Occupy Sandy, the (not) National Guard & the misuse of a photo I made while helping out after the hurricane
UPDATE 12 Nov 2012: Strike Debt have, unethically and without permission, used my image again on their facebook page (see below). They have ignored repeated requests via Twitter, Facebook and email to remove the photo and apologize for their unethical use of it. They are also soliciting cash donations on their website without saying who they are and how such donations will be audited, if at all. I’d like to remind readers that do-gooder schemes can be a great cover for fraud, especially if the people collecting the cash are nameless and the donations are not transparently audited. Donate to Strike Debt at your own risk.
UPDATE 13 Nov 2012: Following a request to facebook, my photograph has been removed from Strike Debt’s facebook profile.
UPDATE 15 Nov 2012: I’ve been reliably informed that the young men in military uniform in my photo that went viral on facebook & twitter are cadets from the Oneonta Job Corps, a training program for low-income youth. They drove 4 hours each way to help old people in storm-damaged accomodation in Coney Island. Strike Debt have yet to apologise for their misleading and unethical use of the photograph.
I met my teammates at the Church of St Luke & St Matthew at 520 Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, one of Occupy Sandy’s major hubs. The church is a collection point for relief goods and a co-ordination and meeting place for volunteers.
All new volunteers who arrive at 520 Clinton Avenue are asked to participate in a brief orientation session with an Occupy Sandy organizer, during which the goals and philosophy of the effort are clarified; Occupy Sandy is non-discriminatory, is about mutual aid rather than charity, and so on.
While I was in the church a group of men in military uniform arrived to help. I was told that they were National Guard. Like other new volunteers, they participated in an orientation session. Given the recent history of men in uniform arresting thousands of Occupy activists, the irony of men in uniform listening attentively to a young woman** with an Occupy armband did not escape me. I took a photo with my smartphone and, soon after, tweeted it***. Very few people retweeted this tweet.
My wife, @sarahgeline, also tweeted it out from her account – including my Twitter handle @AdamWelz in the tweet – from where it was retweeted numerous times, including by @OccupySandy.
It was then tweeted out near-simultaneously by @OccupyWallSt – implying that the same entity was in control of StrikeDebt’s uploads to Ow.ly and the @OccupyWallSt Twitter account.
Twitter user @StrikeDebt then retweeted the @OccupyWallSt tweet and additionally broadcast its own tweet with the link to the cropped, unattributed version of my photo with the statement “Next to @OccupySandy the Nat Guard looks like an unorganized heap”.
Strike Debt also posted the photo on their facebook page, along with a couple of gently mocking comments. (By 18:45 on Sunday 11 November, when I took this screenshot, it had already received in excess of 500 shares)
Since my image of the men in military uniform and the Occupy Sandy organizer may well have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people at this point, I think it’s important (with a nod to Julian Assange) to maintain the integrity of the historical record and make clear that I did not grant permission to @StrikeDebt to use my photograph. @StrikeDebt did not ask to do this and I would not have granted it, given the words that were tweeted alongside the link to it and the fact that they seem willing to claim credit for images that they didn’t make.
I think that cropping the volunteers in civilian dress out of the picture image makes it look like the men in military uniform were alone in receiving special training from the Occupy Sandy organizer, when they were just participating in the regular, brief orientation along with other volunteers. They were not in any way under the command of the Occupy Sandy organizer.
I think that saying that the “National Guard” looked like “an unorganized heap” is misleading. While I was in the church at 520 Clinton these men — who are in fact not National Guard (see UPDATE 3 above and additions below) — were polite, waited their turn in line just like other volunteers and followed orders from the man who appeared to be their leader. I felt that they were there to help in a spirit of service, like the many other volunteers from all walks of life who have contributed their time, ideas and labor with Occupy Sandy.
I think it’s also fair to say that the scene inside 520 Clinton among the Occupy Sandy crew was the mixture of organization and disorganization one expects from an effort with no clear leaders and where everyone is a volunteer. There was a well-organized group of people allocating drivers and vehicles to destinations with lists of relief supplies that were needed. The people handing out relief goods to volunteers were sharp and fast-moving. But it took almost half an hour for the a human chain to that was moving relief goods from the church to waiting UPS trucks outside to get into its stride.
After helping out in Coney Island by going from door-to-door in a high-rise public housing block that has been without power since Hurricane Sandy roared through, I feel that there is still a significant need for the type of fast-moving, one-on-one relief that Occupy Sandy is providing.
We encountered old or sick people who were trapped in their apartments because, with building elevators destroyed by the storm surge, they could not get down the pitch dark and thoroughly wet stairwells to the ground floor. Some were running out of vital medications. Due to ongoing leaks — water coming through ceilings and walls — many were developing respiratory problems. The fear and loneliness among some of them was palpable; one trapped woman was more grateful for the fact that we simply shook her hand and treated her with humanity than for the flashlights and medical information we’d assisted her with. There are still many flooded, wrecked cars in the streets, and heaps of flotsam and jetsam from the storm surge on the sidewalks.
What Occupy Sandy has achieved is truly remarkable, but alienating National Guardsmen — or others in uniform — who are willing to get involved in an attempt to score a cheap point is not helpful to anyone.
I think the people in my photograph deserve a clear, wholehearted apology from @StrikeDebt.
I would also like @StrikeDebt to acknowledged my authorship of the cropped photo he/she/it/they posted without attribution, acknowledge their cropping and misuse of the image, apologize publicly on their website and remove it from any websites he/she/it/they have access to or control. Basic decency demands nothing less.
note: Any person or entity who would like to publish any of my images can leave a comment on this blog.
*I’ve also been told by militarily-informed sources that these men are *not* National Guard, but actually cadets participating in a ‘delayed entry’ military program, the details of which I’m not sure of, and therefore technically civilians. As you can see, there are no obvious rank insignia on the uniforms and the pattern is, according to my sources, out of date. I’ve updated this blog post to reflect that. There’s are lessons here: Don’t assume that everyone you see in the US in military uniform is, in fact, military.
** Various Occupy-related sites are naming the woman with the Occupy armband as Samantha Corbin, an Occupy Sandy organizer. I have not yet confirmed this.
*** Here’s the second use of my photo on Strike Debt’s facebook page. This time they’ve added a slogan.
**** Here’s my original tweet, which I have now removed from the Twitter feed because the men shown are, according to the best info I currently have, technically civilians, and it was still being retweeted more than a day after I posted it. My original tweet of the photo mistakenly referred to the church at 520 Clinton Avenue as ‘St Marks’. It is, of course, the Church of St Luke & St Matthew.
President Nasheed of the Maldives’ speech at the Klimaforum tonight. The Klimaforum is the ‘alternative’ Copenhagen climate summit venue. He’s the first head of state to arrive in Copenhagen for the climate negotiations and also has a really progressive, science-based position on climate — so he’s getting a lot of attention. 350.org, the amazing campaign I’m doing some media liason work for at Copenhagen, laid on the stage and called out their supporters to give him some love. None of us walked away disappointed.
Nasheed spoke to a packed audience of (I estimate) more than a thousand people and was mobbed by dozens of journalists as he left the stage. A very calm, upright person, he made a great impression (he was a journalist and a democracy rights activist/political prisoner before becoming President).
Here are a couple of my images of Nasheed. They’re not great art, but what the heck — it’s fun to see what this diminutive great man looks like. They’re copyrighted by me, so don’t use them w/out my permission. I wanted to post my audio recording of his speech here but WordPress has gone all buggy and won’t upload audio files tonight er, this morning, actually. It’s 01:32 and I need sleep!
well, my post from two days ago about Lumumba Di-Aping has gone huge — thousands of hits on this site and many more over at 350.org’s updates blog, where it appeared in slightly shortened form. It’s been marked up as the 76th most popular post for 10 December in the WordPress top 100 ranking!
I’m unable to follow up with such a huge scoop today, having been in an office furiously working away at a press release for 350.org‘s African climate awareness events this weekend, but I have been Twittering energetically. I tweet only what I think is current and useful, not random nonsense, and am pretty well plugged in to a number of networks at this Copenhagen climate conference, so if you’re interested in climate issues and the COP15 confab you’ll find my Twitter stream at www.twitter.com/adamwelz. (After the confab my Twittering will revert to being about more general enviro issues, birds and birding, and the odd other interesting thing.)
In between typing sessions I managed to squeeze out for a lunch sandwich, and stumbled into a small square holding some of the climate-related exhibition stuff that’s all over this city at the moment.
Climate wonks are fond of saying that the Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ also means ‘opportunity’. I have no idea if that’s true.
What I do know is that the English words ‘climate crisis’ translate into ‘branding opportunity’.
It’s quite incredible how many big names have used what is probably the biggest threat to a stable future for us all to promote their brands. There’s the giant Hopenhagen campaign that is all over town, sponsored by, among others, Siemens, Coca-cola and Carlsberg beer. (Siemens, having been handed down the largest corporate fine in US history not so long ago — for massive and systematic global bribery — doubtless has some major image-polishing to do. I have no idea what fizzy drinks have to do with climate change — maybe they want to take the CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it in cans?)
The square I found my lunch sandwich in had a groovy Polar Bear skeleton sculpture made of bronze that had been set inside a Polar Bear-shaped iceblock, which was now melting. Great symbolism I guess, but the Panasonic ads all around the pedestal made any gravitas it once held, vanish. Save the climate — now buy a cheap video camera, dammit! Eish.
On the other side of the square was a mysterious golden box that informed us that Brad Pitt was (singlehandedly?) going to save the planet. I looked through the windows and all I saw was a messy office inside with no Brad. Perhaps he was hiding under the desk?
Peculiar. But perhaps not any more peculiar than the things going down in the serious negotiation environment at the giant Bella convention centre at the edge of town, where, if the waves of quiet, serious climate denialism emanating from most country delegations don’t get to you, the high-volume version from the nutty Lord Monckton might.
Maybe it’s just lack of sleep, but this bit of silly of youth climate activism made my day!
I’m a South African passport holder. Recently, SA passport holders have been required to get a British visa to visit or transit the UK even if we’re just passing through the airport for an hour to change planes and not going through immigration — or so the story goes. Getting this visa can be a pain in the neck and very expensive.
I recently spent some time on the UK Border Agency website, which is confusing; it seemed to indicate a concession granted to certain people transiting the UK who are in possession of a valid US, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand visa.
After emailing the (beyond) hopeless private company that handles UK visa applications to ask for advice and receiving an enormously long reply that consisted of cut-and-pasted, contradictory excerpts from what seemed like immigration officer training manuals, I emailed the UK Border Agency themselves.
It seems I CAN transit the UK without holding a UK visa — if I have a valid US one — at the discretion of the immigration officer on duty. (This is not an absolute right of transit without a visa. It is subject to various conditions and I do not take responsibility for anything that happens to you, the reader, while trying to transit Heathrow without a visa.)
See exchange below, initiated by me from a web form:
Sent: 16 November 2009 3:05 PM
To: Public Visa Enqs
Subject: Ref: VCS88990: General information
Page used to send this email:
Nationality of traveller:
Where are you?
Dear UK Border Agency
I have made a request for rule clarification (Case Number 00266921) from
your private partner, WorldBridge Services, and received a totally
incomprehensible and contradictory response, hence this email.
I am a South African citizen and passport holder. I need to transit
Heathrow (on the airside, without entering the UK) while travelling from
Europe back home to South Africa in January 2010.
My current UK visitors’ visa expires in December 2009.
says, under the heading “Passengers exempt from the DATV requirement”,
that “Holders of certain documents are, REGARDLESS OF NATIONALITY,
exempt from the requirement to hold a Direct Airside Transit Visa when
transiting the UK.”
One of the documents listed as providing for this exemption is a valid
US visa when travelling from the US to another country.
I hold a multiple-entry US visa valid until 2012 and am travelling from
the USA to South Africa via Europe (I will pass through Heathrow after
being in Europe to get back to South Africa).
Do I still need a Direct Airside Transit Visa?
Public Visa Enqs
date Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 1:10 PM
subject RE: VCS88990: General information
Thank you for this enquiry.
No visa is needed if :
– the passenger is genuinely in transit; and
– there is no intention to stay more than 24 hours in the UK; and
– the traveller holds a confirmed booking on an onward flight from the
– the traveller has a valid visa for the country of next destination
(where required by the laws of that country).
In these circumstances, the traveller may be allowed into the UK without
a visa under the Transit Without Visa (TWOV) concession. This concession
allows the traveller to depart from a different airport within the UK to
that of arrival and also to stay overnight away from the airport if
But the following are unlikely to be granted the concession:
– A person who has been refused entry to the United Kingdom;
– A person who has been deported or otherwise removed from the United
– A person who has been served with a notice of deportation or removal
from the UK, but left before such action was taken;
– A person who has illegally overstayed or otherwise breached UK
immigration conditions, e.g. worked illegally; or
– A person who has been warned to obtain a visa on their next journey to
the UK by an official of the UK Immigration Service.
For more information, please see Guidance Note INF 20 on our website at
Public Enquiries [I], Visa Customer Services,
Visa Services Directorate, International Group UKBA,
c/o Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY, England
UPDATE: I transited Heathrow without a UK visa successfully on 7 January 2010, but the transit was not entirely straightforward because I had not come directly from the USA, but had spent some weeks in Europe in between leaving the US and arriving at Heathrow for my flight back to Cape Town. The immigration officer on duty told me that one would normally be allowed to Transit Without Visa (TWOV) if one held a US, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand visa and was transiting via Heathrow as part of an uninterrupted journey between one of those countries and your country of origin, but if one spent time in other countries along the way, even if this was broadly speaking part of your journey to or from the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, you were in a grey area as far as TWOV was concerned, and some immigration officers would allow you to transit and others might not.
Conclusion: If you hold a valid US, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand visa, and you are travelling to or from one of those countries to or from South Africa, you should be able to transit the UK (i.e. be in the country for 24 hours or less) without holding a UK visa — provided you have always obeyed UK law in your previous visits there and conform to the other terms and conditions stated above. But please remember this is at the discretion of the immigration officer on duty and I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU IF YOU FOLLOW THE ADVICE IN THIS BLOG POST. I AM NOT AN IMMIGRATION EXPERT.
I look forward to hearing about other SA passport holders’ recent experiences of transiting the UK while holding valid US, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand visas – and no UK visa.
found this little 8-sided, A5-sized pamphlet of Robert Mugabe’s first speech to the nation of Zimbabwe in a second-hand shop somewhere in Cape Town, I think in Kalk Bay, some time ago. It’s printed on very poor-quality paper, and seems to have been destined for circulation in the USA (see inside front page). The speech was given before he was sworn in as Prime Minister, and before the formal Independence of Zimbabwe. It seems to be his first formal speech to the nation as a whole, give that it’s published as ‘For the record No.1′.
I thought I’d put it up here for interest’s sake, seeing as the Old Man is still there almost 30 years on. It’s quite remarkable to see how some of his views have changed in that time (!)
Here is the cover:
and the inside front cover:
the first page of the speech itself:
the second page of the speech:
and the third, and final, page of the speech:
The remaining three pages in the pamphlet were blank.
I know this is not the sort of stuff that usually appears on this blog, but I thought it worth putting up here.
Note, 28 Sep 2009: I’ve just discovered this copy of this speech on the Web Archive — it seems to have been deleted from the Zimbabwean government’s website, possibly because it so obviously contradicts Mugabe’s current views and actions.