With the opening of the Jersey shore for Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, President Obama made a visit to New Jersey, specifically Seaside Heights, which was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October last year. President Obama and Governor Christie also made a campaign-like stop in Asbury Park, which incurred less damage from the storm. People were crammed by the Asbury Convention Center on a rainy day to get a glimpse of the President. The message was clear—the Jersey shore made a miraculous recovery and is open for business.
Of course it makes perfect political and economic sense that the President came to support the state and the Governor is touting how much has been rebuilt—encouraging tourists to visit the New Jersey shore just as they always have. Except things are not as they have always been, as I found this weekend when I went to buy a few things at Bains Hardware in Sea Bright. The concerning aspect of the recent media coverage, although it was a great photo and public relations opportunity, is that there's been a lack of stories to counterbalance that 'everything's just fine' coverage.
Clearly in towns nearby Seaside and Asbury Park in Lavalette, Mantoloking, Brick Township, Sea Bright and Highlands things are not so rosy. It's disturbing that there's not companion news coverage with citizens or business owners who can tell an alternative story that highlights how rebuilding and recovery after a wicked storm like Hurricane Sandy takes longer than six months. If the news is going to be objective then they should cover those stories as well and find a way to have real voices provide the narrative of what's really happening in these shore communities.
I live at the shore and although I wasn't directly affected, it's quite clear to me that the New Jersey shore is not ready for prime time. I wish it was, but it's not. It would be more effective if the news did its job and told things like they are and cover stories of towns like Sea Bright who through Sea Bright Rising fundraisers helps to illustrate strong models for public/private partnerships, or a grassroots group like Occupy Sandy who have been on the ground since day one of the Hurricane providing free food and volunteers, or citizens in Highlands who are rebuilding their town together.
If we're trying to promote New Jersey for tourism the state developed a strong ad campaign called DO/AC for Atlantic City where the hurricane caused minimal damage. I want to support the state too, so in a few weeks I will be spending a mini girls trip, and in my opinion that's a preferable way to bring people and their pocketbooks to the shore. But, there are other ways too.
We should encourage and support each other so that we can continue to highlight rebuilding and recovery issues and come together to help solve them locally. Citizens need to be properly informed and find ways to get involved to help bring homes and businesses back as quickly as possible.
When you go to the primaries today to vote, think about your local officials and whether they are helping citizens to come together to develop a plan for recovery and sustainability. We've been told enough times and seen the wicked weather of late—Oklahoma tornadoes, the Mississippi levee breach and hurricanes that are coming every few years on the east coast. There needs to be a constant public dialogue that's honest and real. Citizens need sustenance to tackle the hard and messy issues for agreement about what works and what doesn't work in our respective communities.
It can't wait any longer. What have you seen happening with recovery in your communities? What problems, ideas and solutions would help bring citizens together, help businesses reestablish their shore brands, enlist local officials to harvest dialogue and keep people coming to our weather-worn towns to volunteer and spend valuable vacation time and money?
Larry Swetman, a volunteer for Occupy Sandy crafted a grassroots video that talks with a citizen who paints a different picture of the NJ shore as we head into summer.