Interview with Rockaways hub volunteer & canvasing coordinator
Interview with Anonymous Rockaways hub volunteer & canvasing coordinator
Interviewer: Max Liboiron
Woman: [We went to] a church. And it was sort of right as it was becoming an Occupy Sandy hub. I was with three close friends. And because we had had a couple of days of experience canvassing, we kind of ended up starting to coordinate the canvassing. So it was like both: There were just a lot of donations there, and people were coming to get them. But then we were also doing canvassing of the neighborhood.
Interviewer: Okay. So can you tell me about your experience canvassing in the Rockaways?
Woman: The first few days were pretty intense and upsetting. You know, there was still a curfew. People were really scared. I guess the first few days with the Rockaway Youth Taskforce was probably in the mid-fifties of the Rockaways, so like the beach fifties, like those streets, which are a lot of high-rises, and then sort of like low-rise subsidized and public housing units. And there were rumors going around about people pretending to be from Con Ed coming in and stealing from people, and like attacking women. There were National Guard trucks in the streets, and a lot of people in really dark, wet apartments without much. I remember being struck that, — I spoke–knocked on the doors where it was– a couple of times young men, probably in the eighteen to twenty-four range, answered the door, and they were pretty scared. And I was kind of like, okay, if–you know what I mean? Like if young, dumb boys are scared, you know, like I–this seems pretty traumatic and scary. So yeah, I mean the Rockaway Youth Taskforce is a very organized, and they really knew the neighborhood they were in and sort of like–they were on it. When we got to [the church], it was sort of more of the same. A lot of the houses around there, like little bungalows, which had been really wiped clean during the storm–
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Woman: Like the damage to them was pretty surprising how intense it was. You know, having been in sort of the apartment buildings, there was water damage, but then going into these little houses that had actually had damage to their foundation, like broken wood everywhere, you know, all of that, was pretty surprising.
Interviewer: So were any of the rumors about Con Edison fakies ever substantiated?
Woman: I think it was once.
Woman: I’m not–I feel like I remember reading about it but I’m not sure.
Interviewer: Okay, like reading it in the press?
Woman: Yeah, yeah. And there was definitely, especially amongst volunteers who did not live in the Rockaways, people were like “it’s such a dangerous place. You know, like go out in pairs. Be careful.” I never felt that to be true. It seemed like there was kind of a feeling of storm panic and, almost like if I were going to be more critical about it, people sort of excited to, like, exoticize this place that they felt like it was really dangerous and, like, crazy. And like “we’re out here helping!” You know? But I mean I think other people felt scared, rightly or wrongly. And certainly, I think after a couple of weeks, I noticed that people we were talking to in their homes seemed less scared and more just like, you know, dealing with the problems that they were dealing with.
Interviewer: Was that a major difference between the Lower East Side and the Rockaways, was the fear part?
Woman: I think so. I mean like, you know, definitely walking–part of it was the stairwells that people were scared of. Which like, you know, anywhere in the world–like you know, in my friend’s apartment in a fancy building in Lower Manhattan, we were walking up and down twelve flights of pitch black stairs. You know, it’s not…it’s not the best feeling. [laughter]
Woman: And then, you know, you add–like if you’re in public housing, and the public housing on thirty probably hasn’t been taking very good care of them. So even before the storm there was probably like a lot of trash in them and they’re stepping on things, and they don’t smell good. You know, so sort of like all the things of institutional neglect that make it worse. I mean I found that most of the interactions in the stairwells were really nice. You know, like you would see somebody’s flashlight coming around and they’d call out and be like, “don’t worry. It’s okay!” I saw people carrying buckets of water all the way up the stairs for their neighbors or, you know, all kinds of things. But I do think sort of like the perception of danger was greater in the Rockaways.
Interviewer: Right. Do you think there are any other major differences between the Lower East Side and the Rockaways in the canvassing?
Woman: I mean I spent much more time in the Rockaways, so I mean, you know, when I was canvassing the Lower East Side, it was some housing projects but not entirely. But the Rockaways are really far from the rest of the city. And I think people tend to live their lives in the Rockaways. Like some may work in the city, but a lot of people, they’re whole families lived in the Rockaways, which made it hard for them to get out during the storm and made it hard for them after the storm to stay with a relative who didn’t live a mold-infested house or, you know, like all of these things.
Interviewer: So it made them hard to evacuate? Is that–?
Woman: Hard to evacuate, but also just hard then to deal with the rest of their lives after the storm?
Interviewer: Because their entire life is damaged?
Woman: Right, and so was their cousin’s and their sister’s, and you know, it wasn’t like it could be like, “oh, my house is filled with mold; I’ll go stay with my sister in the next town over,” right? Like their sister also had a house filled with mold.
Interviewer: Right. So what were the sort of things that people were saying when you came to their door in the Rockaways, when you were doing the door to door canvassing?
Woman: Like what do you mean?
Interviewer: Like both what did they say their needs were? Like what were the sort of things they would answer your canvass with? But also like what other sort of conversations would people tend to have?
Woman: I would say it changed over the course. In the beginning, they were probably pretty short conversations. We, like, probably did a lot of things that we should have not done about people’s medications.
Interviewer: Like just–?
Woman: Like medical privacy we did not know about. We did like, you know, three weeks there were nurses saying “what the fuck were you doing?” You know, but we were like, okay, great. Like “Great! Jenny Smith–like this much medicine is it. This much of this.” You know, like write it down. Pass it off to another volunteer who’s going to go to the pharmacy to get it.
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Woman: Which you know, I’m glad that we did it. But like, it was something that, like, didn’t even really cross our minds until…
Interviewer: Was there a different protocol later on for doing that stuff?
Woman: Yeah, all of that stuff–we didn’t write down any of it. And we transferred them directly to the medical line.
Interviewer: Okay. Was any of that set up in the very beginning?
Woman: Kind of but not really. I feel like I know that there was some kind of medical line, but we were also just kind of running around. So what people needed, some of it was medicine. Some of it was urgent stuff like I need to get to dialysis or people weren’t getting medicines that they needed. Some of it was, people needed birth control or, depression medicine, or like anything like that. Insulin was a really big thing and ice to cool your insulin on.
And then cleaning materials a lot of people wanted, baby stuff like diapers, wipes, baby food, all of that was a big thing always, canned food. And then as it got colder, sleeping bags and blankets became a big thing. And then, the mold, the housing issues, all of that. So like sort of in the beginning we were, like, mostly, like, direct needs canvassing. And then we ended up splitting it into, I guess, three or four different things. So in the beginning, we were kind of bringing stuff to anybody with the assumption that most people–it’s pretty hard to leave their houses. Then our volunteer capacity changed and things got a little bit easier. Maybe easier isn’t the right word but–
Interviewer: Like assessable?
Woman: Yeah, so we started trying to only deliver things–we would canvass to anybody but, only deliver things to people who were home-bound because they were old or, like, there was like a woman who lived with her grandmother who had dementia and who she was scared to leave alone. Like single parents with kids, stuff like that.
Interviewer: And other people had to walk to the hub.
Woman: Yes, exactly. So we would give them hours that they could come. And that was hard because, you know, we sort of split between the canvassers and the people running the hub. A lot of the people running the hub were people from the neighborhood but not entirely. There were Occupy people and then people from the church who were–you know, so there were sort of always people who had different stakes in it. And then a huge number of people who needed to come and get stuff. And there was sort of–I felt that there was not a lot of respect for people waiting in line. There was a lot of stress. There was a lot of concerns about scarcity.
Interviewer: Like you shouldn’t get two–
Woman: Exactly, because like people lying, like regulation, all of that.
Interviewer: Were people lying?
Woman: Volunteers would be like, “oh, she doesn’t need that much stuff.” You know, “people are lying to get more stuff and hoard it,” which is upsetting to see, especially because in the beginning, there were more donations than we could have ever given away. But pretty quickly sort of all these internal politics and— maybe what I would think of as fear of people who are poor or fear of people who need stuff, you know? That was all coming out and being expressed in ways that weren’t great.
Interviewer: By volunteers?
Woman: By volunteers. So it’s hard to talk to people in their apartments and feel like we didn’t have the capacity to bring them things, but also knowing that they were going to come and have to wait in a line that you would not want anybody to have to wait in.
Interviewer: And who was running the hub at this point? Or was that very clear? Was it everybody?
Woman: It was like some Occupy people, some people from the church, some people who actually were members of the congregation, some people who worked from just the neighborhood but who weren’t really part of the congregation.
Interviewer: Was everyone in the congregation part of that neighborhood? You could sort of assume–?
Woman: Yeah, from what I could tell. Though from what I could tell, most of the people in the congregation were Spanish-speaking, which is not–which is part of the neighborhood but not entirely representative. … A lot of the volunteers from the neighborhood lived in the housing projects across the street and were pretty young.
Interviewer: Like teenagers?
Interviewer: The volunteers were teenagers?
Woman: Yes. Yeah, and I think they got pretty stressed out and probably weren’t supported the way they should have been and sort of would come in and out. You know, we had contact for awhile and then come back and–
Interviewer: How do you think they could have been supported better?
Woman: I think they were, like put–I don’t want to say they were put because I guess they put themselves in, but the way that the Occupy people were deciding handle everything with this idea that “we’re listening to everybody and we’re listening to the community.” But then we have this group of four people who we’re really depending on all the time, but are also in this weird position where they’re sort of viewed as the mediators between everyone who they know and a bunch of stuff that people need. You know, that was hard.
Interviewer: And those were the teenagers–
Interviewer: –that were like, okay, you guys in the community–you’re the mediators. You work everything out. Also, you’re sixteen?
Woman: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Got you. Without training, I assume.
Woman: Yeah, yeah. And without like–yeah.
Interviewer: Mediation’s really hard.
Woman: …So yeah, we ended up developing sort of canvassing into people with immediate medical needs, we’d direct to the medical team. If people were home-bound, there was basic goods, needs, that we would deliver. But then anybody we’d talk to, we’d ask if they needed legal help, so red tape with, like, insurance. Landlords were a big thing.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Woman: We noticed that a lot of people were not getting forcibly evicted but were sort of getting de facto evicted.
Interviewer: Like passively aggressively evicted?
Woman: Like the landlords would just be like, “well, I wanted the money to fix the house.” You know? So a lot of people were not really getting evicted but they were seeing that their landlords weren’t going to fix it and were deciding to move.
Interviewer: Right. And were looking for legal help about breaking their lease and?
Woman: Or just needing–wanting to know if they could get their landlord to do anything or how to access FEMA if they were renters, any of that. So we had lawyers who were in–at the hub that people could come to at certain hours, but then we also had lawyers who were doing house visits and following up on people who we had canvassed or calling them back. And then we also kept track if people needed help cleaning with mold, with muck out, with, like, hauling debris. And those people all ended up being referred to Respond and Rebuild and getting put on that list.
Interviewer: Okay. That’s who you guys were working for as far as recovery goes?
Woman: Yeah, we didn’t have our own volunteers to do that.
Interviewer: Okay. So–
Woman: Some of them maybe went to World Cares, too.
Interviewer: Okay. So is the hub still there?
Woman: Uh uh.
Interviewer: No? Do you know when it closed down?
Woman: Like really it closed down probably at the end of the year.
Woman: And then there was still some stuff. And sometimes random, new things would come. And then mostly what we would do would be just get in touch with people in the neighborhood who we knew sort of informally as, like, block captains or, you know what I mean? People would be like, “oh, we have like twenty sleeping bags. Do you know twenty people who could use them?”
Woman: And we’d do that. And we had lawyers through maybe, like, early spring, I guess, still following up with people who needed help.
Interviewer: So are you still working in that area?
Woman: No, I’m not.
Interviewer: Are you still working with, like, hurricane relief stuff?
Interviewer: Okay, so when did you finish working with that stuff?
Woman: Probably the same. Like most intensely in the winter, and then a little bit onwards, but not much.
Interviewer: Okay. And how did you decide to finish?
Woman: I think I knew that I didn’t have the time to be involved in any kind of way that was more deep. So I was interested in canvassing and doing that. But I felt like I wanted to be clear with myself that that was what I could do and that was as much as I was going to do.
Interviewer: Is that like a way that you limit yourself, actively, so you don’t get sucked in?
Woman: I think so. And I think I just–I felt like I was seeing a lot of people coming in from other places wanting a piece of whatever that pie was. [laughter]
Interviewer: The Rockaway action?
Woman: Yes, exactly. And I didn’t–that wasn’t how I thought it should happen. But I felt like I also didn’t have the energy or even necessarily desire to shape it or contribute in a way that I would feel happy about.
Woman: You know, I like talking to people so it was nice to do canvassing and do that. I think there was, within Occupy, I found sort of like a devaluation of giving people goods, like connecting people to actual resources, sort of versus whatever people wanted to call organizing.
Interviewer: So they would put more priority on the organizing part?
Woman: Yeah, or say that–I felt that there was a sense of, like, relief is not political. You know, bringing somebody food is not political. Right? Like getting somebody whatever–that kind of stuff is not political. And then there is a political thing.
Woman: And it felt like I didn’t agree with that. Like I didn’t–
Interviewer: Does that mean that you think that bringing someone food is political? Or just that that doesn’t matter?
Woman: I think that we’re going to make sure that people’s basic needs are met, is political. And I–I guess to clarify that, I felt like people were like, “oh, this is like social services.” There’s a lot of talk of sustainability. We don’t want to create needs, right, like–
Interviewer: Like charity?
Woman: Right. Exactly. Like “people were poor before the storm, so you don’t want to just give them a bunch of food because then they’re going to depend on you,” right? Like, and that’s not political; that’s just charity. And I found that incredibly insulting to people who obviously survived without us before the storm and are going to survive without us after the storm, right? And we’re like actually–I guess I found that it left very little agency for people who were accessing relief services, right, and it was just like, “oh, they’re just receiving. “You know, they’re not navigating anything or making decisions about what they’re getting or who they’re interacting with and how they’re taking care of their families. So that felt frustrating. And it felt, again, sort of like disrespect or discomfort for poor people, you know, like not– To me, it felt like a lot of people who had never been around somebody who really needed something, you know, and were kind of scared–
Woman: –of that fact.
Interviewer: Okay. So…so you ended sort of at the turn of the year, right?
Interviewer: Do you think that the crisis ended around then?
Woman: Definitely not.
Woman: I guess it became sort of like a longer term thing, you know? People were out of work for a long time. The whole rebuilding stuff. Like crazy stories about people’s mortgages and getting insurance.
Interviewer: What kind of crazy stories?
Woman: Like, so one example would be right across from the church there is a housing–it’s not a development but it’s like a bunch of blocks of houses all built by the same developer, sold to low to moderate income, first-time home-buyers who work for the city.
Interviewer: Okay. It’s very specific.
Woman: And around the Rockaways, there are lots of things like this, not necessarily that you work for the city, but sort of like development corporations that I think probably get subsidies to build these houses that moderate income people buy, right? And so they all had mortgages. And what they were finding was that when they got their insurance payments, the banks with whom they had mortgages claimed that it was their right to hold onto that insurance payment, because the house was actually the bank’s, right? They hadn’t finished paying their mortgage. So the bank held onto it. And then would disperse that pay amount, payment, usually like in third increment.
Woman: But it was something crazy like–so the one woman I spoke with, the bank only gave her–she had to complete fifty percent of– So like, a contractor assessed how much damage was there, how much it would cost to repair it, what the work needed was. And the bank gave her a third of the insurance payout for her to do the first half of the work. And it wouldn’t give her more until she got that work done.
Woman: There’s a basic arithmetic problem there.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Woman: And like generally, like, sort of like the idea that you could divide the construction work in half, especially when you think that most of the insurance payments probably weren’t even enough for that. That was happening. And this is something that I’ve read about that the attorney general investigated and figured out that the banks weren’t actually doing anything illegal, but they would really like them to stop doing it, you know? So basically, the banks got all this insurance money and, you know, just wanted to sit on it and have it stay with them and collect interest while people were doing all the repairs. So that’s like maybe one small example. There was stuff with FEMA. You know, like we worked with FEMA to have them have a table in the hub.
Woman: And we would have the lawyer sit next to FEMA. So people would come, talk to the lawyer, sit down with FEMA. FEMA would be like, “okay, where’s your ID?” They would give them like their EDT card, and FEMA would be like “we can’t take this.” And the lawyer would be like :yes you can. This is a government issued ID,” you know like–
Interviewer: Gotcha. That sounds like a good pairing.
Woman: Yes. [laughter] I mean like literally, at one point, they asked us for gas to run their generator.
Woman: Yes. You know, they were always complaining about how cold it was. Like “yeah, the heat’s off. Like there’s no power. There’s no heat. We’re like in the aftermath of an emergency.” I mean I think a lot of them were really friendly and enjoyed working with us. But were not given the resources to do the job that they were being asked to do, and were essentially trained to say no to people. You know?
Interviewer: FEMA was?
Woman: Yeah. Like that’s the sense you get. You know, like most government agencies. You know, they’re trained to tell people, “no, can’t do that.” And like only the people who are most persistent or have the most time or energy, or language skills or cultural skills, or whatever, will actually be able to push through to get stuff.
Interviewer: Right. Alright, so I’m going to ask you a little bit specifically about the canvassing.
Interviewer: So did you help create the forms for canvassing at all?
Woman: I did.
Interviewer: Okay. So could you tell me about the decisions that you and others made about what would go in those forms?
Woman: Oh my god. Some many decisions. [laughter] So much back and forth. I can also just like send you a copy of the form probably.
Interviewer: That would be great.
Woman: They kept on changing. Like in the beginning, it was kind of like name, address, phone number, needs, number of people, anyone home-bound. You know, simple as that. Then we realized that we were getting, like crazy things [laughter] because you know, we had so many volunteers and you’d kind of train them and then send them out. And the craziest shit would come back.
Woman: We were like, “okay, obviously more boxes. Like more detailed questions will maybe, like, net us more information.”
Woman: And also, like, over and over I think we had volunteers who had a really hard time saying no to people, so they weren’t saying whether they were home-bound or not.
Woman: And then sort of like as volunteers continued to decline, we had all these people who were told by volunteers that we’ll bring you stuff. And like, I ended up having to call through and be like, “are you home-bound?” “No.” Like, “okay, well actually we can’t come.” And like that was a pretty shitty conversation to have. I mean most of them were like “thank you so much. It’s so nice that, like, people came to check on me,” you know? Like we’d give them information about all the hubs. But–
Interviewer: Other people were like, “I was told I would get stuff?”
Woman: Yeah, and you know, “I , you know, trusted you and told you what I needed. “Like you know, it’s kind of like a vulnerable conversation to have. So at some point we sort of split things up into zones,So we had the date, the zone, the name of the canvasser.
Interviewer: And the zone is geographical?
Woman: Yes, it’s geographical.
Interviewer: Oh, the name of the canvasser?
Woman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: So you can follow up and be like what does–?
Woman: Yes, yes. That was a crucial point. Name and phone number of canvasser. And then the name, address, phone number, multiple phone numbers if possible of the people who were canvassed, how many people lived in the household, how many children, anybody elderly or home-bound. And then there was a section for medical needs. There was on the back, I think, if they were home-bound, you would sort of fill out all kinds of–and it was based on what we had, so like diapers, what size, food, clothes, you know, anything like that. Then we also had the phone numbers of all, like, of the medical line on a flier, so if somebody was canvassing, they would have the number immediately to call that.
Interviewer: So somebody would say I need this, and then the canvasser would call it?
Woman: Yeah, exactly, while they were there, if they wanted.
Woman: And they would, like, write down that they had called. Then there was questions about the damage to your house and what was needed to, like–was your basement flooded? Was your first floor flooded? Like, is there mold? Do you need help with, debris, mold, construction, just basic cleaning. And then there was legal questions, so do you need help with FEMA, with emergency food stamps, with insurance, any of that? And there were, like, lots of little boxes to check.
Woman: And then I think at some point we also started putting other general concerns because some people were starting to do more organizing and identify people who were sort of leaders so if somebody knew all of their neighbors and was willing to come volunteer or wanted to stay in the loop, we would mark that too.
Woman: And then every time we’d follow up with them, we’d either add a post-it, which was probably a dumb idea, to the top, or write in the margins, or just staple another piece of paper. So like a lot of notes got added, you know.
Interviewer: Right. So were you involved in getting those pieces of paper into database forms?
Woman: Kind of. So we had a lot of folders, you know, like legal needs, the people who we needed to visit every day, the people who we should–you know, who we had talked to once and couldn’t get in touch with. Maybe if we had time, we would go back, you know?
Interviewer: And you just put the whole page with all those post-it notes in those folders?
Woman: Yeah. Exactly.
Interviewer: So what would happen if someone was in two categories?
Woman: That was when it got really crazy. [laughter] Usually, it would be put in the most urgent folder.
Woman: And you know, this was, when it got crazy. There were like multiple–there were like the completed tasks. If somebody was resolved either, they had a small need that had been met or that could also include somebody who was having a lot of problems with insurance but had been referred to the extent that we could. You know, like either it was actually resolved or we had done the most that we could and passed it on. […] And then there were all of these meetings because all of these different people who wanted access to the information we had. […] But, you know, but all kinds of disaster non-profits, wanted in on it.
Interviewer: Okay. So that they could service people?
Woman: Yeah, yeah. That was sort of what they would say. You know, “we’re going to create, like, a peninsula-wide network and people will be able to access information.” We were–and I was especially always nervous about that, because it sort of was always like “well, publically this information would be–you know, the public information will not contain personal information.” But the result is the question of once you put it online and you have a big group, you don’t know how many people are accessing it. You don’t know who’s sharing what. And we have a lot of confidential information, both from stuff that we should have never collected like medical stuff, but also, you know, the names of everybody who had just gotten thirty thousand dollars from FEMA. You know? We were canvassing public housing, and we were writing down how many people lived in the units. And we were dealing with a lot of people who had extra kids or like grandkids or sister’s kids, or whatever living with them. And it was important to them to tell us they had seven kids there when they needed that much food for them, right? But like–
Interviewer: It’s not something you necessarily want your landlord to know or?
Woman: Yeah, and when we were canvassing, we were–you know, people were either saying we’re with Occupy Sandy or we’re with the church or we’re just volunteers. You know, so it’s sort of like when we’ve collected that information, certainly I’m sure nobody thought it was going to be really private, but it was also in the middle of an emergency, and we weren’t saying everything that we were going to use it for.
Woman: So we kind of held back from sharing information with that with those people. You know, it was hard to say no too, because it’s like there is a problem, right, where people don’t have electricity and it would be nice to be able to show that, right? But like, my experience was, there were a lot of meetings and, like, decisions we never made, and like people weren’t following through a lot. There were a lot of promises.
So then we started our own tracking system. But it never was comprehensive. […]
Interviewer: Are any of those folks still working with the relief effort? Do you know?
Interviewer: No? Okay. So do you think that–and you sort of referred to this before. So it’s sort of a doubling back. Do you think that gathering that sort of information is a form of activism?
Woman: I think so, yeah.
Interviewer: Okay. And how so?
Woman: I mean I think it was, to me, like very clear evidence of what was happening to people, you know, stuff that felt really under-reported.
Woman: Like we were gathering–like how many people didn’t have power and how many people weren’t getting insurance and how many old people there were stuck in high-rises. I would say though within a lot of Occupy, I think the crucial thing that I never really saw happened was complete transfer of that to the people who were affected by it.
Interviewer: Of the information?
Woman: Of the information. I mean I was happy to give it to the public. Like but, you know, if people showed up to volunteer, like obviously they’d have the information or whatever. But we never figured out a way to sort of give it back to people who might want to use it further in their own communities.
Interviewer: In their own communities. Okay.
Woman: Similarly, like, with all the goods that were being delivered, I don’t think there was ever much of–Occupy was doing really good work and figuring out all the logistics. But I saw very few–and if people from the neighborhood showed up to volunteer, that was great. But very few people from the communities affected were given the opportunity to understand how the stuff was getting there and who was giving it and what was Jacoby Church, or like you know–
Interviewer: Like the whole?
Woman: The whole system, right? So that did not feel great, you know?
Interviewer: Okay. Like they were plugged in but they weren’t part of the system?
Woman: Right. It still depended on other people being intermediaries and sort of controlling that information and access.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you do any of the training for canvassers who were going out?
Interviewer: What sort of things did–what were, like, the highlights of the training?
Woman: I mean mostly it was like “ask a lot of questions, listen to people, respect them.”
Interviewer: And how do you respect them? What would that look like?
Woman: Really just listen to what they’re telling you. Like if they’re telling you they don’t need anything, that’s fine. If they tell you they need something, don’t judge it. You know? That kind of stuff. People are in a pretty bad situation and having somebody listen to them is nice. But like having somebody follow through is, like, better. [laughter] You know, don’t promise something that you can’t deliver.
Interviewer: Right. so you’ve talked a lot about how class came into things. Did, like, race or gender–and you talked a little bit about race actually. Like race and gender–did those come in a lot?
Woman: I think race definitely did. I guess when I say class, I mean race too, you know?
Interviewer: Yeah, they map onto each other pretty well in the United States.
Woman: So there–and I think especially, when we were going to places that were either housing projects or people who were on some sort of state assistance, all of the ideas that this country has about specifically poor black people and poor black people getting welfare, consuming, like sort of like I felt like this idea–
Interviewer: The welfare queen thing?
Woman: Right, exactly. Like that happened. You know, and I think that was, one of the things, like a fear of people who need stuff. Like that was where I think it was coming out.
Interviewer: Okay. Did gender pop up?
Woman: I think gender popped up more in the dynamics within Occupy itself.
Woman: I was mostly working with women but there were men too, you know?
Interviewer: Okay. So I’m going to ask a few questions that might seem very patchy because they’re just things that didn’t fall out of your story, and that is did climate change come up at all with the people you were canvassing?
Woman: Some but not much. I mean I think it was a reality that was acknowledged but not necessarily something that people were talking about actively a lot.
Woman: I know that other people in Occupy really wanted to be talking about that. Which you know, I felt like was sometimes gone about in a pretty clunky way.
Interviewer: Okay. Like what do you mean?
Woman: Like just sort of like rewording people for their political beliefs. I mean I don’t think–
Interviewer: Oh, you mean you talked about climate change; here’s a lollipop?
Woman: Yeah, exactly. Like I mean I don’t think that climate change is a political belief. I believe it’s a fact, right? But sort of like looking for people who thought the same way that they did or would articulate their views the same way they did.
Woman: But I mean I think it was a real thing. Outside of Occupy, there started to be more discussions about “ the future of the Rockaways” and, which like to me is a real thing. But I mean the fact that we’re not having the same conversations about the future of Battery Park is that Battery Park had enough money to not get damaged enough in the first place. Right, so like it was sort of presented as a fact.
Interviewer: The future of the Rockaways?
Woman: Yeah. It was presented as up for debate in a way, but I–
Interviewer: By people who weren’t in the Rockaways?
Woman: Yeah, exactly.
Interviewer: In the way that, like, “hey everyone, what’s the future of Battery Park?” People would be like “screw you; I’m from Battery Park”?
Woman: Right, exactly.
Interviewer: Okay, gotcha.
Woman: Right, and we have enough money that this conversation would never even happen.
Woman: But because it took so long to rebuild, because the infrastructure wasn’t there in the first place, that conversation was happening.
Interviewer: And up for grabs?
Woman: Which like, it should be happening in some form. But the way it was happening, you know, I remember like very clearly wanting to go to one event that was happening, I think, sponsored by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance or something like that. And it was in a housing complex in the mid-beach fifties. And I remembered knowing that it was going to be bad before I got there because I parked a couple of blocks away. I was walking there. And there were many people on the street, right? But I was one of the few white people. And in the two block walk there, maybe like three or four white people stopped me to ask me where the meeting was. And they weren’t asking anybody else on the street.
Interviewer: The locals?
Woman: Right, exactly. They were just being like, “oh, here’s this white girl. Like she’s probably going to this meeting. Like none of these people are.” And it was like in the lobby or sort of like in the community meeting room of this building, which was mostly inhabited by people of color. And pretty much the only people of color there were the team interns, you know. And suddenly, I’m in like a housing project with mostly people of color living in it sitting in a room full of white people who think that they have a right to talk about the future of this neighborhood.
Woman: So that was how I saw the more public conversations about climate change happening.
Woman: Like I don’t–you know, who knows what people are talking about, you know? Like that was the most visible ones.
Interviewer: Okay. Was there a sense among the folks who lived there that this is going to happen again, regardless of whether it was tacked onto climate change?
Woman: I’m not sure I could say that.
Woman: People who have lived here a long time have seen storms before. Maybe ones this bad not, you know, or they had seen a really bad one. I remember one old may telling me that, like, “a long time ago, the bay and the ocean met because there was a really big storm.” That had been a long time ago.
Interviewer: And it wasn’t Irene?
Woman: No, no. It happened dozens of years ago. Yeah, I can’t say I know the answer to that question.
Interviewer: Gotcha. Good answer then, yeah. Did you guys, in canvassing or in the hub, use a lot of social media or mass media to get things done?
Woman: I mean we, like, emailed each other but beyond that, no.
Interviewer: And was there a particular reason–?
Woman: Well I guess actually, in the beginning, like right after the storm when gas rationing was happening, I remember a lot on Facebook about people trying to coordinate getting rides.
Interviewer: To get gas?
Woman: Right. Like who has a car who can go to the church to load stuff up? That kind of stuff.
Interviewer: Because then suddenly knowing someone who had a car was very different than knowing someone who had a car who could drive?
Woman: Yeah. Exactly.
Interviewer: Right, right. Okay. I think those are all of our major questions. Is there anything that I didn’t ask that I should have asked that you experienced or had insight about that we didn’t touch?
Woman: I don’t…I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you have any questions for me or for us at SRL?
Woman: I might later but probably not right now.
Interviewer: Okay. Alright. Thank you very much.
[End of recording]
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