The Stigma of Sandy: Sound Familiar?
"People who didn't evacuate are stupid ... careless ... a danger to others ..."
Ringing any bells?
They were in denial ... selfish ... thought they were invulnerable.
Here we go again.
Prevention justicians, you know it goes deeper than that.
We've learned that blaming or shaming people for individual behavior that can lead to HIV infection won't get us out of this epidemic.
Blaming, shaming or defaming those who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy takes the spotlight away from where it needs to shine brightest: on the policies that have led to the non-creation or non-implementation of plans to safeguard a warming coastline while resources go to making NYC a playground for the wealthy ... on the relentless perfect storm of discrimination, inequity and greed that fuels the vulnerability of people of color, queers, disabled people and immigrants not only HIV infections but further marginalization in the face of a natural disaster ... and on the submerged histories of economics and politics that isolated the poor, the elderly and disabled in remote locations like Far Rockaway that are easily cut off from resources.
Have you ever lived in a shelter? If not, perhaps you wouldn't be eager to go off to one, sight unseen, cut off from friends and family. And if you have, you may be even LESS eager to go, especially if you are HIV positive, queer, gender non-conforming, sick or in pain, or elderly. People are resourceful in order to survive in shelters, but it's not easy -- check out this report from Queers for Economic Justice to learn more.
Did you ever try to get an elderly parent or grandparent to try to do something they don't want to do, let alone go to an unfamiliar shelter to sleep on a cot? Um, it can be pretty hard. But now how do you feel about political leaders calling your elders stupid and selfish?
It just doesn't sit right -- and it shouldn't.
But it's instructive -- policies taken on by elite city mayors and at other levels of government have put the housing and resources needed by elderly and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities in the path of big-profit developers and money-making schemes for decades -- leaving us ill-equipped (no pun intended) when natural disaster gets layered on the struggles to make it by day-to-day.
It's not our Grandma's fault, but blaming other Grandmas who don't look like us is awful easy when times get tough.
This situation isn't going away any time soon. Up to 40,000 New Yorkers may be in need of housing -- layered on top of an already strained system for housing support decimated by misguided policies and cuts -- and this city is just one of the areas in need. So get ready for another surge of blame as clean-up begins. As noted in the New York Times:
Word that some may have to leave their homes permanently caused further confusion and fear, particularly in public housing complexes heavily damaged by the storm.
At the Hammel Houses, a public housing complex in the Rockaways, saltwater stains from the storm surge were visible above first-floor windows, which like many in this part of New York City were all dark.
"They tell us we might evacuate," said Gloria Evans, 47, who has lived at apartment 1B at the houses since she moved there 26 years ago as a new mother.
"Are they going to help us? They can't just move everyone out and have no place to put them," she said.
We've asked you to consider donating to CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities (also known as Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence), one of the groups at the forefront of community-based storm relief. CAAAV focuses on institutional violence that affects immigrant, poor and working-class communities such as worker exploitation, concentrated urban poverty, police brutality, immigration detention and deportation, and criminalization of youth and workers.
And as such, the guidance in their report-back from yesterday points an important way forward, even as digging out is in progress:
It is our responsibility to make sure that when the next disaster strikes (and there will be more), we have made the choices as a City to 1) ensure equality in distribution of services, 2) push for infrastructure rebuilding that is not bigger and better but that considers the new world we live in around climate change, and 3) build political power based on values of collective well-being and fairness.
It's imperative to listen to the voices of those who are living with the aftermath of Sandy, just as it is essential to have those living with HIV and those living in hard-hit communities leading our HIV/AIDS efforts. Prioritizing their ideas and resourcefulness in setting policies to deal not just with this crisis but in designing a city and country that is made safer by policies that bring equity is absolutely necessary -- and can't happen if we focus on shaming and blaming.