Goldi Guerra, a member of Occupy Sandy, spoke during a storm-recovery meeting with community members in April at a church on Staten Island.
By SARAH MASLIN NIR
Published: April 30, 2013 148 Comments
Not long ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement seemed poised to largely fade from the national conversation with few concrete accomplishments beyond introducing its hallmark phrase, “We are the 99 percent.”
Then Hurricane Sandy struck. In its aftermath, Occupy Wall Street protesters rushed to apply their rabble-rousing hustle to cleaning out houses, clearing debris and raising more than $1.5 million for relief efforts. In some minds, Occupy members had become less a collection of disaffected class warriors than a group of efficient community volunteers. Occupy Sandy, as the effort came to be known, became one of the most widely praised groups working on the storm recovery.
As Occupy members around the country plan the movement’s annual May Day protests, a central question has emerged: whether Occupy Sandy represents a betrayal of the Occupy movement, or its future.
“We’re helping poor people; before we were fighting rich people,” said Goldi Guerra, 45, who camped for a time at Zuccotti Park, the site in Lower Manhattan where the movement took root, and since the storm has spent nearly every day helping victims on Staten Island. “It’s still the same equation. But it’s much more glass half full, optimistic, giving and” — he added, referring to the many clashes between protesters and the police — “legal.”
But the shift away from the core message of income inequality has contributed to a growing rift within Occupy, which once seemed poised to become a leftist alternative to the Tea Party. The storm response brought a more mainstream contingent into the shrinking movement, as Occupiers were joined in mucking out houses by people who shared their values but had found their tactics too radical. But now some members say in the process the movement has sold out, that by soliciting donations from corporations like Home Depot and applying for government grants, it has allied itself with the very forces it was formed to fight against.
“People gain power by standing together,” said Bill Dobbs, an Occupy member who early on criticized the change in direction. “If we are doing scores of projects around the city, that’s important work, but the focus has to come back to the most powerful financial institutions.”
The debate between lofty ideals and practical goals has echoes in Occupy groups around the country.
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