Is America’s divided soul beyond healing? You might have reason to think so after the election. The losers wail about our ruined future and vow to secede from a union now in the grasping hands of “takers.” The winners thank their secular stars that they’ve thwarted a vision grounded in heartlessness and greed. The emptiness of these tired political theatrics was brought home to me last weekend, when some colleagues and I went out to Red Hook, a south Brooklyn community slammed by Super-Storm Sandy.
Red Hook is a knockabout place with a history. The nation’s biggest freight port a century ago, by the ’90s it had fallen so far that Life magazine crowned it the “crack capital of America.” Now it is home to Brooklyn’s largest public housing project and a recent influx of artists and entrepreneurs attracted by low rent and cavernous, 19th-century brick warehouses. Sandy drove walls of seawater through all of it; there’s still no power there. But since the waters receded, a flood of volunteers has moved in to right the damage. Mormon families are hauling in buckets full of cleaning materials and mucking out basements alongside tattooed activists of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which now goes by Occupy Sandy. High school kids, retired plumbers, optometrists, and beleaguered Red Hookers are working together to replace sodden drywall, pass out clothing, and bring food to elderly shut-ins. Their efforts alone won’t put Red Hook on its feet again: Scores of uninsured businesses may not survive. But what’s heartening is that with so much work to do, nobody questions anybody else’s bona fides. Pitching in is proof enough.