Posted on December 30, 2012
Some people think of an anchor as something that ties you down, but I prefer to think of it as something that helps you weather the stormy seas. It grounds you through the wind, the rain, and the waves. Your ship may toss around in the sea, but you know you’ll make it through the storm. It’s about holding onto hope and knowing that even in the darkest and hardest of times, you’ll make it through… and that when you do, you’ll be able to lift up your anchor and sail again.
Posted on December 29, 2012
With Christmas done and over with, and New Years almost upon us, I’m looking back on the memories I have of my mother and grandmother, both of whom passed away in the last month. I could go on and on about how wonderful my grandmother’s cooking was, or how great of a teacher my mother was, but instead I’m going to focus on how these two women helped mold me into the person I am today. Both of them were strong, spunky, loving women who taught me to follow my dreams and always do what I think is right.
Although my mother was never fully able to understand why I am so involved as an activist, she always supported the fact that I found something I am so passionate about. In fact, it was because of her that I first became politically active, although it wasn’t intentional on her part. As a teacher, she was specifically attacked by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill that was introduced in February of 2011. My mother called me on Friday, February 11th, 2011 (also known as the day Walker dropped “the bomb”) and she filled me in on what was happening. I remember her telling me that Walker even put the National Guard on alert in case of citizens responding to this legislation.
I instantly got on my computer to look into it more, and I came across a Facebook event telling people to come to the State Capitol that Monday. I had never been to a protest in my entire life, but I decided that this was something I needed to do – for my mom, and for everybody else who would be affected. But, there was only one problem… I was very sick at the time, and had just been prescribed antibiotics from the doctor. I was also going to college in Milwaukee, which is an hour and a half from the State Capitol in Madison, so a quick trip to at least check it out wasn’t possible. Monday came and went, and I was hearing that thousands of people had showed up that day and that they were planning to come back on Tuesday. On Tuesday, more people showed up, and that was the first night that people slept over at the Capitol. On Wednesday, I decided I didn’t care how sick I was, I had to make it to the Capitol. So I went with a couple of friends, and that day changed the course of my life.
The scene was like nothing I had ever seen before. Tens of thousands of people were there, streets were closed down because the cops couldn’t control us, and the sounds of drumming and chanting echoed throughout the entire Capitol building. I instantly fell in love with everything that was happening there. On the ride home that day, I was wondering how long this would be going on, and if I would even be able to make it back before it ended. But, I woke up the next day, went back to the Capitol, and that was the first night I slept over. I kept returning day after day, and slept over when my class schedule allowed. I couldn’t stay away from Madison, so I ended up skipping classes to be there. Ultimately, I dropped out of school, which my mother was definitely not happy about, as she was a teacher. Although I had always pictured myself finishing college, I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I decided I couldn’t miss out on it.
Since then I have committed my entire life to fighting for social and economic justice. I was on the front lines of our fight in Wisconsin until I decided it was time to take the next step in my life, and I moved to NYC five months ago where the Occupy movement is still alive and kicking. Now I am working as a crowdfunded photojournalist, covering protests and other political events, along with currently telling the story of Hurricane Sandy aftermath and cleanup.
Everyone in my family is supportive of my life, but many of them still have a hard time fully grasping why I do what I do – and I don’t blame them. I’m sure it seems crazy to many people that I have given up the comfortable lifestyle I had in order to spend all of my time fighting against our repressive, corrupt government, which includes living off of donations for my work. But, my grandmother was always extremely understanding and loved hearing about what I had been up to. Whenever I visited her, she was quick to ask what my last adventures had been. Even when I tried to ask about her life, she would brush the question off and ask to hear more of my stories. She constantly told me how proud she was of me, but she didn’t even have to say it out loud because I could see it in her eyes.
Before all of this, my plan was to finish my major in criminal justice and become a police officer in New York City someday. I did end up in NYC, but instead I’m an activist who has been pepper sprayed, shoved around, and arrested by police officers while fighting to make this world a better place… and it all started with a phone call from my mom and continued with support from my grandma. Although these two wonderful women are no longer physically in my life, they are still in my heart, and I know that the lessons I learned from them will keep me on the right path in life.
Update: I should also add that I was struggling a lot in college after being diagnosed with ADD partway through my freshman year. I was suffering from depression and anxiety, and had basically hit rock bottom. Finding my passion for activism helped me get through that, so my mother and grandmother helping me find this passion may have very well saved my life.
Posted on December 4, 2012
Today, Occupy Faith and members of the community gathered outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s residence to speak out about the lack of resources being used to address the housing issue after hurricane Sandy and the misinformation about the dangers of mold. Info from the press release:
Without the housing alternatives that the mayor ought to have provided by now many victims have had no choice but to stay in their devastated and mold-infested homes. As a result many are getting terribly sick from these conditions. The lack of housing coupled with the misinformation of the dangers of living with mold are putting these vulnerable communities at greater risk than necessary.
Click here to find the full press release.
Posted on December 3, 2012
“New Yorkers overwhelmingly agree that climate change was behind super storm Sandy, which hit that state particularly hard a little over a month ago. Fully 69 percent of Empire State residents blame climate change for the storm, while just 24 percent think it was ‘isolated weather events,’ according to a Siena Research Institute poll released this morning. That includes at least 63 percent of voters in every region of the state, and even a near-majority — 46 percent — of Republicans. Two-thirds of independent voters also blame climate change.”
Read more here: Large majorities blame Sandy on global warming
Posted on December 3, 2012
I have been following the cleanup of New Dorp Beach, Staten Island since about a week after Hurricane Sandy hit. I’ve seen this neighborhood transform since then. First there was piles of trash in the streets – people’s belongings that were ruined from the flooding – so much that you could barely walk down the street. The first piles of trash were cleaned up within a few days thanks to the hardworking department of sanitation workers and volunteers who came to help. Then people had time to sit back and assess the damage to their homes… after which many, if not most of them, began to gut their homes. Carpet, dry wall, insulation, everything is now being torn out of these homes due to flood damage and mold. Although power has been restored to the neighborhood and the street lights are back on, the homes now have to be inspected before power will be turned on to them, so many are still without power, heat, and hot water.
Many homes look like the one in this photo – just sitting there, missing portions of their walls, no furniture or personal belongings, and sections of dry wall torn out with other sections still in tact. What I’m getting at is that although there has been tons of cleanup done so far, this is just the beginning. New Dorp Beach, and many other neighborhoods hit hard by Sandy, will be cleaning up for months, if not years to come.
Below is a photo of one of the first homes I went into after hurricane Sandy. It was on a chilly day, and as Giles Clarke and I walked by, these kind folks invited us in to warm up by their wood burning stove. We graciously accepted their offer. These people who had lost everything on their first floor worked to get their wood stove up-and-running again, and then shared the warmth with us. Today, I returned to visit them and, yet again, warmed up by their fire. The kindness of the residents of New Dorp Beach, many of whom have lost basically everything, continues to inspire me.
And this is Eddie from New Dorp Beach. His home received major flood damage during hurricane Sandy when the water rose up 8 feet. Although FEMA reported that his neighbors received 8 feet of flooding, the inspector that came to his house reported that he only had 4 inches. The FEMA inspector also reported that he did not have any vehicles, even though there was a van and a motorcycle in his driveway, both of which no longer work because of the flood damage. He spoke out against this obvious discrimination, and now FEMA said they will be sending in another inspector to look at his home.
He had originally gone to a shelter for one night after the hurricane, but was disgusted by the conditions there, and instead choose to put blankets on the floor and sleep in his mold-covered home. In order to stay warm, he was using a wood burning stove, which caused his home to catch fire just a few days ago. This is just one story from one resident in New Dorp Beach, where many, many people are still extremely devastated after hurricane Sandy.
A family put a Christmas tree in a park on Cedar Grove Ave in New Dorp Beach. The sign next to is says, “Here stands our tree of hope. Our symbol of resolve and strength to breathe life back into our community once again. These ornaments represent each family member’s life line. Lets stand together as a community….. The Alvarez Family, Marc, Debbie, Jack, Dylan. Merry Christmas ♥”
I also spent time in Midland Beach, Staten Island, and below are photos from there:
Click here to find out how you can help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.