Report from a Reader: In the Wake of the "Perfect Storm"
October 30, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Late night Sunday, October 28, and throughout the day and peaking during the night of Monday the 29, an unprecedented storm hit the East Coast of the U.S. Meteorologists—weather scientists—dubbed it a “perfect storm” because it was produced by the collision of three elements: a tropical hurricane (“Sandy”) out of the Caribbean; a snowstorm coming from the U.S. Midwest; and lunar high tides that raise the sea level several feet along the East Coast of the U.S. due to the proximity of the moon and its gravitational pull on the oceans.
The storm was ferocious. Forty to sixty mile per hour winds roared for hours and hours up and down the East Coast, peaking in the 90 mph range. The winds knocked down power lines, contributing to widespread power outages. The greatest damage was caused by flooding. The Atlantic Ocean was pushed onto coastal lands by the furious winds. The combination of high tide and water pushed by the storm sent 14 feet of water surging over low-lying parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Seaside communities in New Jersey and elsewhere were flooded with several feet of water, and half of New Jersey remains without power.
Fierce winds and heavy rain are pounding a region from Georgia into Canada, and as far west as Lake Michigan. Areas of West Virginia are buried in three feet of snow.
As I send this report, a full assessment of the damage, death tolls, and the ongoing suffering and dislocation is still emerging. Much is not yet clear. But what is clear is that millions of people in 15 states remain without power. Public transportation—subways, busses and trains that are the only way millions and millions of people in the New York City area can function—are shut down.
Tens of millions of people in the most densely populated region of the U.S. have had their lives uprooted and are facing serious challenges to remain warm and safe. For months to come, people will be struggling to recover from this disaster. Things are not going quickly or smoothly back to “normal,” whatever that meant for different sections of people in this grotesquely unequal society.
Damage and Danger Exacerbated by the Insanity of Capitalism
Within the U.S., and in a concentrated way in New York City, impressive resources are available for responding to the storm. But these massive resources were constrained by the framework of market and profit-driven capitalism.
To take one emblematic incident: the storm’s winds snapped the arm of a huge crane from its position atop a 1,000-foot-high construction project to build grotesquely luxurious condominiums costing as much as a hundred million dollars. As I post this report, the crane dangles ominously over a section of mid-town Manhattan, and power has been shut down in the area to minimize the damage if the crane plunges like a missile into the city below.
This crane was cited eight times recently for safety violations. While New Jersey’s governor called people on the Jersey Shore who did not evacuate their homes “stupid or selfish,” authorities including New York City Mayor Bloomberg insist at this point on not placing blame on the investors in, much less the insane system that prioritized a project like this high-rise. Nor are the powers-that-be questioning the priorities in saving money on a massive real-estate investment by not securing or taking down this violation-riddled crane when it became clear a hurricane was approaching.
Wall Street, site of the U.S. stock market, is in one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. While tens of thousands throughout the area are without homes, many in desperate circumstances and in dire need of heat, light, food and shelter, Forbes magazine reported that “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he discussed accelerating the reopening of Wall Street with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and spoke with President Obama twice Tuesday.”
The role of climate change in exacerbating violent weather events, and how this is being driven by the workings of capitalism, is beyond the scope of this report, but I encourage readers to see “Climate Change: The Heat Wave, Extreme Weather and Future Storms,” available revcom.us, and especially, to study and circulate “State of EMERGENCY! The Plunder of Our Planet, The Environmental Catastrophe & The Real Revolutionary Solution” at http://revcom.us/environment.
Social Control vs. Mobilizing the Masses
As the storm approached, draconian measures were imposed on the most impoverished, oppressed sections of people in the storm’s path—with a focus not on their safety, but keeping them under control.
This is a society marked by mass incarceration of Black and Latino people in particular. And in New York City stop-and-frisk” serves as a pipeline to the prisons, with the prison on New York City’s Rikers Island a big cog in the mass incarceration machinery. Mother Jones reported that: “At a press conference yesterday afternoon on New York City’s preparations for Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about the safety of prisoners on Rikers Island, which lies near the mouth of Long Island Sound, between Queens and the Bronx. Bloomberg appeared annoyed by the question, and responded somewhat opaquely: ‘Rikers Island, the land is up where they are and jails are secured.’ Apparently unable to fathom that anyone’s main concern would be for the welfare of the more than 12,000 prisoners on Rikers, Bloomberg then reassured listeners: ‘Don’t worry about anybody getting out.’”
Residents of New York’s housing projects were treated with similar contempt. Well before there were any power outages, people living in some two dozen projects had their heat, hot water, and elevator service shut off (and some of these buildings are 14 stories high or higher) not because of the impact of the storm, but to force unwilling residents out of the buildings and into government-run shelters.
News accounts and politicians lashed out at those people in the projects who refused to evacuate—without noting the obvious basis for fear of what might be in store at the promised “shelters” from a government that imprisoned thousands of Black and poor people in the New Orleans Superdome under inhuman conditions during Hurricane Katrina.
Most residents of the projects—given an unacceptable set of options—took their chances staying put. Many of those locked down in cold and dark buildings were seniors and disabled people.
On a more macro level, the main message to all New Yorkers was “stay inside” and “follow orders.”
There were legitimate safety concerns that argued for people to stay indoors in the immediate aftermath of the storm—as I post this report, limbs continue to fall from trees, power lines are down in places and other dangers remain. But as the storm passes, the disconnect between the massive human potential to rescue people and clean up damage on the one hand, and the “stay inside” doctrine of the authorities on the other, grows more stark and intolerable.
A revolutionary society, organized on a completely different basis than this one, would make immediate relief the priority. The army and police, rather than being occupying armies in oppressed nations around the world and oppressed inner cities respectively, would actually be serving and protecting the people. Mobilizing and relying on the masses would be at the heart of everything that would be done in the wake of such a disaster—combining centralized planning and allocation of resources with decentralized initiative and creativity, unleashing all kinds of initiative from all kinds of people.
And, the state and its organs of power would be facilitating, rather than blocking, the impulses of people to help each other deal with medical and food crises, and short term and long term rebuilding.
All that stands in the starkest contrast to what is being done now.
The Government Must Provide Relief, Not Repression, Now!
In the wake of the storm that devastated the East Coast of the US and beyond…
- The government must provide food, housing (and safe temporary shelter), and essential services to everyone who needs them, now, without cost, and without subjecting people to degrading regulations, ID checks and conditions. The needs of all must be met, with first priority to those most urgently in need. People must not be evacuated into situations which are going to reproduce disease and danger.
- There must be no profiteering and speculation off people’s misery by the sharks of insurance companies, oil monopolies, real estate developers, etc.
- Where people are struggling, demanding assistance right now, and in the days and weeks to come, such struggles for basic necessities must be supported, and such assistance must be provided by the government. People’s safety has to be protected, and where appropriate, nuclear power plants and other potential threats need to be shut down until necessary safety improvements are made, and they are determined to be safe.
- Any moves to impose fascist repression like we saw after Hurricane Katrina—especially among the most oppressed—including in the form of curfews, police violence, interference with and suppression volunteer efforts, and unnecessary forced evacuations, are unacceptable and must be opposed by everyone.
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