By Monica Powell
It was the middle of winter and I stood at the busstop, jacket-less. My teeth chattered violently as we waited for the bus to arrive. My best friend threw her scarf around my shoulders. “You’re like a pigeon,” she said. “You keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”
Though ten years have lapsed since a school bus was my primary mode of transportation, I have lost neither the nickname nor the habit of being consistently underprepared for the weather. This memory came flooding back to me during the Women’s March, when I relied on the densely packed bodies (as opposed to my pathetically thin coat and socks) to keep me warm.
In the days since our 45th president was elected, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of preparedness. I think of the nation’s shock on election night, how millions of people–regular citizens, news pundits, elected officials, were all completely dumbfounded by the results of the election. Despite all evidence pointing towards this impending disaster, what made us “forget our jacket,” so to speak? And more importantly, how can we prepare for future storms?
According to the New York Times, in the wake of an impending natural disaster, “even after all of the best practices in emergency communications are exhausted, 5% of the population will remain in harm’s way.” Perhaps when we look closer at the belief systems that provide us reasons to ignore natural disasters, we can find insight into how an entire nation managed to come face-to face with this catastrophic social and political disaster.
Reason #1: Gauging Risk
“It can’t be that bad.” Researchers heard this type of response again and again from people who opted to defy mandatory evacuation notices during Sandy and Katrina. Speaking from my own experience with a politically conservative father, I heard this sort of rhetoric many times leading up to the election. “He can’t be that bad,” my dad would insist. “He won’t be able to do half of the stuff he’s claiming to do.” Like the Katrina victim dumbfounded by their destroyed house, my father shakes his head in disbelief as our president gets to work making good on each and every horrific campaign promise. And this is only week one.
Reason #2: Lack of Exposure
It is difficult to be afraid of what you don’t know. Many who defied evacuation orders did so because they had never been in a hurricane and they couldn’t imagine the extent of damage it could cause. When you have no frame of reference, how can you possibly imagine the power of a hurricane? Sandy and Katrina victims quickly learned that these storms were beyond anything they could have imagined. Politically speaking, this was the circumstance for millions of Americans during the 2016 election. Having lived the last quarter century under Clinton, Bush and Obama, it is difficult to imagine a President Trump. It was difficult to imagine (for both liberals and conservatives alike) the amount of damage one man could truly cause.
Reason #3: People Have Short Memories
Oddly enough, it wasn’t only people who had never experienced a hurricane who opted to stay behind in Sandy and Katrina. It was like how the moment I got inside that warm bus, memories of the jacket-less cold were soon forgotten. Or how the pain of childbirth doesn’t discourage women from their second or third pregnancy. Humans have short memories, particularly for uncomfortable, painful things that they’d sooner forget. Memories of past hurricanes fade into hazy memories. When the next time newscasters are predicting a storm, many hurricane survivors will revise history, insisting it wasn’t so bad the last time, that surely this one couldn’t be worse than storms survived in the past. Half of our country chose to ignore the historical parallels between President Trump and one German Fascist. They willfully refuse to see the parallels between these two men, both obsessed with making broken countries “great again” through increased government control and racial and religious purification.
The most troubling connection between these natural and political disasters are the populations who are impacted the worst. In the four years to come, the people who will be hit the hardest will be the elderly, the poor, and racial and ethnic minorities. It is our job to protect those who will have the hardest time protecting themselves. It is our responsibility to stay vigilant towards all policies that come out of this administration, particularly those that put the safety of marginalized populations at risk.
In the 2016 Presidential election, this storm caught us by surprise. It is a matter of national security for us to create a disaster relief plan for the 2018 election. So call your representatives. Check your sources. Peacefully protest and march. Let’s make sure we are prepared.