Disasters expose the ugly realities of "normal" society. In those moments, when the great social leveler that is the government is rendered either impotent, moot, or a non-factor in its ability to stop a disaster from occurring, the ties that bind us together are strained. Moreover, here, government's ability to act as a salve and agent that masks social inequalities--or at least sweeps them under the rug in many cases--is removed.
During Katrina for example, the American people saw how the intersections of wealth, income, and racial inequality left whole communities destroyed, abandoned, and people unable to escape the wrath of mother nature because they did not have the resources necessary to buy a car in order to evacuate. Hurricane Katrina, was also an object lesson in how the State decides who was valuable, and which people were expendable.
Super Storm Sandy has revealed how New York is also a city of great divides in wealth and income. She is a multicultural mega city; New York is also a city where the very and the very poor exist in an exploitative relationship with one another.
The working class and poor, living on less than a living wage, make the lives of the rich and upper class comfortable and possible. As detailed here, the rich were able to take Super Storm Sandy in relative stride, riding it out in nice hotels, having an adventure of it all, and complaining about a lack of cell phone service and power.
By comparison, their maids, nannies, drives, assistants, and those many unnamed others who work in the service sector had to go to work during this time of peril for fear of losing their jobs, sleeping in cars or in shelters because they could not afford a hotel, or continuing to take care of the spoiled children of the rich while the care givers themselves were unable to offer comfort to their own kids.
It is estimated that there are tens of thousands, if not more, homeless people in New York City. They are families, children, men, women, the elderly, and the working poor. They are largely invisible not because we cannot see them. Rather, one of the survival skills that a person learns in order to successfully live in any city is to ignore the obvious, the pain, and the hurt of others. City life is an existence of social atomization. In order to function, most folks learn to look away both as a practical skill for maintaining sanity, and to avoid the frightening reality that many Americans are a paycheck away from being homeless themselves.
There are other homeless folks who are almost quite literally invisible. They are the "Mole People" who live in the subways of New York. It is estimated that there are thousands of people who live in this subterranean world, where they have established cities that live off of the electricity, scavenge the excess of a city that is decadent in its wastefulness, raise children and tend to pets, live and love, and make a civilization where they are the mayors, citizens, doctors, and police.
These human beings, us, and yes we are them, are not monsters or "CHUDS." In order for the collective consciousness of New York to maintain a veneer of normality, the Mole People are transformed into the stuff of legend and urban mythology. Nevertheless, they are real
What happened to them during Super Storm Sandy? Are there thousands of dead people who are now washed away by the greatest disaster in the history of New York City's mass transit system? Is this "human management problem" now solved by an intervention from nature? Are the biopolitics of the State in a time of economic crisis so cruel and calculating? What of their family members, friends, and loved ones? Will they ever have any closure?
For those of you in the New York area, please share any information you may have on what has happened to the Mole People in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. If there are any freelance writers or others who want to share their insight or stories about the people who live in the subway system of New York, by all means do email it to me. I will post it on We Are Respectable Negroes. This is a story that demands and deserves more attention.
A human tragedy is no less horrible or wrong because the people involved are poor. Sadly, Americans have internalized this narrative, conservatives especially, because it turns poverty into a moral claim, where those less advantaged are made responsible for the failures of an economic system predicated on surplus labor, i.e. unemployment, in order to transfer wealth and resources to the rich. The poor are thus "bad people" who deserve their fate; the rich and the middle classes are virtuous and good as proven by their economic resources. For the most twisted of Americans, those possessed by a certain type of religious mind, money is taken as a sign of divine blessings.
This is backwards logic. But, It is no less compelling for those who have drunk in the myth of meritocracy, the logic of neo liberalism, and the chimera that is the "American Dream."