’t have the resources between the, you know, twenty-something core organizers that we have. So talking or really starting the conversation about developing some sort of research partnership or cooperation would be really awesome.
Interviewer: We are fundamentally interested in collaborations. There are only nine of us, and we all have specialties. And half of us are graduate students. And one of us is an undergraduate. They’re still doing coursework.
Interviewer: So we have different sort of abilities to do that. But what we can do is that we’re also a clearing house. Like people who are interested in Sandy come to us, and we have networks or alliances of other academics who we can always circulate calls and stuff like that as well.
Dylana: Exactly. And like in NYU, maybe in some of the different departments they would be interested in doing a qualitative study or something.
Interviewer: Yeah. We also–we have collaborated with someone–I think it was Occupy data people–on a survey. And basically our big intervention was people say, and do you have clean water? Do you have a job? Our intervention was, and for how long has that been the case so that we could turn from the triage to the systemic, recognizing that, like, trauma is ongoing and a storm is a punctuation mark. But yeah, I mean whenever we can help, we do try and help. And if we can’t help, we try to find people who can, so.
Dylana: Yeah, survey. That’s a good idea. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah, so we have something called a “salon,” which is a name that don’t–but that’s what they’re calling it.
Dylana: I love salon.
Interviewer: Oh, really? They make me feel like they’re snooty French people there. And sometimes there are. But where we try to get a bunch of people in the room who would benefit from concrete networking on projects from journalists to activists to academics.
Dylana: Great. Yeah, good.
Interviewer: So we’ll start–we’ll include you guys’ names on the next one, which will probably be after May once course work is done.
Dylana: Perfect. Okay, perfect. That sounds great.
Interviewer: Yeah, this is an ongoing issue.
Nate: Give that to Amanda.
End of recording
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