After the hurricane, I was telling people not to donate to Occupy Sandy, despite all the glowing press they were getting. Aside from the ideological issues, Occupiers are the least trustworthy people in the world.
As relief turns to long-term recovery, community activists have their eyes on a group they know has some money left unspent: Occupy Sandy.
After Superstorm Sandy hit New York last October, Occupy Wall Street—the global protest movement against economic inequality that started in downtown Manhattan—set up a new group, Occupy Sandy, and mobilized thousands of supporters to raise more than $1.37 million, according to finances made public on their website.
But here’s the thing: Roughly one out of every five dollars raised—nearly $300,000—remains unallocated. According to interviews with Occupy Sandy organizers, it’s been more than three months since the group began the process of giving this remaining money over to community groups in the hardest-hit areas. Only a fraction of the $150,000 that has already been allocated to the Rockaways has so far been disbursed.
Mind you, it’s already June. The hurricane hit in October 2012. A fifth of the cash is up in the air.
So far, there’s no clear picture of how nearly $240,000 of funds already allocated have been, or will be, spent. Bre Lembitz, an original Zuccotti park occupier, now Occupy Sandy’s bookkeeper, attributes the delay mostly to paperwork snags beyond the group’s control: “The documentation has fallen by the wayside,” she says. “It hasn’t been a priority for people.”
How much paperwork do you have when you claim to be an ad hoc organization?
Some Rockaway residents say that Occupy Sandy is keeping them in the dark about how they will dish out its remaining money, and that the group, which has no one central location in the city but operates from several hubs, isn’t including them in decision-making.
A secretive and controlling left wing group? I’m shocked.
Occupy Sandy has now convened a panel of nine people to serve the specific needs of the Rockaways, including 4 residents affiliated with Occupy Sandy, and to decide how their chunk of money gets spent. There is no timeline for this, but organizers say some grants might begin to flow in another month’s time. As for the nearly $300,000, Lembitz says Occupy Sandy is “in the process” of having open meetings “where the community can come together and decide how best to allocate the rest of the money.” But apart from one debrief session, the group’s public calendar is bare through the end of the year.
There’s a meeting. Totally. It’s just taking place in a basement somewhere in Canada… and you’re not invited.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” says Robyn Hillman-Harrigan, who runs Shore Soup Project, a group that provided more than 50,000 hot meals door-to-door in the aftermath of the storm. She goes out of her way to say she’s supportive of the bigger Occupy Sandy principles, and thinks its efforts have been largely commendable. But she can’t help but see the irony of a small group making decisions about money meant for the many. “It feels like a club,” she says.
Or a Soviet.
Terri Bennett defended the makeup of the new Rockaway panel. “There’s a really fine line between inviting enough people to participate, and inviting too many,” she says. She also says the group wants to avoid being overwhelmed by requests and repeating the mistakes of the past: “I also think that those [community] groups are kind of the same people over and over again that are already involved in these processes, but if we invite people who aren’t normally invited to the table, then it builds a bunch of peoples’ capacities.”
And apparently half those people have to belong to Occupy Sandy.
If Occupy Sandy doesn’t tell the Rockaways community how it plans to spend the rest of the money, “I personally believe they have outstayed their welcome,” Taylor says.