Jelani Mashariki has recently become a rising figure in the perpetually contentious Brooklyn political landscape. In a borough where we have recently seen long time County Democratic party chair Vito Lopez recently fall from power, Rory Lancman open a run to replace James Gennaro, and Democratic State Senator Simcha Felder decided to caucus with his GOP colleagues, Mr. Mashariki is a fresh, current voice coming from a different perspective. Shortly before Hurricane Sandy ravaged the borough’s ocean front property, he announced his candidacy for the City Council in the borough’s 35 th District, a seat that will be left vacant by current councilwoman Tish James’ bid for Public Advocate.
After the Frankenstorm, Mr. Mashariki was heavily involved in the cleanup efforts and Occupy Sandy’s volunteer training/donation intake hub at 520 Clinton Street in Brooklyn. I was able to reach him by phone to arrange this interview.
DB: Mr. Mashariki, how did you become involved in the Occupy Sandy relief efforts?
JM: I run a homeless men’s shelter so I was already involved in that professionally. Previously I had been involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement so it was a logical transition to become involved in Occupy Sandy outreach and donations.
DB: Where have most of your efforts been focused?
JM: At the 520 Clinton Street location which is a volunteer training/donations intake hub. But there are other locations, for example – the Jacoby Church which is on 5th Ave and 53rd Street in Brooklyn and other OS hubs throughout the affected areas.
DB: I have seen several pictures of you with your daughter at the site, as well as other volunteers bringing their children along to assist in volunteering. How do you feel about this being a teachable moment for younger generations?
JM: Mutual aid and assisting others is important to teach to our youth because it makes them sensitive to the needs of others. Also at anytime they could go through this themselves and that there are/will be systems in place to address these issues in the future. They are prepared to take leadership roles in dire situations. It teaches that another world is actually possible and we can put it together ourselves. W.E.B. Dubois said “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”
DB: Is there any sense that things are actually returning to normal?
JM: Some people have stopped working, some have increased working in terms of volunteers at the site. Occupy Sandy especially has been moving forward rapidly and growing every day. My District wasn’t in the effected flood zones, in reality. But in terms of residents that were affected, no, there is no sense of normalcy because some people are still without power, people are dealing with mold, replacing what they lost in the storm…30,000 people were displaced by this event, there is no normalcy.
The commitment of people, of the volunteers to go out using any means of transportation – the OWS Bike Brigade went from 520 Clinton to the Rockaways with donations on their bicycles. They did it recently, it was a nice day, a Saturday. These acts should be everyday,acts of caring around the city.
DB: What’s the best way for people to get involved in the relief efforts you are actively working on?
JM: The best thing for them to do is go to OccupySandy.org, Volunteer and send anything they can because the rebuilding process has only just started. Mutual Aid not Charity
Thanks Mr. Mashariki for talking with us. Good luck with all your efforts.
Mr. Mashariki's campaign page can be seen here.