You want to believe it, and on our recent visit to Long Beach Island, NJ, the signs of apparent recovery were everywhere. Gov. Chris Christie makes regular reassuring visits, and in truth, the affluent summer residents — LBI swells in season to a population of 100,000 with the influx of second-home owners from New Jersey and neighboring states — have already rebuilt or are well on their way to restoring properties. It’s salad days for the contractors and landscapers of LBI, though how many of them are locals is uncertain. Areas with protective dune systems built in a controversial U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, have been the fastest to return to normal.
In August, at the height of season, normalcy means beaches thronged with bright umbrellas and excited children, packed shops and restaurants, and bumper to bumper traffic on State Route 72, the only way in and out, and therefore the great leveler in times good or bad. On the South end of the island where Hurricane Sandy brought nine-foot storm surge and 18-foot seas an open field marks the place where a trailer park once stood; dumpsters filled with debris; and many homes are, well, barely standing. Although everyone with a stake in Long Beach Island felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy, property damage, like wealth, is unevenly distributed. It’s no mystery why those who have want to keep what they believe is rightfully theirs. The puzzle is why those to whom the economic system has been less munificent — the retired teachers, fire fighters and police, the small business owners, the middle managers, who built the modest dreams and modest homes in this little piece of paradise — aren’t taking to the streets like their cohort in Brazil, Spain, and Greece, to protest our deepening inequities. Or not in any significant numbers. Yet.
Media scholar, Marty Kaplan, blames “weapons of mass distraction,” the fact that we the people have allowed ourself to become addicted to a state of constant arousal about all the wrong things, things we can do little about and are, in many instances, utterly meaningless to our daily lives and our future and that of our children. Meanwhile, the democratic process atrophies. Here’s Kaplan in a recent interview on Moyers & Company:
[T}he stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism…There was “The New York Times” headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which “The Times” said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in “millions of years.” My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.
“We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system. Why are we not also taking to the streets is the question. And I want us to…”
Me, too, Marty. That would be a ‘standing strong’ one could believe in and act on before the next Katrina or Sandy arrives.