Piotr Kropotkin was an anarchist because he believed that absent government, people would help each other. Born a Russian noble, Kropotkin renounced his title and spent his life as an activist and theorist, and proclaimed his allegiance to poor. He saw government, which extracted wealth and started wars, as the problem.
The solution was in the people. Everywhere Kropotkin looked, in Siberia where he worked as a scientist and bureaucrat, and in the animal kingdom, he saw Mutual Aid. Absent government coercion, people helped each other, building sustainable and humane societies.
For one strain of anarchists, the work to be done was not only to resist government, but also to build alternative networks for addressing social problems.
Occupy activists in New York have worked to rise to the challenges of Superstorm Sandy. Occupy Sandy is an effort at mutual aid, directed explicitly to the people most affected by the storm. Occupiers have collected and distributed relief, including food. And for Thanksgiving, Occupy Sandy organized meals in affected neighborhoods in New York City. Occupy Wall Street has forged an alliance with the environmental group, 350.org, to organize for action on climate change while providing relief.
Maintaining a presence in Zuccotti Park is simple compared to building the infrastructure needed to take on a large relief effort. Occupiers have been raising money and building the expertise needed to make these efforts work, organizing meals, entertainment, and fundraising efforts.
In the large wake of Sandy, all of these efforts are welcome, necessary, and possible. Over a longer haul, it’s hard to see any of this working as an ongoing volunteer effort. People have jobs outside the relief effort. Those who stay inside the relief effort will specialize, develop relationships with funders (likely including government at all levels), and find routines to do their jobs more effectively. It’s hard to balance advocacy and service.