When it became clear that the supposedly epic blizzard of earlier this week was overhyped, at least as far as New York City was concerned, we wondered about the thinking process that led to the only shutdown of the entire public transportation system for a snowstorm. It turns out the decision was made by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio did not have a vote. From Gothamist:
Gov. Cuomo decided to shut down NYC Transit subway and bus service on Monday ahead of an anticipated blizzard, which came as a surprise to transit workers and experts…and City officials. Cuomo told the press his office was “totally coordinated” with the mayor on the effort, but Mayor de Blasio disagrees: aides say he was only given between 15 and 30 minutes warning before Cuomo made the announcement at 4:45 p.m. on Monday.
“We did not get a lot of advance notice,” de Blasio said yesterday at a City Hall press conference. “I think it was a very big move and certainly something we would have liked to have had some more dialogue on.”
I suspect NC readers are capable of reading between the lines as to what really went on.
We raised doubts about this measure, on a philosophical as well as a practical level. As we noted,
I’m bothered by the continued creep of safety concerns being used to restrict individual movements. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but citizens used to be deemed competent to make prudent choices.
Those who worked in the city were effectively forced to repair to their homes. Yes, this was not technically a curfew, you could still go outside, but with stores, eateries, gyms, and bars closed, unless you have a dog or got a bit of cabin fever and needed to stretch your legs, there wasn’t much point in going out. Similarly, New York State also imposed a $300 fine for being on the road after the witching hour. As Brooklyn Bridge pointed out:
Not just fools are entitled to basic rights. I can easily imagine cases where being able to travel would save lives. It’s not always easy, financially or otherwise, to arrange for contingencies ahead of time. People can, through no fault of their own, be caught in situations where evacuation becomes critical. Waiting for official channels to send someone to get you can be impractical, impossible or absurd as in the case of Katrina. It’s also true as Yves points out that much of purpose of these restrictions is for the convenience of authorities (to touch only on the less dark sides of the motivations) and only ostensibly for the protection of citizens.
For the time being, I suspect that given the right circumstances, (such as being white and moderately affluent), one could escape penalty with a compelling story.
I too would assume that defying the ban while black or Hispanic would have much higher odds of being hit with the fine than driving while white.
But the real, largely untold story of the transit shutdown and travel restrictions was the impact on people who were working what amounted to second and third shift, meaning not white collar professionals but service workers and their managers, most of all those with long commutes, as well as staff (nurses, orderlies, cooks, cleaners) in New York’s many hospitals. Key extracts from a post by libbyliberal at Corrente:
Monday’s predicted blizzard for NYC caused me more than a little cognitive dissonance over the state/city executive decision to shut down the subway system from between 11pm and 8am. It interfered with my own transportation needs for getting to and from work so I opted to lose a night’s pay in a work situation that was thankfully reasonable enough to grant me that. (Not generous enough to compensate me for such a formidable transportation challenge, mind you.)
As the week moves on, I have been hearing that the subway closure caused gratuitous stress for great numbers of people. I have run into retail workers and their managers who had to anxiously hustle their ways homeward via subway praying and racing against that 11pm deadline whereby the ENTIRE NYC subway service would turn into the proverbial pumpkin. It would be turned off completely rather than slowed or limited. From local news I became aware that the very emergency workers who were helping New York City cope with the snowstorm were themselves major victims of the subway closure. WTF?…
I just came across an article by Jerry White entitled “Politically driven hysteria over the New York City snowstorm that wasn’t”. White accuses state, local and regional authorities including NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, NJ Governor Chris Christie of fear-mongering with their declarations of a super-emergency and the “virtual lockdown” of us 8 million residents of New York City. These authorities are now asserting a “better safe than sorry” defense of their decisions after the storm clout proved minimal in the City itself. I also see these gentlemen using the storm for political grandstanding.
White explains that the histrionics of the authorities and the media caused a run on supermarkets and gas stations. Threats of fines and arrests for driving one’s car was also stressed on the media to residents. The National Guard was deployed in New York State. White sees this as an ominous pattern in “post-9/11 America.” Authorities and corporate media keep frightening Americans, utilizing whatever is convenient to do so, including the weather..
White quotes a “transit insider” who shared this with the Atlantic magazine:
The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good, … I think it’s a horrible, purely political decision, not based on anything that’s needed. It seemed like cutting out a necessary lifeline unnecessarily…..
White maintains that political authorities are most concerned with the needs of the elite residents of NYC and not so much the practical needs of those far lower down the economic ladder.
Every natural disaster uncovers the deep class chasm in America.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the city’s then-mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the utility giants made sure electricity was quickly restored to the New York Stock Exchange and the luxury high-rise apartments in Manhattan, while working-class and poor residents of the city were abandoned without water and electricity.
Aside from these considerations, the ruling class saw in the storm an opportunity to promote an atmosphere of hysteria and create new precedents for extraordinary state actions. Fearful of the eruption of popular opposition over the immense levels of social inequality and the retrograde policies of both big-business parties, the response of the political establishment to every potential disruption of the continued accumulation of wealth by the super-rich, even uncertain prospects of a heavy snowfall, is police state measures: lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, etc.
This week in New York City, we saw the methods of the “war on terror” deployed to fight snowflakes falling from the sky.
Is Jerry White taking the analysis way too far?
Or is he onto something in terms of a “learned helplessness” and “a state of chronic disorientation” and “cognitive dissonance” being cultivated by the political patriarchy and media within us — us citizens whose basic needs are given less and less empathy and respect by the authorities, even though these same authorities insist through media that their decisions are made to honor and prioritize our needs?
Yves here. I’m inclined to see the behavior of the authorities, at least at the city and state level, as less calculated, less about inculcating obedience in the population, and more a reflection of the creeping, ugly, more authoritarian post 9/11 new normal. Government officials have new tools and new powers at their disposal, and they’ve come to see their use as routine. In some ways, this casualness about restricting movement and invading privacy is much worse that scheming to remake society, because officials would be planning changes and could be challenged by other insiders, or even their own doubts, about the wisdom of their initiatives. A slow erosion of the space in which individuals are allowed to operate freely is much harder to pin on individual and group decisions, and thus much more difficult to combat.
In other words, White is right about the implications, but I’d argue wrong about how we are getting there. But what is your view of the mechanisms of authority state creep, and what if anything can we do about it?