Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Letter from a teacher reporting from Lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy

My family and I are doing fine. We live on the lower east side in Manhattan, below 34th St. where power, out since Monday evening, started to come back on Friday around 5p.m. Power outages remain in some lower Manhattan areas, particularly large buildings where the basements flooded. In the other burrows and towns in NJ, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties, some folks will remain without power until trees are removed and power lines can be repaired. The 8-foot tidal surge wiped out some sea level communities. Subways are still not running in lower Manhattan as of last night… Julie Cavanagh, MORE's candidate in the upcoming UFT elections, emailed reports on the Red Hook projects in a low-lying Brooklyn area by the harbor where her school PS 15 is located. The area was badly flooded and residents were still without power and water as of last night.

Another teacher, Marjorie Stamberg, wrote that the city was saying that power at the Red Hook projects may remain out until 11/11, and she warned that folks should be on the look out for efforts by the city housing authority to use this disaster to push out public housing residents as was done in New Orleans.

I read similar reports from the projects in Coney Island. The scenes from the gated community, Breezy Point, which lies at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula, have been widely publicized by the media. NYC Teachers were instructed to return to work on Friday even while the subway service was only partially restored and buses were jammed. It took me three hours to get to work and the same to return. For many teachers it was just impossible to get in. It remains to be seen whether the city will require teachers to use personal leave time if they were unable to return on Friday. Schools are slated to be reopened on Monday.

I think it is obvious that the Feds responded better in NYC than they did in New Orleans. This is partially due to the difference between the administrations but also due to the housing pattern in NYC where, for example, you can find a million-dollar condo located across the street from a public housing project. This grates on the real estate interests to no end, and they will be looking to revamp infrastructure while, at the same time, speed up efforts to turn Manhattan into the ultimate gentrified gated community for the wealthy surrounded as it is by water.

The heroes of this disaster are the working-class people who supported one another and worked tirelessly to restore essential services. Thank the working class for the public sector. No private charters or privatized transportation companies would respond to human need as a fully-funded public sector can.

There were very few reports of looting or violence, even though people were without food and water and had no access to cash machines or open supermarkets. The Daily News today carried a report of 11 arrests outside a Coney Island supermarket across from a housing project. One of the men arrested holding toilet paper, water and candy pleaded with officers saying, “I'm no criminal. What am I supposed to do? Let my grandmother go hungry?” Similar to Katrina, if you are white, you are "foraging" for essential supplies; if you are a Black or Latino, you are "looting." Bail was set for $20,000 and the Brooklyn DA says that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The climate change disasters have opened up new arenas of class warfare as the rich seek to guard their wealth and power even as the ship is sinking. It seems clear to me that public sector workers and our unions will increasingly emerge as the true leaders of society to the extent that we identify our working conditions with the living and working conditions of the working class and society as a whole. We in NYC enter into another season of struggle against school closings and privatization with this heightened awareness. Thanks again to the CTU which has pointed the way.

One final observation, Richard Grasso, former head of the stock exchange was on Bloomberg radio all day Thursday patting himself on the back for waiting to reopen Wall Street out of consideration for the people operating the exchange. “Sure we can trade electronically, but what about the people,” he repeated. The financial sector doesn't need the real estate, but the NYC real estate industry does. I think the latter group in particular has the jitters about climate change. Romney and his financial-sector clowns can dismiss climate change, but it will prove to be a political dead end. This is an interesting and potentially significant fissure in the ruling elite that may pressure the so-called "radical" and liberal think tanks and non-profits to reassess their slavish non-political subservience to their funding sources.

A historic opportunity presents itself. If the "white" led unions, affordable housing groups, and parent groups can break through their historic indifference to racial equality and demand justice for all and not just the so-called "middle class" (which I think is often used as a code word for all those "white" Reagan democrat males now wondering what went wrong), a real mass-based alternative to the oligarchy will continue to grow.

Sean Ahern
NYC teacher and parent

This letter was sent to me and to all other Substance News writers. I write about "Retiree and Pension News" on occasion for Substance News.

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