Thursday, November 1, 2012

Washed Away? Rescued? What Happened to New York City's "Mole People" During Super Storm Sandy?

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 rich 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."


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

In my neighborhood in Newark there's a homeless, mentally ill man who hangs around my street a lot. I saw him in the bakery down the street right before the storm, while I was stocking up on bread. Just as the storm was rolling in, I could hear him ranting outside. I haven't seen him in the last few days, I hope he's okay.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS! I worked in the field of substance abuse and am beyond terrified for so many of my former clients.

chaunceydevega said...

@WB. I thought of asking you about this. Once you get things taken care of for yourself--and I hope you and the family are well--see what you can dig up in the City. You are a bit of a gumshoe anyway. Seems up your alley.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. We are trying. I hope some of them escaped.

Black Sage said...

Political pundits in this United Empire of ours continue to rail against what Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez refers to as “Socialism for the 21st century.” Moreover, Socialism appears to be quite a dirty word in this country. Under a Socialist system, Pres. Chavez, who is of mixed heritage and this biological known fact is frowned upon by the lighter skin Venezuelan elites. However, Pres. Chavez has decreased the poverty rate, stabilized the wealth distribution, provided more access to higher education, where the PEOPLE decide how firms are ran and how to further serve his fellow citizens and has place his trust in the common PEOPLE as opposed to a few thousand light skin technocrats as they do within this Empire of ours. Hell ….., you’d think that after 300 years, we as a nation would’ve already evolved into a fantastic utopia if we were in fact a democracy.

Democracy nor the corporate thug culture of Wall Street or any US president actually has worked towards the goal of eradicating homelessness, poverty and simply leveling the playing for the common PEOPLE.

Personally, I believe that the time has arrived for quite some time ago for a fresh look at Socialist policies. I sincerely hope and pray that the PEOPLE of this country quit slumbering towards a fascist society with White folks at the helm, willing and ready to intentionally steer the entire country into another economic ditch, simply because the elites thought it would be fun to do so.

chaunceydevega said...

@BS. Good luck with that one. Don't hold your breath.

PI said...

I was in Maryland today at an early voter venue...It was off the chain hundreds of people in line for hours and hours small poll venue, few machines but the community was all in ..!!

People were discouraged but kept hope alive..It was funky, earthly, gritty and surreal..

After about 3 hours people started to get weary and anxious and frustrated the handicapp, seniors and kids were on edge....It was a fertile ground for voter suppression based upon exhaustion etc..

Until a man step up and start speaking truth to power, telling the crows to keep hope alive, stay strong, hold up each other, turn on your laptops , play some jazz and soul music, share the chairs..WE GONNA VOTE TODAT..WE CAN DO THIS was the chant..It got louder and louder and louder until the line started to move faster and faster and faster..

WE ALL VOTED !!!!!!!

That man was______________________

Adam H said...

Mad love for you CD. Blessed are the meek.

babaG said...

Thank you for writing on this, I have been concerned for all the street dwellers affected by the storm and especially the tunnel folk. I am hoping the outcome will not confirm my worries.

Heather L. Harrison Griffith Indiana said...

I have been concerned for the Mole people and other homeless in the area effected by Sandy. Anyone posting any info about this would be greatly appreciated.