Memorial Day, the traditional beginning of tourist season at the Jersey Shore. According to Governor Chris Christie and other high ranking officials, New Jersey is “open and ready for business.”
While we do not want to discourage tourists from coming to the shore—which is critical to New Jersey’s long-term recovery—we feel it is important to tell the true story of New Jersey on this day and to shine the spotlight on the survivors of the storm who live far from the tourist destination seaside communities. As Joe in Union Beach told two of our organizers today: “What about everybody else in New Jersey?… ‘Down the Shore’ is not the only place that has people.”
In the New Jersey beyond the boardwalk, countless residents are still not back in their homes. Many are still living in hotels, motels, mobile homes, and friends’ or neighbors’ couches. Displaced renters find themselves in a perpetual limbo, unable to return to their homes, unsupported in their new communities, and involuntarily estranged from their friends, families, and the lives they led before, with no illusions that life will ever return to normal.
In this “new normal,” far too many New Jerseyans are still living in mold-infested homes, unable to sleep at night with their “Sandy cough,” and afraid for their children to play in a toxic sandbox or dig in the poison dirt. Residents of flooded trailer parks hear about the owners of beachfront mansions getting checks for tens of thousands of dollars or more, while they missed the deadline to apply and be eligible for a precious few thousand because no one ever came to knock on their door. In working class and poor communities—from Moonachie and Little Ferry to Cape May Court House and Wildwood, from Keansburg and Union Beach to Port Norris and Fortescue—communities that were already devastated long before the storm, “open and ready for business” is a fantasy.
What’s worse, in the mad rush to rebuild “stronger than before,” the powers-that-be have made no serious attempt to address the fundamental problem that brought us to this point: human-caused environmental degradation and climate change that make extreme weather more frequent and more devastating.
We call on President Obama and Governor Chris Christie—who are visiting the Jersey Shore together for the first time since immediately after the storm—and all others with the power to make real change for poor and marginalized people, to take a page from Occupy Sandy: work to create alternative pathways to self-sufficiency and resilience; focus on long-term sustainability and the dangers of unrestrained growth and development; and pay attention to the people who need the most help, not just the ones who can make the most noise.
We also call on New Jerseyans from all walks of life to realize that they hold the real power here. Only we all come together can we build a New Jersey that is truly “stronger than before.”
To contact an Occupy Sandy NJ organizer in the field, call Natalie L. at 201-467-6212, Dylana D. at 802-598-6880, Nate K. at 215-264-0446, or Katt R. at 973-687-0308. For other inquiries, please write to OccupySandyNJ@interoccupy.net.