I've got some feelings right now. So this is gonna be long.
I've been trying out all kinds of volunteering and relief work since the hurricane hit. Until today, nothing I'd done felt like much of anything, except wasted time.
I spent today in Red Hook again, this time with the ever lovely Rachael. I got to see Anna and Quai and touch in with my wonderful radical social work community. I didn't do any more FEMA handouts this time, but stuck to the CBO side of things (better place for me, for sure).
We went to a community center, where there was a huge gym overflowing with donations. Tons of tables set up with supplies, canned goods, blankets, clothes, water, an overflow of everything. We connected with some strangers who became allies during the day. Rachael was so intentional about talking with them about some of the more problematic interactions we witnessed.
Because throughout the whole day, there were way too many racial microaggressions from the predominantly white volunteers toward people of color coming from the community. The most common was the assumption that people of color from the community weren't volunteers, but trying to cut in line or sneak extra food or supplies, and an underlying tone that poor folks needed to be controlled or else total chaos would ensue. (This was a foreshadowing of the police attitude later on.)
People were waiting in the line to get supplies and food for a long ass time. And when I say long ass time, I mean like 4+ hours. In the cold, with their kids, with their grandparents using walkers. Folks got antsy, as everyone does when waiting in a long, cold lines. Rachael and I took out water bottles for people, laughing and chatting with them in line while they waited. People were SO NICE and SO PATIENT. When we'd run out of water and tell them we'd be right back everyone was cool with it and just grateful to be getting something while they waited. And so many people in line asked how they could sign up to come back later and volunteer. People wanted to help each other.
Then we started bringing out some sandwiches and snacks for people at the same time. One guy said it was like at those fancy restaurants where they give you coffee while you wait in line. After everything folks have been through seems like they should treated like royalty. Some other volunteers started giving out stuff in the line too, we all did this for a while, and then the police showed up.
Apparently we weren't allowed to distribute ANYTHING on the street. How come? People might "get out of control." Because feeding people starts riots, apparently. Rachael tried talking to one of the officers, explaining how food and water was helping people stay chill, but orders were orders or some shit. So then we were just taking food&water out on the DL and telling people to keep it quiet, and make sure that kids and the elderly got what they needed first. And everybody shared with each other and no one ever complained when we ran out of stuff, even though each time we had to sneak stuff out around the cops so it took forever.
Think about that. We had to SNEAK OUT DONATIONS in order to give them to people. And there was no issue of scarcity. I'm not sure it would even have been possible to run out of supplies. The Red Cross dropped off truckloads of stuff and the donations were still flowing in when we left at 4.
What keeps running through my head is that this is how we end up recreating the same oppressive systems even when we are "helping," even when we want to do good. We don't trust people to share, we make assumptions about who is trustworthy, who has something to offer, who is valuable. It isn't just the cops doing this, since we so quickly end up policing each other without even realizing it. And today, like all days, these assumptions are tied up with race and class. It breaks my heart right open.
So, feelings. I had a lot of them. And I'm going back tomorrow to have some more.
Friday, November 02, 2012
Sandy --First Person Report from Red Hook, NYC
Commentary By John
Via Twitter, Occupy Sandy and FB we have this on site account.
--- 5:03 PM