Occupy Sandy Should Not Act as an NGO to Replace Bad Governance

By Gilbert Mercier and Dady Chery

Sandy and Katrina Expose the Third World Within the Empire

The last natural disaster to have had a major impact on the United States was hurricane Katrina. The fiasco of dealing with Katrina’s aftermath was a big blow for the Bush administration. This exposed a broken social system where the poor were left behind to fend for themselves while the rich left comfortably, and the government at all levels — local, state and federal — remained grossly incompetent. Katrina blew the lid off of America’s thinly covered dirty secret: social inequity and racial discrimination are worse than they were at the peak of the civil rights movement. Although climate change has a way of exposing the stark horror of poverty, the numbers have always been there for all to think about.

Back in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr considered the US figures on child mortality, home ownership, and net worth, etc., and he concluded that “Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites….” In 2012, the net worth of US Blacks and Latinos is 20 times lower than that of Whites. What does it mean for Latinos to have a median net worth of $6,300 and for African Americans to have one below $5,700? They now call it food insecurity, but it is hunger that hits people in the belly. MLK’s struggle to put behind this country hideous original sin of slavery must be fought all over again.

When now-disgraced politician John Edwards spoke about “the two Americas,” he was right. There are two Americas: unequal and largely segregated. The extreme socioeconomic apartheid between the rich and poor has been exacerbated by the financial crash of 2008, and nowhere is it more evident than in New York City. Since the 1970’s NYC has changed from hosting a comfortable cohabitation of the working poor, middle class, and the rich, to becoming a city of coffee shops, book stores, restaurants and designer stores. In the mornings, the rich drive to their mostly financial and publishing jobs as the poor pour in from the other boroughs, packed like sardines on the subways, to clean and guard the multi-million dollar condominiums, walk the purebred dogs and push the strollers of in-vitro produced children to the parks. By afternoon, most of the brown faces disappear, and it is the time for the locals to take in the restaurant dinners and Broadway shows that cost hundreds of dollars per person. Meanwhile many of the homeless prepare to sleep in their underground tunnel neighborhoods.

MLK could easily have built a movement to supply food, blankets, and diapers to needy African Americans.  Indeed, he was harshly criticized by various liberal clergymen for being a troublemaker who wanted rapid change. Decades later, as climate change exacerbates life for those already on the edge, the arguments are the same. Do we put a band-aid over the lash wounds, or do we stop those who are administering the beatings?  Haiti has been at the heart of the disaster capitalist program.  For years, the non-governmental organizations (NGO) have administered palliatives to suppress a popular revolt as the country’s once-lively agricultural economy was displaced by a $0.43 per hour sweatshop economy and a ruthless UN military occupation. With the advent of the UN-introduced cholera, NGO such as the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Partners in Health (PIH) failed to control the epidemic and instead organized to stay for the long term. For years, Haitians have appealed to the world for solidarity against this parasitic onslaught and also warned that everyone was one disaster away from becoming a Haitian, but the appeals have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

Sandy hit the North American eastern seaboard two weeks before US elections that had omitted the topic of climate change from the political debate.  The timing could not have been worse for the charade that was being passed off as a democratic election. In NYC, New Jersey, and Staten Island most of the dead remain nameless. Many of the living are without electricity or drinking water. Over 40,000 are homeless and looking at the prospect of a front of cold weather.  MSF offered to assist the city but was summarily rejected. The analogy to Haiti was simply too much.

Is the United States Turning Into a Banana Republic?

Sandy was not a welcome election surprise for the Obama administration. Two days after the storm hit the East Coast, president Obama made an official announcement, broadcasted on cable news channels and National Public Radio, urging Americans to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims. This was stunning. Why would the “leader of the free world” call on a charity organization to do a job that should be done by a governmental structure like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)? Why are local and state governance so powerless that they cannot handle a disaster that was a large tropical storm and not even a hurricane? Just like after Katrina, US citizens are finding out the hard way that they are on their own; that all instances of government are broken and in such a state of disarray that the “most powerful man in the world” is calling the Red Cross to the rescue. After Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, the Red Cross received the lion’s share of the popular donations. It stands accused of delivering unclean water to Haitians as purified water, and building luxury hotels with funds that were meant to assist the poor. FEMA has also enjoyed its share of scandals, including the provision of formaldehyde-laden trailers to Katrina’s homeless and the transfer of the same trailers to Haiti as school buildings that caused illness in children.

Broken Governments Cannot Be Fixed by Charity

Without any contingency plan for a disaster and with many desperately needy taxpayers, New York looked for a while as if it was about to explode into a popular revolt immediately before the presidential elections. The last organization one would have expected to assist president Obama  was Occupy. But Occupy is saving the day by morphing into a massive NGO that is even using churches as its venues. Simultaneously, days before the elections, Occupy declared that it was much too busy helping the poor to bother with discussions of electoral politics.  The soup-kitchen initiative got a big build up from Slate — a magazine that openly supports Obama — with an article written by unabashedly pro-Obama Innovations Editor Katherine Goldstein about the superiority of Occupy to the Red Cross.  Until then, Occupy had been the only movement in the US to try to shine a spotlight on the notion of extreme inequality, where one percent of the population controls most of the wealth and all the political power. Occupy, at least at the start, was about social justice in its inspiration, just like MLK’s civil rights movement was about ending racial discrimination. But MLK understood that, more than anything, the poor needed to become empowered. That justice and solidarity were needed, not charity.

In a functional government, citizens pay taxes so as to be provided with a decent social safety net. Further, the same taxes, either local, state or federal are supposed to improve and maintain a country’s infrastructure. A perfect example of neglect was the fact that some of the pumps in New York’s subway system were 100 years old. In the United States, a large portion of the tax revenue is spent, not on infrastructure but on repression — such as the monstrous prison system — and on wars such as the fictional “war on terror”. Plenty of government money is spent on the Department of Homeland Security, which heads both FEMA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Yet, the administrative structures  in question, in time of needs, function more like tools of repression against the citizens than emergency services for the public. If governments do not govern, why do people pay taxes? As for Occupy: it has no business in becoming yet another NGO crutch for bad governance. Haiti has become the showcase for a failed state. It is not the last one. Soon enough we will all become Haitians unless we all, as citizens of the world, take our destinies in our own hands.

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Karen Blumberg.




22 Responses to Occupy Sandy Should Not Act as an NGO to Replace Bad Governance

  1. Nate November 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    We’re providing solidarity, not charity, and winning thousands to our cause every day. Would you rather see New York burning, or people helping each other and helping themselves? Occupy Sandy was no one’s strategy, but it’s the best thing to happen to Occupy Wall Street since the first tents were pitched. And it was just what the doctor ordered for New York and soon New Jersey too.

    • Mango November 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      You say, “We’re providing solidarity”. Solidarity is not attacking the other groups that are helping in the area the way OccupySandy’s groups have been. You’re attacking Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Goodwill International, Medical Reserve Corp, and others. Any of these organizations, as well as St. Vincent de Paul, all know how to collect donated items (except MRC which does medical care).

      Please note, I left the American Red Cross off the list, although your group has been positively vitriolic in comments directed at the organization.

      Your group could learn a lot from any of the groups that collect and distribute clothing and other items. They understand that donated clothing should not be dumped on a dirty sidewalk, should not be left in piles outside during a snowstorm, and other basics like ensuring proper food storage and handling so people do not become ill.

      I was in support of your efforts and your organization at the start; I was encouraging friends and family to purchase items from your registry instead of donating money. I am no longer doing so, because your Twitter comments are terribly unprofessional. Instead, we have chosen a school in New Jersey and their community relief group as a place for our donated items.

      You are not encouraging solidarity, you are demonstrating that you are not willing to learn from those that you work with. If you are not willing to learn from the past, you are doomed to make the same mistakes in the future.

      • Jack Edwards December 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm

        Occupy does not refer to these donation charity organizations themselves, or to their normal agendas. Whenever particular people within an organization knowingly commit wrongdoing, we must point it out — no matter the host affiliation. We do not reproach an entire host affiliation for the issues of some. We simply call on the good majority of the organization staff to weed out these incidents. I apologize on behalf of Occupy for the tones and moods which convey otherwise.

  2. Dady Chery
    Dady Chery November 6, 2012 at 3:06 am

    Exactly. Occupy Sandy is the best thing to have happened to Occupy Wall Street, but not to the victims of tropical storm Sandy and bad government, many of whom are having to exchange their souls for a bit of soup.

    • Jay Tee November 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

      I’m trying to understand Dady’s position. So what is the solution?

  3. Joost van Steenis November 6, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Occupy Sandy does nothing in the struggle against the power relations. Some people will of course be glad that someone will help but it will not increase awareness. Occupy will be seen as another last resort when catastrophes occur and not a movement that provides protection to The People because it has demolished the greed of the 1%. I wrote years ago an article titled “Charity supports the elite”. Nothing has changed up till now and what happens in Haiti shows that the elite profited and The people still suffer.

  4. David November 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Interesting read. But I see what Occupy is doing not as charity but as solidarity.

    • Dady Chery
      Dady Chery November 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      Solidarity is amplification of voice/actions, not quiet maintenance of a beggar class.

  5. Ken November 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I’m confused by the thesis of this article; would it be better to let the victims of Sandy starve and freeze to death in order to amplify the atrocities and shed light on the failures of FEMA and the NGOs that have failed to help? These are people whose homes have been destroyed, not symbols of the failure of capitalism. They need aid, and Occupy is providing it. If you, Gilbert and Dady, feel the decline of America’s social welfare is something which needs to be publicized, then by all means sound the alarms. Just don’t throw those who are providing material support to the needy under the bus.

    • Dady Chery
      Dady Chery November 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      What makes you think people would passively starve and freeze to death? Is it possible that you overestimate the importance of your charitable works?

      • phil November 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm

        I agree with much of Dady Chery’s comments, but strongly disagree with her thrust at Occupy Sandy or her conclusion. And yes, I do believe some people are in danger of starving or freezing. And I don’t believe those accepting help in times of disaster are exchanging their souls. Occupy is doing the right thing by helping and it will gain a stronger voice in the public debate for “change” by its actions…exactly what is needed. To be critical of those who care and are making an effort is a strange response. It is way to early to dismiss Occupy as another “charity”.

  6. Joost van Steenis November 7, 2012 at 4:22 am

    It is not the question if it is right to help destitute people, Dady Chery brings rightly forward the fact that Occupy keeps itself busy with helping to soften the most awful sides of our society while they do not engage in activities that attack the reason why our societry is so bad, the existence of the greedy almighty 1%. The political struggle to change the world is in this way replaced by charity actioities or maybe a better word is solidarity actions. And the 1% continues to rule and to be greedy at the cost of the 99%.

    • Jay Tee November 7, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Why does Joost van Steenis and others see things in such a binary manner? “Occupy keeps itself busy with helping to soften the most awful sides of our society while they do not engage in activities that attack the reason why our societry is so bad, the existence of the greedy almighty 1%” Is there evidence that Occupy is not doing BOTH?

      • Dady Chery
        Dady Chery November 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

        Occupy’s NGO activities have helped Obama to win NY State: not a societal change. If you can supply evidence and a cogent argument that Occupy is weakening the 1% (for example by transforming bad governance to good), NJP would gladly publish it.

  7. Steve November 8, 2012 at 10:27 am

    The work that we are doing is not charity work. It’s mutual aid. People being there for people. If you don’t realize this enough to see that this is a community effort and not an organization, than while you have done your research on historical aid work, you have not done it on Occupy.

  8. Gilbert Mercier
    Gilbert Mercier November 8, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Are you a spokesperson for Occupy? If you would have done your “research” on News Junkie Post, you would know that not only we covered Occupy more than any other independent publications, but also that some of our staff such as Liam Fox and myself were defining the thematic that would become Occupy a year before September 17, 2011. Our contributors Kenneth Lipp and Min Reyes also covered the Occupy movement before the Occupy train left the station. In other word, we don’t need a lecture on what Occupy should be or shouldn’t be from you or anyone else for that matter even the leaders in hiding who pretend that Occupy is a “leaderless movement”.

  9. Rebecca Manski November 9, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Certainly, my greatest fear is that something as beautiful as this could make a paltry NGO out of major elements of Occupy. But many of us in this movement have been fighting that default tendency all year (pushed on us by the 1%) and we will continue to do so.

  10. Rebecca Manski November 9, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I just want to add, Dady, and Gilbert, I agree with your concerns wholeheartedly. But I don’t know whether they have manifested yet, it really is too early to tell. Though many of us, we’re already watching, nervously.

    I appreciate your raising the alarms early on, I just wish the tone of your alarm were a little more supportive to those who actually ARE doing this out of a deep conviction in Mutual Aid.

    Certainly, there will always be those who naively or self-interestedly are already seeking to transform this amazing spontaneous outpouring into something that can solve their personal economic or professional ailments. It’s no fun to battle these tendencies – but this is hardly unique to Occupy. We live in a competitive capitalist country that does not value unpaid labor and does not care for the unemployed, everyone is hustling… Occupy is not exempt, but we do our best. Please try to give the many amongst us who are struggling to maintain the principles of the movement against all odds, a little credit. Do you acknowledge that we exist? And that the opportunists amongst us do not represent us, they represent only themselves? And that people of that nature tend to make themselves highly visible? Please dont “disappear” the rest of us who have worked so hard this year — largely to fight NGOization, while simultaneously trying to work towards deeper levels of strategic mobilization quite a juggling act) — in your response to the above comments.

    Critiques like this – I want to spread them around, everywhere. But given your reply to the comments above, I worry that the general tone is so judgmental as to render this fantastically important critique less useful than it could be….

    • Dady Chery
      Dady Chery November 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

      The advent of Occupy as an NGO is quite alarming. OccupySandy is an NGO on steroid: it has no board of directors and accounts to no one about its finances. It is worse than the typical NGOs like MSF or the Red Cross, which have done plenty of damage in Haiti, the DRC, and elsewhere, and are only starting on the US. Spread the article or not, as you wish. If you would prefer a different tone, please write your own article, and NJP will gladly consider publishing it.

  11. Cesar November 10, 2012 at 5:45 am

    The article brings honest reflection about how well-intentioned actions do not confront the root of the problems, and I like the assertive tone. Nevertheless John Edwards is not a good reference, because he belongs to one of the parties that promotes the “the two Americas” despite hypocritical claims to the contrary.

  12. Pablo December 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    some bizarre leaps of logic here, like ‘NGOs administering palliatives to suppress popular revolt’. Really? Palliatives are administered to dying people to comfort them; the aid administered by MSF and others saved lives. There is no evidence or citations in the article to show that the role of NGOs is just to prop up failing states and keep people from becoming so desperate that they overthrow the state. Again, MSF and even Red Cross saved lives. Does the writer really believe that in the absence of the support and mutual aid supplied by Occupy Sandy organizers that people would have revolted and/or risen up to defeat Obama? Please. I’ll be mailing an end of the year donation to Medecins sans Frontieres again this year, to support the good work they do in Haiti and elsewhere.

    • Dady Chery
      Dady Chery December 10, 2012 at 12:22 am

      The job of NGO is not only to prop up failed states but also to create them. This is how NGO maintain themselves: their main preoccupation. Currently MSF and others are promoting a $2.2 billion plan to eliminate cholera from Haiti over 10-15 years, although the disease could be eliminated in months.

      For two years, during the dry seasons the medical NGO in Haiti have ignored the few foci of cholera, and during the rainy season they have returned to treat the sick from the flare ups of those foci. Excellent strategy if you want to milk cholera for money, but not if you want to eliminate disease. To make matters worse, the makeshift clinics of medical NGO are major sources of disease after tropical storms because their flooded stores of choleric wastes contaminate the rivers and streams.

      The NGO have got a good thing in Haiti. Give them all your money to add to their stash from USAID, if this makes you feel good. Your money will actually harm Haitians and the NGO’s other victims. But the point is for you to feel good, isn’t it? Merry-merry, happy-happy!

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