Falling Apart or Coming Together: Strength in Long Beach

This week we read some of Kai Erikson’s book  A New Species of Trouble: The Human Experience of Modern Disasters. In the portion we read he talked about her position as a representative of people effected by disasters.  In his line of work, he goes to disaster sites, speaks to affected individuals, and then represents them in court.  Though the majority of the time Erikson does not spend an extended period in each location, he was able to do so in the Grassy Narrows.  Where he spend time with the Ojibwa Indian tribe.

This tribe faced repeated shocks to their lives since the 1800s.  The first such shock was the influenza epidemic, which not only killed many of the tribe members, but also lead to a spiritual crisis because their healers seemed powerless to cure or explain the disease.  The next shock was in the form of mandatory education by the Canadian government, which separated children from their families and stripped them of their language, native skills, religion, and secure identity. The Ojibwa people were also forced to give up their meandering way of life by governmental mandate, which confined them to a small area and forced them into closer quarters than was previously typical.  Finally, and most recently, the Ojibwa was forced to give up one major source of food and income when the river near their land was found to have high amounts of methylmercury.

Although it was this final disaster that brought Erikson to Grassy Narrows, the fact that individuals in the society were at the “very edge of what we generally mean by human” (28) was a result of each of the respective shocks.  What Erikson was referring to in the preceding quote is best encapsulated in his description of the unnatural deaths in the society.  He comments on the many alcohol related deaths (from alcohol poisoning to drowning and stabbings) and the high rate of suicide.  He also focuses much of this portion of the book speaking of alcohol-related violence and neglect.

Erikson’s piece is yet another disaster piece that perpetuates the stereotype that, in times of disaster, the very foundations of society become disrupted; resulting in violence, looting, and conflict.  Perhaps this is an accurate stereotype in some instances, but it is not the case with Long Beach.  If anything, I would say Sandy seems to be bringing them together closer than before.

The more I look through the facebook posts from December on the Long Beach, Hurricane Info page, the more examples I find.  Not only are people posting about big fundraisers, but they are also creating them.  Not only are people asking for help, but they are also giving it by commenting on practically every information seeking post.  And the people are truly striving to create a strong sense of community. Below is one example of such an effort:

2

In this post the Long Beach page reposted a suggestion put forth by a girl from Long Beach to have a Luminary Event where lanterns would be placed in all areas of Long Beach.  The support she received was immense.  Here we see the comment has 143 likes, 45 comments, and 50 shares, something that far surpasses any of the other posts I have seen.  The idea did turn into a reality on New Years Eve where the community succeeded in lighting up the majority of Long Beach.  To see the facebook page that led to the organization of this event you can go to this link: http://www.facebook.com/events/223060047828116/?ref=22

where 609 said that they were attending and the word was spread to over 3000 individuals (and for anyone who has created an event on Facebook, clicking each individual friend to invite them is not a quick task).  This community produced event is an example of the extraordinary lengths Long Beach is going to to subvert the disaster stereotype of a failing society, and instead come together closer than before

Work Cited

Erikson, Kai. 1994. A New Species of Trouble: The Human Experience of Modern Disasters. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Prologue and Part One.

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2 comments

  1. Great post and a great example of people actively creating ways to engage and to help. In your comparison with the stressors and shocks faced by the Ojibwa, how much of the difference do you think can be attributed to the constant challenges they faced? Were they already beaten down and defeated whereas Long Beach residents have more social support and inclusion in the nation and therefore feel like they still CAN make a difference? Light up Long Beach looks like a very lovely memorialization and event, and that definitely is a bunch of shares and likes! Why do you think an event like this became so popular?

    1. I think with the Ojibwa community they really had nothing stable left, and this was the huge difference. Unlike the people of Long Beach who can still strive for a return to normalcy in their community, there was not possibility of such return for the Ojibwa (their homeland was moved, way of life disrupted in such a large way that it would be virtually impossible to mend). Further, I think this is why Light up Long Beach was so popular, because it was something indicative of a return to their previous stability and way of life.

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monica byrne

writer . playwright . artist . activist . traveler

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