Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Hurricane Sandy's wake

photos courtesy of Naked Capitalism
"This disaster is a big wake up call. The East Coast will limp through it, with more deaths and dislocations than were necessary. The open question is whether the officialdom will engage in the kind of post mortems and investments to reduce the impact of future disasters" Yves Smith Naked Capitalism
As the death toll continues to mount from Hurricane Sandy, articles are starting to appear about the social legacy of  the hurricane for New York and the northeastern parts of the USA.

Michelle Chen points out that  natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy compound and expose established and manufactured inequality. Chen argues that like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Hurricane Sandy has exposed the appalling inequalities and racial, economic and social divides in New York. 

Chen writes:
But in the microcosm of New York City, we can already see who’s going to bear the brunt of the damage. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, floodwaters have a way of exposing the race and class divisions that stratify our cities.
In Naked Capitalism Yves Smith provides some chilling photos and reports of the hurricane's force in New York and its impact on the "fragility of complex systems" (see here here, here and here).

Smith notes that that the hardest-hit workers belong to the forgotten ranks of “the janitors, the cooks and delivery men, the people who run newsstands and dry cleaners and cobblers and food carts” and the health care workers who respond to day-to-day emergencies. Smith writes that most neglected survivors will presumably be those who lack insurance, those living paycheck to paycheck, those without the legal know-how and social supports needed to navigate systems of disaster relief.

In the UK Guardian Bill McKibben laments the impact of the hurricane on the New York subway system which he argues is a critical part of the ecosystem of New York. McKibben highlights how the subway system forms part of the democratic heart of New York by virtue of the reliance of ordinary New Yorkers on the system for their daily lives. McKibben writes:
I'm an environmentalist: New York is as beautiful and diverse and glorious as an old-growth forest. It's as grand, in its unplanned tumble, as anything ever devised by man or nature. And now, I fear its roots are being severed.
The impact of the cyclone on elderly and disabled people in New York is also starting to be recognised as horror stories emerge of elderly people who perished because they chose to stay in their houses or were unable to flee due to their disability or lack of support and assistance. 

The heightened vulnerability of older people to the impact of  serious climate related disasters is well documented, no better example than Eric Klinenburg's remarkable expose of the effect of the 1995 Chicago heat wave on older residents.

What is also re-emerging "post Sandy" is recognition of the tradition of service provision, mutual aid and volunteering as a form of political organising.

Occupy Sandy for example is a coordinated effort by many of the groups involved in the Occupy Movement to provide relief and supplies to those most directly affected by the Hurricane.

In a piece titled After Sandy Communities Mobilize a new Kind of Disaster Relief Laura Gottesdeiner writes:
For organizers, however, disaster relief and political protest are two tactics toward a common goal: stopping large-scale human suffering incentivized by global economic forces. After all, as a former volunteer at occupied Zuccotti Park recently reminded me, Occupy itself was also born out of a deadly and lucrative crisis.
In this piece Sarah Jaffe writes about the ways that the New Yorkers involved in the Occupy Movement have mobilised to provide mutual aid to those most directly affected;
"There’s a particular opportunity for mutual aid in the void in the aftermath of disaster, particularly in a neoliberal state whose safety net has been shredded, where the state simply isn’t there and people step up to take care of each other (not “themselves” as our libertarian friends would have it, and not the rich handing out charity as Mitt Romney wants you to believe, but communities in solidarity). The idea of mutual aid was at the foundation of Occupy as much as the much-debated horizontalism and the opposition to the banks...............................................................................................................

“It’s amazing how organized we are, it’s amazing how much so many people involved with the social movement have learned about themselves, about each other, about all of how, how to put these values into practice,” Michael Premo, one of the Occupy organizers in Sunset Park, told me.

In Red Hook earlier I’d seen lines around the block for food, diapers, blankets, flashlights, water, as the Red Hook Initiative/Occupy Sandy effort had expanded to more buildings, separated its hot food distribution from the place to get supplies to take home. The public housing all around us was still powerless and cold, but there were so many volunteers that they didn’t know what to do with us all. Salgado showed back up the next day and saw two people whose doors she’d knocked on the night before, there to help.......................................

Just ask the community groups who jumped into action for Sandy, the organizers who make their (meager) living providing services to people facing foreclosure, to immigrant workers fighting wage theft, to neighborhoods trying to keep out the corporate-backed charter schools. At 1pm I dropped off two bags of clothing at the New York Communities for Change offices in downtown Brooklyn, walking past gas cans filled last night in Connecticut by volunteers to make sure the cars kept going out to the Rockaways, to Long Island; at 11pm I said goodnight to an organizer going back to sleep in his office to start again tomorrow."

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