For days New Yorkers have rushed to each other’s aid, streaming out from their heated homes to bring medicine, mops and manpower to wherever evacuees are sheltering or digging out. Tuesday, November 6, is a pile-up of needs. Storm victims still need food and warmth. They need help bracing for what looks like another massive storm on the way.
Beyond that, there’s the challenge of assuring that people who have lost so much don’t also lose their right to vote. Governor Cuomo has made it immeasurably easier by giving New York voters the right to cast provisional ballots. But provisional voters can’t exercise their choices in local and Congressional elections. So volunteers are out in force again today, driving confused storm refugees to wherever their polling places have relocated.
When the immediate crisis passes, and life looks normal again to those of us who were spared the worst of Sandy, there will be many ways we can help our city. We can go to one of the cultural institutions, like the New York Aquarium or South Street Seaport Museum, that were swamped and will need our patronage. We can eat at restaurants or buy from small businesses that rise from the devastated streets of Red Hook or the Rockaways.
We can support the settlement houses and other community organizations (see New York Community Trust for a list) that partner with schools to help stressed and traumatized kids and families. Because for many of the poorest families in New York, life just got much harder. As tens of thousands move to transitional housing, students will be torn from their familiar teachers and friends and transferred to schools where everyone is a stranger.
For the rest of the school year, some parents who feel closely tied to their pre-storm schools may choose to embark on long daily commutes to transport their kids from wherever they now call home to the schools that feel like home to students. One way we can exercise our citizenship is to assume that families we meet on the trains or buses may be living through invisible but ongoing crises, and to treat them with care.
If you see backpack-laden kids on the subway doing their cross-borough school commutes, it’s always a good time to give them a break by expecting the best, not the worst of them. For the next few months, it’s an act of citizenship.