So why’d they end up at Occupy Sandy? Corbin’s speculation to me that there wasn’t anywhere else for them to volunteer seems accurate, from what Heidenriech said. “I spent a week on the phone with the Red Cross and Salvation Army and got nowhere,” he said. Describing the Red Cross as an “impenetrable wall of bureaucracy, even in the face of devastation,” Heidenriech turned to other visible volunteer groups. Occupy Sandy called him back in a half hour, he said, and got his group an assignment in under an hour. “They have it together,” he said. “It was an honor to work with them.”
His cadets spent from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. volunteering on Coney Island, where they carried food, supplies, and other aid to residents trapped without heat or electricity in high rises damaged in the storm. They’ll be back, too, he said, some time after Thanksgiving. “We plan on coming down every few weeks, until things are back to normal,” he said. They’d make more trips if the four-hour drive to and from Oneonta wasn’t so onerous.
Despite the misidentification of the men in the photo, the story behind it confirms, rather than confounds, the reach of Occupy Sandy’s relief work beyond the movement’s immediate circle of influence. The men are there because of a failure of larger relief groups like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, something that’s been a running theme in coverage of the post-Sandy cleanup and relief work in New York. While it certainly does not show military men taking orders from an Occupy organizer, it does show the effectiveness of Occupy Sandy’s ability to get volunteers out in the field regardless of their previous involvement with or understanding of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s principles. And crucially, for those who care more about getting the work recovering from a disaster done than about a humanitarian aid version of a locker-room contest, the effectiveness of Occupy Sandy’s organizing as a volunteer and supply dispatch point in the wake of the storm has produced a space in which the ironic tableau spotted and photographed by Welz last weekend will likely become less and less unusual.