End of a Really Good Thing

I’ve been circling around this topic for days now, firing off cryptically insensitive tweets and getting into internet fights and even more virtual fights in my mind about it and I’m finally going to give in and try to organize my thoughts on the matter here.  It’s rough and mildly offensive, but please stick with it to the end, where [spoiler alert] I agree with the decision.

Before I get into it, here’s where you should drop off supplies and bring yourself to help: http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/sunsetpark/

St. Jacobi Church
5406 4th Ave
Contact: 347-470-4192

Ok, on to the Ranting (discussion):

It’s about the New York Marathon being cancelled in the wake of hurricane Sandy’s devastation of mostly Staten Island.  I say mostly because the majority of the press I’ve seen and read has been in the vein of “It’s either save Staten Island or hold the Marathon, you selfish arrogant pricks.”  This is generally summed up with the scandalizing shot of two perfectly good generators being used to power tents for marathon workers and volunteers up in Central Park.  The message is that those two generators could be saving old folks on Staten Island right now so cancel the marathon.  (Incidentally, so could a fleet of stretch hummers set to take people to palatial homes in the hamptons… so could the army/navy load everyone up on an aircraft carrier and whisk them away)

I know there’s much more to the argument, but it’s that image and that message that’s been picked up and repeated ad infinitum throughout the internet and media reports on the issue.  The biggest disappointment for me is the incredible power the NY Post has wielded over city policy and decision-making.  With one incredibly biased and one-sided article (what, it’s the Post, that’s how they roll always) they successfully convinced NY to break contracts, renege on agreements, and shut down one of the most iconic moments the city has every year.  I’m not saying those are reasons to go on with the show, but I AM saying those should have as much weight as the other major argument I’ve been hearing, which is “it’s insensitive to the victims.”

Sorry to be an asshole, but tough shit.  Yes people are in trouble and yes we should be mobilizing massive amounts of people to get in there and sort this shit out.  And it’s happening.  It really is.  But you don’t pull the plug on massive city operations, contracts involving tens of thousands of people, and turn off a huge spotlight on our city because it’s “disrespectful.”  You just don’t.  Well, ok we did, didn’t we?

The NY Post introduced a pile of these emotionally charged, irrelevant arguments into the debate and eventually won the hearts minds and voices of a huge variety of people.  Here’s my favorite quote, just slid into the article in that crafty way they do to get the reader to think along the lines the authors want:

“They should make all of these runners bring food and water to people’s houses who need it. They should bring all of these generators to buildings where old people live and give them power.”

That’s from a 65 year old who lives in Coney Island.  How in the world can she see the generators from her house?  I imagine she was shown a picture, told in very neutral terms what they were for and totally NOT fed what she should think/say about it.  It makes me so upset I don’t even know where to begin.  First of all what a fantasy world!  Sure, let’s flip a switch and turn 50,000 runners into human clean-up machines, why not? They shouldn’t have free control over their own lives because SANDY and MARATHON BAD and THINK OF GRANDMA!  What’s worse is basically everyone reading this is thinking, “Geez HIE, you’re an asshole,” without even trying to understand where I’m coming from.

So here’s the thing, I’ll get right to it.  Sensationalists and the trolls that jump on their hate bandwagon very successfully forced the debate into an evil vs good space with a few very transparent tactics that normally most educated, thinking adults can spot a mile away.  They got an old lady in Coney Island to score their points for them.  They scared us with what would happen if those “selfish” “elitist” runners had their way with our fragile and wounded city.  They waved crates of free water in front of water-deprived people and said in the voice of ING and Bloomberg, “Nyah nyah, this is for rich Frenchies!”  Clearly the only way to stop all these atrocities was to close that shit DOWN.

It’s not surprising to me given it’s the Post we’re talking about, and I don’t expect scared New Yorkers to be cool headed and rationally examine the big picture, but it’s disappointing that everyone was taken in so completely.  With a few well placed and disingenuous calls for sympathy and human decency, a strawman or two and some red herrings, every other argument or avenue to recourse was easily and handily swept aside.

They set up an either-or scenario that is very hard to argue against with longer, more complex thoughts.  Saying something like,

“How can you run a marathon when you have people starving in Manhattan?”

is FUCKING RIDICULOUS.  There are people starving in Manhattan EVERY YEAR they run the marathon.  There are people without the basic needs of life EVERY YEAR, period.  How can you run a marathon when children are being forced to rape and torture their relatives?  Because that shit is happening.  You can’t start down that road because it gets you nowhere.  Besides, people running the marathon are doing more to raise money to address the world’s wrongs than you are.  They are certainly raising more money than I am.  But what does Staten Island Borough President think about giving money to charity?  Don’t do it because those jerks weren’t here fast enough.

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The needs of the hurricane victims are real and immediate.  But I think the sanctimonious pointing to people who have stuff and whining that it should be redistributed to the have-nots now and because we are scared is hypocritical and counterproductive.  You can’t just say, “those rich assholes have water and I want it.”  The way shit is set up in America, those assholes OWN that water and can be ASKED to give it out differently.  And fucking guaranteed they would have.

It’s eery to me that this basically conservative Republican sock puppet media outlet flipped to an extreme leftist Occupy Wallstreet style rhetoric so quickly and successfully.  I mean to me, the key is that it’s very probable the staff of the Post know that nothing sells in NY like anger and outrage over perceived mistreatment by outsiders.  Plus we love to hate our mayor.  The way that all dovetailed with the public’s need to express rage and frustration is frightening to me.  It’s how Bush managed to commit us to an unjustified war and peel away much of the freedoms we think are guaranteed by the constitution.

I guess to me this issue was more nuanced than it was made out to be, and I feel weirdly let down by friends and people I trust to be able to approach issues with open minds.  Here’s my thing.  We have a terrible tragedy on our hands.  We need help.  Concurrently, we have 50,000 visitors in town all of whom are fit, positive, active, and rearing to get a healthy high.  Many of them are running for worthy causes. We’ve got the national spotlight poised to broadcast hours worth of race route footage, much of which would pass near some pretty rough areas.  Massive amounts of national and international exposure.  Shitloads more goodwill-having, able-bodied people from all over the world are here.  Turn that into the opportunity I think it is.  I mean, it’s obviously too late.  But wow what a historic chance it would have been to really work something amazing.

We’ve already got a couple hundred runners volunteering anyway.  Imagine how many more we could have finagled?  How much money we could have raised with well placed ads and soundbites in the national broadcast?  There’s so much potential good in there that it at least deserved a place in the debate, you know?

In the end I get it.  Bottom line for me is that city worker manpower is exhausted and unable to in good conscience divert support to what has been painted as a superfluous waste and disrespectful slap in the face.  There’s been so much ill will drummed up in any case, I doubt the run would have been safe for participants, regardless.

My personal stake in this issue:

After the World Trade Center attacks, I decided to go watch the marathon.  There were snipers posted on rooftops along the section of Bedford I was standing on.  It was chilly out, I had a coffee and a cigarette.  There were dozens and dozens of bundled up hipsters around me, waiting to see what the fuss was about.  And then the runners started trickling by.  First the men and women professional runners groups.  And then some dudes in spiffy high tech wheelchairs streaked by.  We were electrified and excited, but I still wasn’t prepared when the main group of regular people finally arrived.

The feelings were intense, like a massive tidal surge of hope, perseverance and inspiration.  All my cynicism and depression were washed away by this milling sea of people striving to achieve something special.  I noticed many of the runners had names written across their chests, or pinned to their shorts.  I tried one out and got an acknowledging “WooHoo!” from the dude.  ELECTICITY.  My girlfriend and I spent the next hour cheering and calling out names as they streamed past.  We tried to lift the spirits of the flagging and celebrate the determination of the striving.  It made a huge difference in my outlook and kept me afloat for months afterwards.

Since then I’ve returned every year.  It is always a transformative experience and one for which I’m heartily grateful.  It gives me a shot of hope and belief in the value of striving toward an impossible goal.  This year I won’t be getting that, and it honestly scares me.  Watching the NY Marathon was a safety net for me as I headed into winter, the most depressing of seasons.

I understand why it was cancelled.  I reluctantly and with reservations agree with the decision.  I’m severely disappointed in how the shutdown was accomplished and the sheer amount of negative bullshit that was slung around to make it happen.  I believe something more incredible and positive for our city could have been accomplished.

How to Help:

Out here in Hipster Siberia, this is where you donate your supplies and your self.  They are also working as a transportation hub to ferry manpower to areas that need you.  Please consider helping. http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/sunsetpark/

In case the link don’t work, this is the place:

St. Jacobi Church
5406 4th Ave
Contact: 347-470-4192