FIGHTING FOR THE 99%
OCCUPY WALL STREET, MY FIRST CAMPAIGN, & OCCUPY SANDY STORM RELIEF
When the Occupy movement began, I had been working as a Legislative Assistant to a Pennsylvania State Representative. I decided to see what Occupy was all about. I was inspired by the thought of millions of people standing up, pitching tents in public squares, and saying together: "a better world is possible." With my Quaker education, the consensus-based assemblies of Occupy Philly felt familiar to me. After six weeks of trying to do both, I quit my cushy job and began devoting myself full-time to activism and organizing. I took regular trips to New York City, and other towns and cities, and formed deep bonds with many Occupy Wall Street activists. A group of us around the country developed an organization called InterOccupy, which became the main hub for communication within the movement (through conference calls and an online platform).
Months later, in early 2012, I decided to run for Congress in a primary against an incumbent Democrat. I was called “the first Occupy candidate” and I ran an open, progressive, unique campaign against a corporate-friendly mainstream Democrat. Ultimately, following a legal challenge to my petitions and the threat of paying my opponent’s legal fees, I dropped out. But I’m proud of my campaign and the memory of it gave me the confidence to try again.
By late 2012, it seemed most of the energy of the Occupy movement had dissipated, but the arrival of Superstorm Sandy changed everything. When the first photos of the disaster started appearing in the press, I was shocked by the devastation. I had always considered New Jersey my second home (my father grew up and went to Rutgers in New Brunswick, my beloved aunts on both sides still live here, and the shore and the Pine Barrens have always been favorite summer haunts). I had never experienced such a disaster hitting so close to home.
In New York City, within hours of Sandy coming ashore, my Occupy Wall Street friends launched Occupy Sandy, and it quickly became the most impressive manifestation of the movement. I received a phone call from one friend soon after, asking if I would help lead a conference call for Occupy Sandy in New Jersey. “We have enough to deal with in New York,” he said. Philadelphia had been spared the brunt of the storm, so the Occupy Philly network was in a good position to help. I went on to spend the next year and a half co-organizing Occupy Sandy New Jersey’s grassroots disaster relief efforts.
My work with storm survivors brought me from the flooded trailer parks of Bergen County to the back-bays of Cape May County. One day I might be sitting on the steering committee for the official Cumberland County recovery, the next I might be pounding nails into drywall, and the next I might be yelling at Chris Christie in a crowded firehouse (“Why are you using Sandy money as your own personal slush fund?!?”). I met some of the poorest people in New Jersey — homeless, tired, sick — and witnessed them at their best and at their worst. I know that for many, life still has not returned to normal.