In the days following the storm there was a growing outrage over Mayor Bloomberg’s decision not to cancel the race. Politicos of all types argued that the resources that would be going to support the runners was a contradiction while so many of New York City’s citizens were still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Opponents argued a practical point: why provide generators, food and water for the runners while many of the city’s citizen’s were still without electricity, heat and basic needs. The mayor, joined by the director of the marathon, Mary Wittenberg, were poised to move forward. They argued that the race would generate revenue and provide a much-needed morale boost to the city.
To run or not to run. That is the question. But is it? As I searched my own beliefs I realized the falseness of the debate. Canceling the race does not get to the heart of the matter. It actually lets us all off the hook. The owners of the NYC Marathon would not be required to divert the tremendous human resources required for coordinating the 50,000 runners to traverse through New York City’s five boroughs. By canceling, all we are asking of our leaders and ourselves is more of the same political correctness. We get wrapped up in our anger at our political leaders’ callousness and valuing of the financial interests over human dignity. We demand the race be canceled because it is the wrong thing to do without ever asking what is the right thing to do.
Our response to this hurricane can be towards transformation. We have the opportunity to push the discourse beyond the either-or thinking that keeps us from transformational change. We can see this moment as an opening to ask difficult questions and demand more. When has there been a NYC Marathon during a time when those resources could not be used to help suffering citizens in New York City and in the world? Why must it take a disaster for us to live with shared purpose and mission?
What about the third way? What about a solution that is not as easy? What if instead of asking the race be canceled we made personal petitions to our political leaders, to the event directors and to the runners themselves: come to New York and use the energy, focus and pure will power that you were going to use towards completing the marathon and use it to volunteer throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Yes, many participants would not answer the call. Some would though. The NYC Marathon could create a new model for disaster relief.
On Friday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the marathon was indeed canceled. On Saturday, I listened to Wu-Tang Clan all day while following my friends photos of clean-up work she was doing in Staten Island. By Saturday night, a group of volunteers and runners had already organized “NYC Marathon Of Relief Effort 2012,” (http://www.nycmore2012.org/) turning a day that was devoted to a race into an all-day volunteer effort. (Runners and non-runners who wish to volunteer on Marathon Sunday should email firstname.lastname@example.org.)