Occupy Sandy and the Occupy Movement


At Zuccotti Park, there was always a bit of social service involved in the occupation:-- homeless people sheltered, the hungry fed -- but it was ancillary to Occupy's main objectives, which dealt with societal, structural problems. But the reaction to hurricane Sandy, and the formation of Occupy Sandy, brought out a different aspect of the Occupy movement, not directed at Wall Street or big systemic issues, but directly providing help to those in need.What kind of role is that for Occupy? How does it fit in with Occupy Wall Street's basic thrust?

Look at my earlier blogs at, #21 (dealing with social justice issues in the distribution of public resources after Sandy), #22 (commandeering vacant housing for those displaced) , Blog #23 (treating Occupy Sandy work as prefigurative, rather than as model), and Blog #24, which deals with the relations between helper and those helped, between giver and recipient and the institutions involved..

Is the "Occupy" in Occupy Sandy a misnomer for a commendable but ordinary charitable endeavor, fundamentally unconnected to Occupy Wall Street?

No. Blog #23 argues that it has the same ultimate aim as other Occupy movements: achieving fundamental improvements in societal structures through transformative activities. But rather than pursue that task through words and slogans and demonstrations, Occupy Sandy uses its efforts to prefigure what could be done in an alternative society. It shows what simple human concern for others can achieve, how solidarity can motivate actions even where both markets and government fall short. In the process, it prefigures what changed human relationships can be.

Unlike efforts to model what an alternative society might look like, from utopian communities to communes to the organization of fully democratic encampments in public spaces of the last year, Occupy Sandy does not seek to separate itself from the surrounding society, to make itself a demonstrative model of something different. Instead, Occupy Sandy simply reveals what is already present in the basic nature of men and women, but not allowed its full scope in an alienated society where the motor of progress is seen in competition and success is judged in private profit terms. Its actions prefigure elements of a model society: solidarity and caring and selflessness,already present, almost at an instinctual level, in all individuals in the present society. It is a different route to social change, prefiguring rather than modeling.

Blog #24 then illustrates the way in which Occupy Sandy has affected the relationships among the occupiers involved, those they are helping, others making use of the existence of needs for help for ulterior purposes, how different helpers are seen by those they are helping, and how relations between occupiers and institutions, from churches to the police and FEMA employees, have developed.

Details of the blogs are spelled out at

Comments, particularly but not only from occupiers, are welcome, either on the blog or by email.

Peter Marcuse
Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning
School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Columbia University

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