Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, its effects far from over. Lives lost, property damaged, millions in the dark, and our greatest city figuring out how to keep moving with subways down and schools closed.
But we are figuring it out - in New York and elsewhere. Displaced families are finding places to stay with relatives, friends and shelters run by public and private agencies. Businesses are reopening. People are checking in on their loved ones, and more often than not relieved to hear positive reports.
Preparedness wasn't perfect and relief hasn't been flawless, but they have been working. Any weather crisis will cause some damage -- and if we don't act to address climate change, the disasters will become more frequent and intense. We're not ready for the challenges of the future, but at least some elected officials like New York's Governor Cuomo are speaking to that issue. Today we need to focus on relief, in the near tomorrows on rebuilding, but soon after on the policy changes that can help ameliorate or prevent the intensifying impact of climate change.
That said, for all that we should be scared about, we can also be proud about what worked. Our civil society stepped up in ways that can make us proud and provide blueprints for the society we want to live in every day.
1. People had enough faith in their government. Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie all delivered serious, competent and reassuring assessments. Their agency heads took their roles seriously. So we, the public, took them seriously as well. In a country that has a record-low approval rating for Congress, we believed in our government this past week. We listened to their advice, trusted their information and benefited as a result.
On a federal level, President Obama and FEMA reminded Americans what government is there to do - and people were comforted and safer because they had faith in those elected and assigned to protect, support and represent us.
2. Our first responders did their job. Police, firefighters and emergency workers deserve endless praise for their focus, professionalism and tireless courage this week. We rely on public sector employees who are trained, organized and devoted - and they were there for us. By all accounts, they helped save lives without regard to the race, economics or political beliefs of those they served.
We need to make sure to recruit, train and compensate our first responders in ways that ensure they remain the top-notch public servants we need.
3. Partisanship didn't get in the way. Governor Christie has been applauded for his praise of and cooperation with President Obama. It says something about our assumptions of partisanship that such a posture should be considered special. The president didn't react to states based on their leanings in electoral polls. The governor didn't try to gain political points for his top-ticket candidate. They both did what they are supposed to do: govern.
In general, that shouldn't deserve an ovation, but given the circumstances, why not? Thank you for showing the public what we elect our leaders to do.
4. Corporations acted as good citizens. Banks have notified their customers about financial support they can provide, and have offered to forgive late payments. Google and Twitter worked with New York City to provide pro bono services to communicate about the storm and relief efforts. Many businesses have put their employees' safety first and not badgered them into making it to work in unsafe conditions.
In times of crisis, we need our private sector to work hand-in-hand with the public sector for our common good. They have been showing that willingness now. We want them to behave similarly in tackling challenges like rampant foreclosures, medical costs and bankruptcy…we know they can be good citizens, and should thank them now and urge them to continue.
5. People pulled together. When our neighbors are in trouble, our instinct is to help them. To open our doors and our arms, to check on them, to give to them. Throughout the height of the storm, strangers reached out to one another. In the aftermath, people are donating time, money, blood, supplies. For all the criticism the Romney campaign justifiably receives for their relief/campaign hybrid event, it did show that people in Ohio and everywhere wanted to do something to help their fellow Americans.
Even as the traffic crawls through our city streets, as businesses stress over closures, as parents go crazy over childcare, we witness kindness all around us. People are striking up conversations on street corners, helping lift branches off their neighbors' cars and just offering smiles and supportive greetings.
While writing this post at a cafe on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, I saw someone out the window chase down a pedestrian who had dropped a $10 bill on the ground. I'm sure that happens in New York every day, but it's especially encouraging to be reminded of random acts of kindness today.
The world we want is not one of escalating climate disasters, and we need to work to prevent it. But the society we want is one of trust, faith and cooperation - as we have seen these past few days - and we need to work to preserve that as well.