If there was ever any doubt that we are entering a serious period of crisis both locally and globally, it is shockingly, stunningly, dispelled by a visit to Ground Zero Rockaways this weekend. To say it is a place in ruins is underestimating matters–this amazing shoreline, one of the best beaches within the city limits, has become a post-apocalyptic sci-fi scene of people roaming around looking for food and water amid piles of belongings and memories and a kind of silent cry of anguish from having witnessed 5 feet of water surging through their streets and into their houses.
Whether or not you believe in “climate change” per se, and there are many ways to prove or disprove whether it exists–relative increase or decrease in the frequency of hurricanes, historical antecedents for the rise in average temperature, land and sea, the volume of water in the ocean caused/not caused by melting of the Arctic ice cap, whether or not incidents of “extreme weather” are increasing outside of what one might conceive of as “normal” fluctuations, you don’t need a weatherman to know something is happening. As pure as “science” might be, there’s always someone behind the curtain manipulating the results. Just give a shout out to your friends in Cuba and Haiti, who suffered 70-80 fatalities from the same storm and whose travails are being completely ignored now that hard-working American middle-class families have found much of their possessions floating away in a contaminated mess of sea water and sewage. Now that you see the spectacle of Republican austerity governor Chris Christie exchanging terrorist fist bumps with Obama and the imperious 10th-richest man in the world turned Mayor of New York, Michael “Hahvahd Yahd Bloombito” Bloomberg endorse the working idea that there is climate change, even as he prepared to have the city run a marathon from the tip of Staten Island, perhaps the hardest hit area in the entire city, to enhance his legacy as the post 9-11 mayor who “got things done.”
While there are many stories of heroism and just plain folks and Occupy Wall Street organizers helping to keep people above water when FEMA and the Red Cross and a cavalcade of elected officials seem to feel all they need to do is show up at press conferences, the most alarming aspect of all of this is how the problem of planetary crisis escapes so many people. Instead you have policemen needed to maintain order on gas lines and the exasperation of inconvenienced blackout victims who could not conceive of the sentiment behind the quote from an AP report, buried in the Boston Globe, where Haitian Sandy victim Seroine Pierre says, “If death comes, we will accept it. We’re suffering, we’re hungry, and we will die like that, hungry.”
I can still remember the cab driver who drove me to the Bogotá airportinsisting that there were no longer defined seasons in the city, and that agriculture had been ravaged by a series of unrelenting droughts over several years. And how year after year Cuba and Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and thankfully for my own family not as much Puerto Rico have endured years of increasingly serious storms, and the national news here only paying attention if the storm was going to threaten Florida and the Gulf Coast. And the documentary after documentary about Katrina and how it wasn’t so much the rain and the wind but the storm surge and the levees, and the same pictures of everyone’s worldly possessions floating away, without even the wistful accompaniment of a proper ragtime funeral procession. Now the storms are coming northward, uniting with the first cold snap of the fall and creating a frightfully violent end to daylight savings time, now two years in a row Halloween in NYC has been canceled, last year by a freak snowstorm, this year by this…Sandy. Good luck if you live in the projects.
Turns out there’s a presidential election tomorrow and we haven’t even gotten into the voter suppression angle. How many different ways has the vote been suppressed in Democratic strongholds, in working class communities, in communities of color, and then there’s the ballot machines indirectly owned by Mitt Romney’s son, or at least Romney bundlers and long lines in Florida and long lines in Ohio. Another storm on the way ready to knock out power again. When is this going to end? Is this how the sunset of America looks like? A tattered flag at the edge of a boardwalk that’s been shoved hundreds of feet backward into somebody’s house? A cheap fadeout to a B-movie about the slow death of democracy? Who will stop the credits from rolling?