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Submitted by Caroline Contillo on Mon, 12/30/2013, 5:21pm
It's the time of year when we are most often asked to "think of the less fortunate." But what if we felt empowered to take action that might actually help them? #OpSafeWinter, inspired by the lessons learned at Occupy Wall Street and from teachers like Sharon Salzberg and Bob Thurman, aims to do just that by providing a decentralized network of support for the homeless. Instead of waiting around for relief organizations, is it possible for us to involve ourselves in direct mutual aid, thus revealing the interdependent nature of suffering and compassion?
Inspired by the real-world experience and skill sets developed on the ground during Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sandy, folks involved in these two previous relief missions came together to address another problem threatening more and more people during the economic crisis: homelessness. An #OpSafeWinternyc contact describes mutual aid as a two-way street. Not only do the homeless and hungry receive relief in the form of coats and food, but those doing the relief are developing contacts and getting the chance to use their skills. Everyone gets an expanded sense of what's possible by learning to interact with their neighbors, homeless or not, in an informal setting.
#OpSafeWinter is different from traditional relief organizations in that it's a horizontal, decentralized network. Anyone who thinks up a mission that might help the homeless can feel empowered to do so, and the network is a tool to connect those in need with those who can provide. There are people working to document and skill-share online in major cities across not only the US but across the globe as well. It's also different than a consciousness raising campaign that merely increases awareness of a problem and possibly inspires people to donate money. #OpSafeWinter takes awareness and builds on it with action. The movement makes use of direct aid to the homeless rather than relying on intermediaries, a technique we saw in the days after Hurricane Sandy when people refused to wait for the lagging and incomplete support of the Red Cross or FEMA. The process does one better than merely highlighting the homeless problem across the globe, but also builds a resource network of donated food, blankets, and clothing, thus stepping in with a safety net where the city and federal government has dropped the ball.
This horizontal network emerged not only from the practical on-the-ground experience of the Occupy community and decentralized online tactics like Anonymous, but also drew inspiration from teachers like IDP Lineage Mentor Sharon Salzberg and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. Generosity is the heart of #OpSafeWinter, and it hopes to "inspire or incite people to look at their relationship with others through service to those on the streets." The open set of tools provided by the #OpSafeWinter hashtag succeed in amplifying compassionate intentions.
This method breaks down the self/other boundary so often seen in relief organizations where I, a person of means, can give my time or money to help the amorphous suffering other. By breaking down this binary, #OpSafeWinter exposes the interdependence of suffering and provides tools for mutual aid. We are, in effect, helping each other.
If you're interested in being involved in #OpSafeWinter, our contact recommends finding out if people are already active in your city and following them on Facebook and Twitter. For New Yorkers, @opsafewinternyc is the twitter handle where you can find out about actions, donations, and suggested tools and missions in alleviating the suffering of those most vulnerable during the winter months. You are encouraged to act on your compassion with your unique skills and forms of contribution.
Links to find out more about #OpSafeWinter & keep up with local actions:
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