A disaster like Superstorm Sandy shows capitalism in its true colors. In the midst of chaos and suffering, the stock market in New York City managed a swift reopening after being closed for just two days, with Mayor Bloomberg ringing the opening bell. However, working-class, immigrant, and poor neighborhoods like Staten Island, Chinatown on the Lower East Side, and Far Rockaway in Queens have gone for days without lights, power, running water, and the ability to replenish food and fuel — with FEMA, the National Guard, and the Red Cross nowhere to be found.
FEMA brought no supplies to Chinatown until Friday, four days after Sandy hit, and provided no personnel to distribute them. Fortunately, grass-roots relief efforts had started right away. Teams of unofficial volunteers delivered the FEMA-provided food and water in Chinatown, often climbing 16 flights of stairs or more to reach people on the top floors of low-income housing projects. Upper Manhattan resident Stephen Durham, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) candidate for president running with vice-presidential partner Christina López, was among them, with several campaign team members. Campaign supporters also took part in relief work in Rockaway the next day.
In Chinatown, volunteer relief efforts were coordinated mainly by the group CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. Occupy Wall Street networks snapped back to life and also provided key information and orientation for people wanting to plug in, on the Lower East Side and elsewhere. Grass-roots efforts are providing much-needed help to those considered expendable and abandoned by official agencies and government, and they testify to the inspiring solidarity among ordinary people that crisis so often brings to the fore.
Make government do its job
But these efforts are no substitute for what government, with all its resources, should be doing. For immediate relief and recovery, the Freedom Socialist Durham-López campaign calls on authorities to:
- Get power, other services, food, water, and supplies to low-income neighborhoods without further delay.
- Provide assistance to all, including transients, the homeless, and undocumented immigrants.
- Provide safe, healthy emergency shelter for everyone who needs it. No repeat of the long waits and toxic trailers for people who lost their homes to Katrina.
- Enact price controls to end gouging on food, heating oil, gas, rebuilding materials, and all the supplies needed to cope with the disaster.
- Cancel debt and mortgages on irreparably damaged property belonging to people of modest incomes.
- Waive all bridge and tunnel tolls and offer free transportation on buses and trains to reduce the burden on people who are displaced or must travel to obtain emergency supplies and rebuilding materials.
- As necessary, extend voting beyond Election Day and provide absentee ballots and free transportation to polling places.
- Expand the powers of environmental agencies to ensure that cleanup is done in a way that is ecologically sound and protects workers’ health and safety.
- Send aid to Haiti and other hard-hit Caribbean countries.
Tackle the problem with the boldness that’s necessary
In addition to solving the urgent problems of those affected by Sandy, drastic measures need to be taken to continue recovery and to ensure the next disaster takes less of a toll.
- Establish a national public works program to rebuild and improve infrastructure, like overhauling New York’s outdated sewage treatment system and waterproofing power substations or moving them aboveground. In hiring for this works program, give priority to those who are unemployed. Ban speculation and profiteering and get rid of red tape in the mobilization for recovery.
- Nationalize homeowners’ insurance under the management of workers’ committees.
- Provide for rational energy planning and equitable distribution of energy resources by nationalizing the fossil fuel industries, also under workers’ control.
- Enact a moratorium on interest payments on the national debt to fund recovery, improvements to infrastructure nationally, and restoring and increasing the budgets of FEMA and other emergency agencies. Debt interest payments amounted to $104 billion in the first six months of fiscal year 2012.
- Provide additional funding by dismantling the Pentagon.
Taking apart the war machine will also help in another way. Through its gargantuan consumption of fossil fuels, Uncle Sam’s military is one of the planet’s greatest contributors to human-induced global warming. And it’s global warming that is raising sea levels and temperatures and thereby causing storm violence to escalate in record ways.
Many things can be done to better protect residents of coastal areas in the medium-term: sea walls to protect against storm surges; restoring wetlands and slowing or halting development in these sensitive areas; and rebuilding natural flood defenses like New York harbor’s once-famed oyster beds. But the real answers are conservation on a mass scale — starting with free, expanded public transportation — and a switch from reliance on fossil fuels for energy to renewable sources like sun, wind, and tides.
Capitalism will never free up the resources or unleash the ingenuity needed to solve the terrible problems it has caused, and certainly not in a way that protects workers’ rights and standard of living. This is why, while demanding immediate relief for Sandy’s victims, the Durham-López campaign also stands for abolishing a system whose mania for profits puts it at odds with the planet as well as the poor and working-class vast majority of humanity. What’s needed is nothing short of a transition to socialism.