OCCUPY THE FRANKENSTORM: By the time election day arrived one week after Hurricane Sandy, many residents of New York City were frustrated by the lagging federal aid and assistance from agencies like the Red Cross. Though the Defense Department dispatched 24 million gallons of fuel to the region, many hadn’t seen the military since the storm hit. And while FEMA workers were spotted here and there, other residents of Staten Island found help from an entirely separate source: Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Sandy, as the effort was dubbed, arose in the aftermath of the storm, creating community hubs from Brighton Beach to the Lower East Side to dispense water, food and aid, and forming groups to help pump floodwater from houses and clean up the rubble. “People were sorting donations, feeding hungry people, [helping] local residents…get things they need,” said Lopi LaRoe, an Occupy volunteer assisting the recovery efforts in Far Rockaway and Staten Island. She said the residents seemed thankful that anyone was willing to help.
“People are traumatized out there. They’ve come through some really intense stuff. They’ve lost their homes, some of them lost family members and pets, and they’re really emotional…. The aid we were giving was largely material aid, but now we’re moving into trauma support and setting up places where people can tell their stories.” For more on Occupy Sandy, visit TheNation.com. ALLISON KILKENNY
Allison Kilkenny blogs regularly at TheNation.com. Her latest dispatch is “Occupy Sandy Highlights Need for Solidarity, Not Charity.”
VOTING AFTER SANDY: In Moonachie, one of the most severely ravaged areas of New Jersey, residents were provided shuttle buses to vote in nearby Teterboro. Mike Macalintal, 19, and his mother, Maria, said firefighters on “rubber boats” had rescued them when the flood hit. Both voted on November 6—Mike for Obama, while Maria declined to say.
Meanwhile, dozens of “chaplains” with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team roved around Moonachie, having come from central Florida shortly after the storm hit. Vincent Gaccione, a disabled resident, was grateful for their help; he said no one ever mentioned religion. His car had been destroyed, so he rented one to go vote.
Small towns like Moonachie managed their extraordinary situation with greater ease than urban centers like Hoboken. Resident Nick Calicchio characterized the voting predicament as “mass chaos,” especially at a school whose auditorium, usually used for voting, had been converted into a shelter.
One City Clerk’s employee said the office had received complaints about voting problems. Though just one out of the city’s forty polling places was inoperable, the employee said, he anticipated legal problems over the absentee and provisional ballots lost or destroyed in the floodwaters. He also said the makeshift vote-by-e-mail system instituted by the secretary of state would inevitably “end up in court.” MICHAEL TRACEY
More from Michael Tracey: “In Superstorm's Wake, Concerns About Widespread Disenfranchisement in New Jersey.”
WOMEN TAKE NEW HAMPSHIRE: The fact that New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan was the only pro-choice Democratic woman running in a gubernatorial race had already made her story compelling enough—but the extremism of her opponent was truly breathtaking. Ovide Lamontagne, a Tea Partier who described himself as “Scott Walker on steroids,” wanted to voucherize public education, teach creationism in public schools, ban gay marriage, criminalize abortion, and outlaw many forms of birth control and fertility treatments. He also proposed to pull the state out of Medicare, turning the program into a state-administered block grant system.
In the heat of her campaign—which featured no fewer than twelve debates—Hassan stopped by The Nation’s offices and won over editors with her down-to-earth feminist rap, emphasizing her commitment to universal public kindergarten (which Lamontagne wanted to repeal), women’s health and more.
Her victory is even sweeter because she is one of a winning all-women delegation of candidates endorsed by EMILY’s List in New Hampshire. The wins by Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster mean the state has elected the first-ever combo of an all-women congressional delegation and governor in the United States. BETSY REED
In 2012 women made up a majority of the electorate, and unmarried women were 23 percent of voters. An upswing in feminist activism had a demonstrable impact on the election. But Jessica Valenti writes that there’s an argument to be made that women’s silence also contributed to Democrats’ resounding wins.
THREE STRIKES IS OUT: By passing Proposition 36, California voters have reaffirmed what everyone familiar with the state’s finances already knows: there is not enough money to continue to fund a massive prison system. “Three strikes” was such an awful law in the first place: too broad in its crafting, too draconian in its impact. On the ground, large numbers of district attorneys, especially in the larger urban areas, have used their discretion for several years now to avoid prosecuting nonviolent crimes as “three strikes” cases. The success of Prop. 36 ratifies and formalizes that trend. It also allows for a fairly significant number of three-strikers to seek release. And it shows the changing nature of the criminal justice discourse in California. The nation’s most populous state is now in a new (and smarter) post-tough-on-crime era: one in which the laws and attitudes that led to the extraordinary buildup of prisoners in the 1980s and ’90s are now being reviewed and re-evaluated not so much as moral failures, but as fiscal catastrophes.
It’s hard to disentangle this result from California’s broader financial crisis, as seen in the success of Proposition 30, which will start to salvage the state’s public education system and prevent billions more dollars in cuts to schools, community colleges and universities. And it’s very much a part of a larger effort to rein in the state’s incarceration costs, as exemplified by Governor Jerry Brown’s realignment plans to move lower-level offenders into county jails rather than state prisons; and by efforts to dismantle the state’s extremely expensive, violent and dysfunctional system for incarcerating juvenile offenders; and by Attorney General Kamala Harris’s emphasis on “smart on crime” policies rather than “business as usual” ones.
That state voters didn’t also repeal the death penalty is disappointing but not surprising. Support for the death penalty has proven stubbornly durable over time, even in liberal states. But for all its symbolic weight, and despite the state’s large death row population, California almost never executes people. In practice if not in theory, the state is already operating death row as a sort of de facto life-in-prison-plus sentencing system. SASHA ABRAMSKY
Along with marijuana decriminalization in other states, the success of Proposition 36 in California is a ray of hope for those trapped in the abyss of the War on Drugs. Read Eugene Jarecki’s “California Rolls Back ‘Three Strikes’—Will Others Follow?”