Twelve cyclists — members of People Power Movement, Students United for a Free CUNY, and allies — biked from East 116th in el Barrio down to Union Square. On our ride we observed how the communities gradually changed; how both geographically and demographically there were clear economic and racial inequalities.
Upon our arrival to Union Square, we collected supplies and met with the rest of the team. We then biked down to CAAAV and carried (in total) close to half a ton in needs–clothes, milk, tampons, batteries, toys, sandwiches, water, etc. No gas, no problem. We biked across the Manhattan Bridge and down to the Red Hook Initiative where we then delivered supplies and distributed them to working and unemployed people of color living in the projects.
It was, by far, one of the saddest sights I'd ever seen. Admittedly, I was on the verge of tears. What we often conceptualize in the abstract sense was a grim reality here. It was a war zone – no lights, no power, no heat, no operating elevators, no water, garbage in the hallways, and fecal mounds piled and smeared in the staircases.
At one point, we carried shopping carts of goods up to the 14th floor for two elderly Dominican women. We entered their apartment huffing and puffing. Their home had been recently painted and the fumes were overwhelming. One of the women coughed. Incessantly. Hacking. We helped her outside and she was wheezing, having an asthma attack. Leaning her against the wall, as she gasped for air, we asked her friend — who has a bad leg, back, walks with a cane, and has diabetes — if there was an asthma pump in the house. She said no. So I gave her my inhaler and after a few puffs she was able to recollect herself. We then interviewed them outside in the dark hallway. (A video will be posted soon).
Conditions are so horrible — and FEMA, the Red Cross, and Mayor Bloomberg, contrary to what one would like to believe, are doing little to nothing to help! In fact, the National Guard audaciously asks people to fill out a form in order to receive aid. The form asks about one's legal status; in other words: no papers = no aid. While we were out there we saw a few guards, but the Red Cross was nowhere to be found. It was a wasteland. In a neighborhood that predominately houses people of color, many (white) folks were out there distributing needs. There was a lot of resources and volunteers — so much that many were just hanging around waiting to be assigned a task — but poor coordination. The efforts are great and, with a catastrophe of this magnitude, they need people to help organize the relief.
This is the long-lasting reality of NYC, and of this country. The elites — usually rich white men — want to exploit and exterminate the poor — the majority being people of color! Gentrification is taking too long to kick us out, so now this disaster is further marginalizing and increasing the race and class divide. Unsurprisingly, none of this is in the mainstream news; we are forgotten, as well as those in Canarsie, parts of Queens and the Bronx, and the Rockaways. In fact, the news say people in the Rockaways and in Staten Island need to be policed because people are "looting." When you corner a fox, it will attack. People are being squeezed beyond their limits. When they pick up supplies, out of necessity and not squander, many are charged with theft. Here we see the malpractice of Stop and Frisk in full effect. All we hear in the news is about Downtown/ Commercial Manhattan. Wall Street was up and running immediately. However, with the winter approaching, the people in the outer boroughs from these ignored hoods have no idea when they'll have light and heat…when they ask, all they're told is "it'll come soon."
This was an awakening to the destitution that has always been but is constantly overlooked and disregarded, especially by the privileged. People would much rather be comfortable by being oblivious to the reality, be it intentional or unintentional. Those in power–the corporate elites and their puppet politicians–will do what they can to pacify people and facilitate the ignorance. It is up to the people to educate, agitate, and organize themselves to know the truth and build to support one another.
Jason Javier is Secretary of People Power Movement-Movimiento Poder Popular.