Powerless in America: Blackout in New York

Did you know that there is no power in parts of the famed New York City for last 10 days?

Highly probable, you heard it here first. Some friends wrote to me saying it was unbelievable as well. How come no one seems to be discussing it? How come no media well worth its name appears to be highlighting this crisis (one of the biggest blackouts in NY history)? Is it because most affected parts houses working class immigrants or is it simply a case of mammoth inefficiency that plagues ConEd so much that it hides behind public relations veil?

Not that staying without power is the irrepressible gift only of the Third World to humanity. But 10 full days without power in any major city does seem like some natural catastrophe might have caused the havoc. Well, that’s also not the case here. No natural cataclysm dismantled New York last Sunday and in fact, the causes behind 10 days that shook New York are still largely unknown.

What is known, however is what NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg says. After a highly outrageous sense of irresponsibility that was demonstrated by America’s largest utility company ConEd for more than a week, Bloomberg has in fact lent support to the CEO Kevin Burke.

That Bloomberg would do such is no surprise. A billionaire and a Republican, the Mayor preferred to remain blissfully ignorant of the power crisis for the first three days. Upon demands by the affected residents for criminal investigations against Burke, and ConEd, the Mayor arrived in Queens finally and expressed his astonishment at the discovery. But just as the protesting residents assumed their problem was getting a sympathetic ear, we heard of the MayorSpeak about ConEd: “They’ve been open; they’ve been responsive; they’ve been working well with the city; they’ve accepted our help every time. We can’t ask for anything else. It is their company, their network. ….”

Quite justifiably, residents of New York City, from Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, Hunters Point are drawing parallels with aftermath to Hurricane Katrina, when President Bush was all praises for the former FEMA head Michael Brown. Mayor Bloomberg in fact topped Bush in this regard. “I think Kevin Burke deserves a thanks from this city. He’s worked as hard as he can every single day since then, as has everybody at ConEd,” Mayor said yesterday in response to ConEd’s efforts to restore power.

Fact Sheet:
Mayor Bloomberg might be well knowing about what his capitalist pal Burke did from day one, but since he did not know of the power crisis from its Day One, people have reasonable doubts over Burke’s knowledge of it as well.

In fact, Con Ed’s initial response to this latest blackout as Socialist Equality Party candidate Bill Van Auken says, “has not only been woefully slow, but reeks of incompetence. For the first three days, ConEd reported that only 1,200 to 2,100 “customers” were without power. It then emerged that in reality the crisis had blacked out more than 25,000 “customers,” meaning family homes, businesses and, in some cases, entire apartment buildings. In addition to the 100,000 people left without any power, several hundred thousand more had power reduced, meaning in many cases that elevators, air conditioners and refrigerators did not work.”
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Photos by Saswat

The power crisis is not over yet for thousands of people, and yet New York City Mayor’s blatant support in favor of a deliberately misleading, and acutely indifferent private profiteering company opens up the debate of social irresponsibility of the capitalist system.

First, the issue was not highlighted in mainstream media, thanks to enormous reach of the ConEd’s PR wing (which must be dealing less with Public, more with Press). Television channels even went on to telecast how the “rowdy residents of Astoria” were behaving in power crisis. Second, they brought the Mayor in, not to empathize with the suffering residents (notwithstanding a report of death, and many old people falling sick), but to stand by ConEd.

Affected residents feel cheated and blindsided. They also feel like second class citizens of America. Not because they are Americans. Not because they demanded quicker relief. But because they do not live in Upper East Side or Wall Street. Because, like their counterparts in New Orleans, they comprise the minority communities, mostly working class, and mostly powerless.

And just like marginalized New Orleans residents were fighting the FEMA, the marginalized New York residents are fighting the largest utility company of America. It’s not just a temporary crisis owing to lack of electric power. It’s also a mass battle against the global corporate czars to regain peoples’ power.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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