Buffalo’s real bomb cyclone: Racism, capitalism and poverty

Capitalist government failure requires working-class organization and action

Buffalo: Cars stranded in snow drifts during Winter Storm Elliott.

As of Jan. 5, at least 60 people nationally and 39 people in Erie County, New York, have been reported dead from Winter Storm Elliott. 

The majority of deaths – 31 – are from Buffalo, the third poorest city in the United States. Most of those who died were people of color. 

Forecasts of a “bomb cyclone” were made far in advance of the storm, as early as Dec. 19.  By Dec. 21, meteorologists reported “a once-in-a-generation storm” would arrive.  

Despite these warnings, there was no plan to save lives, either on the local, regional or national level. 

Individuals and families were left to fend for themselves. There were not adequate provisions for emergency shelter, delivery of food and supplies to people living in food deserts, or support for those freezing from lack of electricity and fuel. 

Lack of travel ban forced workers to report to jobs

A travel ban was not issued until 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 23, after most workers had already left for their shifts. Many workers, especially low-wage workers, live paycheck to paycheck. Without the needed travel ban, they faced firing or write-ups if they didn’t report to work.  

Meager wages also meant that there was little possibility of stocking up on food or preparing.

People quickly became stranded in their vehicles, leading to at least four deaths. Seventeen people were found dead in snow drifts, succumbing to hurricane-force winds and brutal cold.  

Nine people died in homes without heat after electricity and power had failed. Snow drifts of up to 12 feet trapped residents inside drafty and aging homes.

Buffalo’s aging infrastructure could not bear the stress. 

Topping the miserable deaths, residents of Buffalo’s primarily Black Eastside neighborhood complained bitterly of the lack of snow removal and resources in their neighborhood compared to Kenmore, a wealthy, predominantly white area. 

White supremacy and war 

Last year, on a speaking tour after his fact-finding trip in Donbass, John Parker of the Socialist Unity Party visited the site of the racist massacre at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo. 

In the aftermath of Winter Storm Elliott, Parker told Struggle-La Lucha: “The racist and anti-working class disaster in Buffalo could have been prevented. Over $100 billion to date has been poured into the U.S. proxy war against Russia and Donbass.

“In a matter of hours, Washington can ship arms to Ukraine, but not equipment and resources to deliver food, provide shelter and emergency health care to the people of Buffalo, especially to the Black community, to workers and the poor.”

Parker added: “Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s victim-blaming remarks calling ‘looters the lowest of low’ are not surprising. In the midst of the crisis, he diverted police from emergency assistance to protect businesses.” 

In the most recent mayoral race, Brown ran as a write-in candidate, with the full support of the Democratic and Republican party machines and the Police Benevolent Association after India Walton, a young Black woman from Buffalo’s Eastside, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” won the Democratic Party primary.  

Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly organized “snow brigades” in 2016 to deliver needed food and shovel out seniors and poor residents of public housing when the city administration and the Housing Department failed. Photo: Peoples Power Assembly

Cuba’s ‘Tarea Vida’ an example of what’s needed

Cuba, a small island which has suffered deeply from a criminal, six-decade-long U.S. blockade, is also disproportionately affected by climate change. Up to 10% of Cuba could be submerged by the end of this century, wiping out coastal towns, polluting water supplies and forcing 1 million people to relocate. 

The major object of Cuba’s Tarea Vida (Life Task) initiative is to protect lives and the resources people depend on.

Tarea Vida is divided into two parts: one to address the immediate climate crisis, and another longer-term plan. Dr. Helen Yaffe’s recent documentary, “Cuba’s Life Task: Combating Climate Change,” outlines this. 

Much can be learned from Cuba’s planning.

Workers and oppressed communities urgently need to organize and act. Our lives depend on it.  

This includes demanding that warehouses, schools and workplaces be fortified in tornado zones, and that adequate evacuation, food, housing and health care be organized in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal areas from Florida to Maine.

Unions and workers’ organizations must take up these demands now and deepen mutual aid work to save lives. During Winter Storm Elliott, the Buffalo Mutual Aid Group was one of the organizations that did its best to get out information, distribute food and provide a forum to communicate.  

What happened in Buffalo is not an isolated incident, nor is it an “act of god or nature.” Disasters like this will continue and become more frequent, affecting millions across the U.S. Nor is it confined to this country.

In fact, the climate crisis, directly rooted in the profits-before-people system of capitalism, is being felt globally – from devastating floods in Pakistan to deadly heat waves and droughts worldwide. 

To save the planet and the people, we must destroy capitalism!

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