November 5, 2012

Sandy Images

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I am a New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan, and, minus a brief stint in Westchester, lived there until coming to Cornell. And while I was facing a light drizzle in Ithaca last week, my city was struck by one of the worst natural disasters in its history. I am thankful that I was secure here, and I hope everyone’s family and friends are as safe as mine are.

Hurricane Sandy affected the entirety of New York City. The entire subway system was down for days, flooded with water (and many lines remain offline). Power outages have been felt throughout the five boroughs. Perhaps most harrowing, neighborhoods have been literally wiped away.

New York is a very visual city, as boroughs and neighborhoods have stark, distinct identities. One of the perks of growing up in New York is the immediate access you have to everything that the city has to offer. My friends like to make fun of me for not having my driver’s license, but that never stopped me from leaving my apartment and discovering New York.

In hindsight, I think I began to explore the city more as I started to listen to cooler music. I’m an uptown boy, and buzz bands don’t usually play the Upper East Side. In order to see the bands I liked play live, I found myself navigating the unnumbered streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side (and sometimes … even Brooklyn. GASP!) This was a whole new world for me, and I devoured it.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, pictures began flooding the Internet from all corners of the city (apologies for the pun). My mom sent me a picture of an uprooted tree in the park by our house, leaving a crater where it once stood. My younger brother had a photo published online by New York Magazine of one of his friends wading in the new river formed on the FDR highway. Places I walk by every day when I’m home were changed.

But I didn’t just see the storm’s effect on my own neighborhood. Images, more than anything else, have been used to tell the story of the entirety of the storm, both by major media outlets and regular New York City citizens armed with an iPhone. If you want to see one of the most striking visualizations of the aftereffects of Sandy, look at this week’s New York Magazine cover. Taken from a helicopter looking down on the island of Manhattan, this picture shows the divide between the areas of New York with power and those without, in a way that a television news report or a printed story simply cannot. On a smaller (or maybe greater) level, Instagram had over 800,000 pictures of the storm uploaded, more than any event in the app’s history. Throughout the storm, I was able to understand that some of the streets I used to get lost on trying to find concert venues were literally flooded, with feet of water submerging cars, stores and anything else in their path.

Today is Election Day. And as someone who bribed and strong-armed my way to a biweekly column, I feel some responsibility to use whatever voice I have to weigh in. First of all: VOTE. Secondly, I think you should vote for Barack Obama. There are a number of reasons to vote Democrat this year, and at the risk of needlessly echoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the government’s response to Sandy is yet another. Hurricane Sandy is an unfortunate endorsement of the necessity to keep the president in office: His quick reaction to the devastation and use of the full force of the national government to help New York and New Jersey have been key in the past week.

To me, the pictures of Obama walking along the Jersey Shore with Governor Chris Christie, and images of the National Guard saving people in Hoboken, say more than an endorsement ever could. I’m not trying to argue that Gov. Christie is secretly going to vote Democrat, but the repeated visuals of the national government helping in the wake of the storm demonstrate its own necessity. Mitt Romney has said he would move FEMA from the federal government to a state-by-state responsibility. Aside from Cory Booker running door to door and heroically saving the day, I really don’t understand how New Jersey, in its current condition, would be able to move forward without Washington.

I would not have wanted to be in New York in the past week. But looking through the pictures that have come from all over the city, I think (and I hope) that I have some understanding of what my hometown just went through. New York is strong — and I have to begrudgingly admit that New Jersey is too — and I have no doubt that both states will come back from the devastation. But it probably would be a hell of a lot harder without the active support of President Obama and the federal government.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs