The storm and the state

Imani Keith HenryWW photo: Brenda Ryan

Imani Keith Henry
WW photo: Brenda Ryan

Taken from a talk by Imani Keith Henry, a Workers World Party organizer in New York City, at the Nov. 17-18 WWP national conference. Henry narrates a slideshow of photos from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, like this one with these words: “Your government sucks when Occupy Sandy feeds FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency].” What’s most significant is that these are actually Occupy Seattle activists, who drove a truck with donations all the way to New York City.

The next photo is from a FEMA office in Brooklyn, N.Y., that closed when a Nor’easter hit three days after [Superstorm] Sandy.  In fact FEMA shut down three mobile disaster units in Staten Island and other communities. But it was Occupy Sandy Relief volunteers who drove out in the snow and stayed up all night to staff community centers and provide supplies to people most impacted by Sandy.

Meanwhile it took a worldwide movement, including runners refusing to run, to shame Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg into calling off the New York City Marathon.  He was far more concerned with the 3-million-plus dollars in revenue and making sure the Stock Exchange was open than the countless people like my friend, who lost everything when her basement apartment flooded. She and her child had to escape with just the clothes on their backs through a window.

This not only demonstrates the difference between how the ruling class and working class has dealt with this natural disaster, but also demonstrates how capitalism cares only about making profits and cannot be trusted to take care of the people.

What has been so inspiring to me is that this grassroots relief effort has been led not only by community and political groups and the Occupy Movement, but it has been the outpouring of solidarity from the masses that has outpaced the efforts by both FEMA and the Red Cross.  This relief is a sign of true people’s power.

It is also a sign of resilience to an incredibly traumatic experience.  It is estimated that 8 million people lost power.  There were $50 billion in damages, making Sandy the second-costliest hurricane after [Hurricane] Katrina.  At least 199 people were killed during Sandy; 121 of them in the U.S.

Nineteen days after Sandy there are still thousands of people, many elders and disabled, stuck in high-rise buildings without power or heat. Just like Katrina, it will be years before people recover.

Of course it is multinational corporations who created the global environmental crisis causing climate change.

It is the ruling class that, instead of sending aid, sent the police to turn away carloads of volunteers and donations, and dispersed Occupy Sandy food lines created by community groups in lower Manhattan when no one had gas to cook.

Restaurants and stores were closed and there was no power to use debit or credit cards [because the ATM machines were down].

In response to the police repression, people in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, formed “sandwich work crews “ and began biking in food and supplies to distribution hubs in Manhattan.  There are countless stories like this, of class solidarity in the relief effort.

Many of our comrades were without power and heat for days.  We had to mobilize to support each other through the storm.  Our branches have collected aid, opened up our homes, turned our offices into centers to charge phones and volunteered at distribution hubs.

The first demonstration called in the city after Sandy was in the name of the  People’s Power Assembly movement, demanding that the U.S. government and FEMA actually start providing aid to hurricane survivors.

We demanded that the ruling class stop sending the National Guard into Far Rockway, Queens — which was still without power — to enforce a 7 p.m. curfew and conduct stop-and-frisk searches in the community, and [that they] stop arresting Black and Latino/a youth for so-called “looting.” We demanded that young people of this city need jobs, not jails.

What the working class needs is for the real looters — the billionaire Mayor Bloomberg and bosses of Wall Street — to be put in jail.  In fact, when Bloomberg finally went down to Far Rockaway, community members surrounded him and angrily confronted him about the lack of aid provided by the city and FEMA.

On to building true people’s power, by overthrowing capitalism and building socialism in this country!