Occupiers switch gears to aid victims of storm

In New York's Queens borough , volunteers and those needing help stand outside a center where Occupy Sandy had set up to aid people in Rockaway Park. CRAIG RUTTLE / Associated Press
In New York's Queens borough , volunteers and those needing help stand outside a center where Occupy Sandy had set up to aid people in Rockaway Park. CRAIG RUTTLE / Associated Press
Posted: November 12, 2012

NEW YORK - The social media savvy that helped Occupy Wall Street protesters create a grassroots global movement last year is proving to be a strength in the aftermath of Sandy as members and organizers of the group fan out across New York to deliver aid including hot meals, medicine, and blankets.

They're the ones who took food and water to Glenn Nisall, 53, of Queens' hard-hit and isolated Rockaway section who lost power and who lives alone with no family nearby.

"I said: 'Occupy? You mean Occupy Wall Street?' " he said. "I said: 'Awesome, man. I'm one of the 99 percent, you know?' "

Occupy Wall Street was born in late 2011 in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan with a handful of protesters pitching tents who vowed to stay put until world leaders offered a fair share to the "99 percent" who don't control the globe's wealth.

The world heard the cry as that camp grew and inspired others around the globe. Ultimately, though, the movement collapsed under its leaderless format, and Occupy was largely forgotten. But core members, and a spirit, have persisted and found a new cause in Occupy Sandy.

It started at St. Jacobi Church in Brooklyn the day after the storm, where Occupiers set up a base of operations and used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to spread the word.

There is a sense of camaraderie reminiscent of Zuccotti Park, as young people with walkie-talkies plan the day's activities. Donations come in by the truckload and are sorted in the basement, which looks like a clearinghouse for every household product imaginable, from canned soup and dog food to duvet covers.

"This is young people making history," said Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University who has been studying Occupy Wall Street. "Young people who are refusing to let people suffer without putting themselves on the line to do something about it."

Now the group has dozens of relief centers across the city and a stream of volunteers who are shuttled out to the most desperate areas. It is working with local community and volunteer organizations.

"I think we wouldn't be able to survive without them," said Kathleen Ryan, who was waiting for volunteers to retrieve her diabetes medication, stamping her feet on the plywood floor to keep warm. "This place is phenomenal. This community. They've helped a great deal."

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