As we close out our reflections on Superstorm Sandy, we conclude with a note from Executive Director, Mark O’Brien. We extend our thanks to our partners who continue to work to help those affected by the storm and to our supporters for your generosity. And for those looking to help, we encourage you to join in the race!
A year ago Wednesday, I awoke early, and fumbled to turn on the radio for news that would help me take stock of what I assumed had been a “once in a lifetime” storm on our city. Unlike far too many New Yorkers, my family was fortunate to live in a neighborhood that largely escaped Sandy’s full impact; saved by an accident of topography.
But as the intervening months have made painfully clear, it is likely that the coastal regions of the Northeast will face similar threats sooner than we once imagined. And Sandy, like other natural and man-made emergencies before her, revealed that the impact follows not only topographical lines on the map, but deeply entrenched social, economic and racial fault lines that govern how individuals and communities access our city’s shared wealth and resources. One year later, those lines continue to impede the truly heroic efforts of the legal community to help individuals and communities recover and re-build. As one of our Gulf Coast partners told us early on when sharing lessons from Katrina, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Thinking back to the day after Sandy hit, I remember our community’s first, tentative steps on that marathon – exchanges of emails, texts, and phone calls to our staff and then to friends in other organizations, checking on how they fared – and then moving almost immediately to talking about organizing a collective response.
Within a week, we began to gather in person, and on regular conference calls where those organizing efforts locally, and from across the country, could share challenges, solutions, strategize on next steps, vent frustrations, and even laugh and enjoy a fellowship born of common purpose.
It was in this moment that that we learned that the marathon could also be a relay race. Gulf coast veterans of Katrina joined us (sometimes over phone lines and sometimes literally). Disaster legal aid experts from Texas, Louisiana and Florida also pitched in to run legs. And, of course, we’ve passed the baton among ourselves.
Pro Bono Net’s own efforts to support this work comes from our experience dealing with the challenge of scaling legal services in times of emergent need. We know technology and collaboration can overcome barriers to justice. Time and again, in the wake of the nation’s largest crises, including 9/11, Katrina, and the foreclosure crisis, Pro Bono Net enabled individual organizations to work more effectively and collectively to meet challenges.
Wednesday morning I dialed in as a facilitator on what has become our monthly Sandy call. The work (and sharing) goes on. A staff lawyer from The Legal Aid Society shared a favorable outcome obtained in an insurance mediation by pro bono lawyers from Covington … who were prepared by pro bono volunteers from Jones Day … and they had all been mentored by the insurance expert at Legal Services NYC.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve showcased the tremendous work of our partners on our blog, Connecting Justice Communities, through a weekly Sandy Series. We’ve taken the time at the end of this series to reflect on the themes that emerged and to share our own lessons learned. I’d like to share that with you and invite you to comment with your own impressions on the race to date or priorities on the road ahead.
One thing is clear – the challenges we face are steep, particularly for New York’s lowest income and most marginalized – immigrants, the elderly, and those with diminished capacity. More runners are needed. If you are a lawyer, you’ve got the right shoes. Some of the work will be directly related to Sandy; other, equally important work, will help expose and repair the underlying injustices that prevent many New Yorkers from fully participating in society. Unless we address that, it won’t matter how prepared we are; our most vulnerable neighbors will again bear the brunt.
If you are already running, thank you, and we’ll look for you on the course. If you’re still on the sidelines, this is the time. On this anniversary, don’t only remember the storm. Remember the feeling you had on the morning after … you were outraged by what you saw … you wanted to help … you believed you could make a difference. You can. It’s not as hard as you think. As the tag line goes, Just Do It!
If you need help finding the starting line, or are looking for a baton ready to be passed on, I invite you to visit us online at the NYC Pro Bono Center.
Mark O’Brien | Executive Director | Pro Bono Net