Hurricane Sandy: Top Down Relief

By Damien Crisp

Because we can expect a compounding of disasters, systemic failures and predatory for-profit interventions in aftermaths during this era of environmental turmoil born as criminal embodiment of greed, we need to anticipate steps towards building a better world in response to the dissolution of our very imperfect world. We can begin by embracing critique of corrupted institutions which have drifted as far as possible away from the “democratic” and are delivered as a suicide within the form: disaster.

One fault line in our relief system is its adoption of a detached, imprisoned, sedentary, corporate ethos. Quantity can equal inhuman distancing. The reverse of representation, quantity is abstracted life. Representation is directly human. Efficiency can equal the same as focusing on quantity – thorough and viral neglect. The are a lot of stories to tell after Hurricane Sandy and they will not be written by top down power structures. The same can be said for building back better. This is the curse of our official relief system.

A corporate ethos is the opposite of a democratic body. How do we critique this adoption? Pointing out the difference between a top down relief organization and a bottom up relief network strips away logic of corporate management. Establishing human to human exchanges on the ground after a disaster strips away logic of corporate management. Setting a principle of devotion to self-empowerment as an aspect of relief work strips away logic of corporate management.

Building human to human relationships one action at a time is a positive virus. It may seem too slow, or pointless, but is the exact remedy against oppression enacted by systems of relief modeled after 21st century corporate logics devised to address an array of approaches to generating profit. These systems are ultimately the primary emergency obnoxiously never in flux.

To be grassroots means to both assume autonomy versus authority and to join an undefined movement with a long history. This undefined movement with no particular beginning is resistance. It is the movement of resistance literally as a very material rite which at times is sacred and at times unpolished. The consequence of invention from the ground up can be messy and lack the polish of corporate logic, but this consequence is not a flaw of these material piercings through various oppression. The consequence is itself a consequence. It is an invitation through experimentation to the unexpected.

I want to believe we can last forever with invention, response, adaptation and resistance. We can wait for the elite and the flawed systems of elite management to save us and we will wait and wait. We can wait or we can make them irrelevant. I want to believe we can make oppressive systems irrelevant with peaceful subversion.

Occupy Sandy’s secret to mobilizing an army of volunteers who are self-empowered and tireless was the act of underlining the political nature of relief work, placing the concept of mutual aid at the center and stressing a code of horizontal organization with an underscored dedication to principles of anti-oppression. Mutual aid is a critique of oppressive forms of capitalism. Horizontal organization is an alternative to top down power structures. Anti-oppression is a way to engage without assumption, bias or force.

Disaster leaves jumbles of communities, a lot of absence, toxins, bad dreams, traumatized bodies and dense paperwork. The list goes on and should be recorded then recited like a litany. We face intangible edges of things that add up quickly and become difficult to transmit. For days after Hurricane Sandy everyone in the city seemed to be looking at the sky. I think we were all imagining the next storm curling overhead with tragic swirls. Where is the emergency in New York City? The emergency is everywhere. We are unified with or without consensus.

I watched the sky walking through Brooklyn, Harlem, midtown.

“How long would we last”, I thought.