Marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria's devastating landfall in Puerto Rico, evacuees, activists, and families of the thousands who were killed by the storm marched on Trump Tower in New York City on Thursday to condemn President Donald Trump's grossly inadequate response to the island's crisis, mourn the victims, and demand a just recovery that puts people over profit.
"We need to ensure that we are fighting against a predatory system that sucks every bit of value from the backs of working people," New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared at a rally in Union Square Thursday night. "What we need to do is make sure profit is never more important than human dignity."
"Three thousand people died in Puerto Rico," Ocasio-Cortez added, citing a death toll that Trump has denied and attempted to discredit by lying about the source of the number. "There are thousands of deaths, and they are the result of negligence."
“We are fighting justice for our people. Thousands died and they died because of negligence.”
— Samy Nemir Olivares (@Samynemir) September 20, 2018
Hurricane Maria was the "deadliest storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 100 years," and the Trump administration's refusal to respond with adequate urgency and resources has worsened the storm's already catastrophic impact, leaving thousands of Puerto Ricans homeless and without the means to get back on their feet.
"Time and again, people asked for help in getting the most basic kinds of repairs—for missing roofs, collapsed walls, dangerous mold, soaked belongings—then waited for months and often did not get enough to even start the process," the New York Times noted on Thursday. "Of the 1.1 million people who requested help from FEMA, about 58 percent were denied. Among those who appealed, 75 percent were rejected again. The median grant given to repair homes was $1,800, compared with about $9,127 paid out to survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas."
This vast disparity between the Trump administration's treatment of American citizens on the U.S. mainland and American citizens in Puerto Rico was at the center of attention during rallies and marches on Thursday, where activists demanded a "people-powered" recovery effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan.
Time to end the destructive patterns of extraction of land and labor- and lies to cover it all up. Truth and Solidarity and Climate Justice Now at #OurPowerPRnyc @UPROSE @EarthEthicsCtr @UnionSeminary pic.twitter.com/4Zsd4SSZiV
— Karenna Gore (@KarennaGore) September 20, 2018
— Victoria Bogdan Tejeda (@v_bogg) September 20, 2018
"This is what colonization does. It wants us not to love our people on the island and it tells us who live here that we have nothing to do with what's going on on the island," Puerto Rican activist Rosa Clemente declared at a New York City rally on Thursday. "But we are a people of humanity and resistance, and this fight against white supremacy is not here, it's a global fight. This system is coming fast and hard against us, so we must organize fast and hard against the system."
— nayisha gonzalez (@NayishaG) September 20, 2018
Ahead of Thursday's demonstrations, a coalition of advocacy groups based in Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. released a list of demands, including the cancellation of all efforts to privatize crucial services, a stop to austerity measures, and ambitious investments in healthcare, education, and housing for the island.
Finally, the groups demanded an end to the "colonial status of the island."
"Puerto Rico is a colony and its current status curtails the ability that people living on the island have to plan their future," the organizations declared. "A democratic path to the future of Puerto Rico through self determination is key to the islands recovery."
Creatively articulating these demands on Thursday, activists projected "We Need People Powered Recovery," "Stop Privatization," and "Stop Disaster Capitalism" onto CitiBank in Union Square.
— Laura Weiss (@lauralew105) September 20, 2018
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) September 21, 2018
— Taciturn Surfer (@TaciturnSurfer) September 20, 2018