In the Aftermath of Sandy: The 2012 Election

“People don’t care about voting when they haven’t had heat and hot water for five days.”

That’s what I was told by a family member living in Nassau County on Long Island. She had been spared by Superstorm Sandy but continued to encounter friends, colleagues and random passersby who had lost everything. A waitress with an apartment in Breezy Point had nothing but the clothes on her back. Another woman who spent fourteen hours in line for gas hoping to get back to her children. Entire neighborhoods wiped out. We have all seen the photos from Staten Island, Far Rockaway and Atlantic City. We’ve all seen the photos of people waiting in lines for hours with gas cans hoping to fill up not for their cars but for generators keeping their homes warm. Then the Red Cross shelters for displaced individuals and families.

Today I happened to visit one – a shelter that is – in Sachem, NY located in the auditorium of a high school. Each displaced person to a cot and under that cot a plastic bag with all of that individual’s possessions. For many it was all they had in the world.

But as I said, you’ve seen the photos. I’ve seen the photos but it wasn’t until I arrived to Eastern Long Island that it all hit me and yeah, I finally understood: Why care about an election when your home is underwater, your lights have been off for over a week and the only way to get heat in your home is via a generator that you can only utilize after standing in line for gas for 12 hours? Why care?

I visited the Red Cross shelter with New York Congressman Tim Bishop. As we walked through the dorm area, constituents shook his hand and stopped him to express their thanks. People left with nothing, thanking a member of the House of Representatives for doing his job. I must stress the last point because we have become so inundated with this election and the state of national politics that it’s hard for many to comprehend a politician doing what they were elected to do. To help and to lead even when facing the unimaginable.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

I watched the congressman walk through and embrace families who were eager to meet him. He would introduce himself and they would reply, “I know who you are and I’m voting for you.” Volunteers expressed a concern that I was happy but genuinely surprised to hear: Many were wondering how they would and could vote when they were nowhere near their homes. Volunteers were even wondering how they could vote as they had come to New York State from down the east coast just to help, and despite all they had witnessed over the past seven days they felt compelled to use their voice and vote.

It’s hard to care about an election after being in the dark for days or knowing that when you get home you have no idea what you might find. But in the face of disaster, it is true that people will surprise you, the good guys come out and people will vote for the person who will lead. People will care about this election because they want to have people who will serve their constituents no matter what. And that is what I witnessed today – the simplest thing:

People who care.

***

If you are in New York State you can check out the New York State Board of Elections for polling center changes. You can also text NYCVOTES to 877877 to find your new polling location and call 1-855-NYS-SANDY (1-855-697-7263) for Sandy-related voting questions and polling site changes. Governor Cuomo signed an order allowing hurricane victims to vote anywhere: A person would go to a polling place, sign an affidavit and fill out a ballot anonymously. The vote will count for the presidential race or the U.S. Senate race.

In New Jersey, Governor Christie has allowed displaced voters to vote by fax and email. Read more here: http://nj.gov/state/elections/election-directives.html

No matter who you plan to vote for on Election Day just make sure you go out and VOTE.

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