On Friday May 31, 2019 For The People Asbury Park held its first distribution in the community at Springwood Park. Before I summarize the first FTP in Asbury Park, it is important that I explain the general layout of the community. Asbury Park is a coastal city in Monmouth County, New Jersey that is split in half by a set of railroad tracks which form a physical line for most of the contemporary gentrification that is afflicting it. Over the past decade, the city has undergone vast renovations around the shore which was once a rundown boardwalk ghetto. Property values on the eastern half of the city skyrocketed as businesses were bought up and the boardwalk was renovated. The vast majority of the city is still Black while the East side of the train tracks consists largely of White gentrifiers. There is also a significant Latino demographic living in the poorer parts of the city. For this event we chose to set up at Springwood Park for several reasons:
1.The park has heavy foot traffic
2. The park is located next to a church which has a history of helping groups like Food Not Bombs and Black Lives Matter.
3. The police have no jurisdiction to prevent a distribution at this location.
4. The park is in the middle of Asbury Park’s Black and Brown neighborhood
The distribution took place between 2 and 6pm. The event was primarily organized by myself and a comrade named Kevin who is also affiliated with Food Not Bombs. Through his connections with Food Not Bombs, Kevin was able to gather various useful food and beverage items that Food Not Bombs did not want to use. It seems that Food Not Bombs (at least in the area) is very selective about what food items they serve at their events. They go for vegan food items and discard the rest, refusing to serve it. As a result, Kevin was able to scavenge various items including cans of beans, pasta, granola bars, etc, and managed to recover a spare water cooler which he filled with iced tea. I was able to recover 6 bags of clothing from my girlfriend and a sympathetic professor at Brookdale Community College. I spent weeks discussing and promoting the FTP program in Asbury Park through my activities at Brookdale Community College as a member of the Dreamers+ Club. I was also able to print out 4 dozen flyers in English and Spanish during this time. Among the club members several showed interest in volunteering with FTP Asbury Park, however due to scheduling difficulties only one student activist was able to assist us for about an hour.
One of the first contacts we got that day was a Puerto Rican woman named Sandra. Sandra is well known and respected in the community and has lived a life in hood, having overcome drug and alcohol addiction among many other things throughout her life. Sandra was a well of information and told us that one of the problems making life harder in the ghetto of Asbury Park is well off Jewish people coming into their community and buying up businesses. This should be a major point to address in organizing in the community in the future. This is a similar situation to what Huey Newton described was occuring in Oakland in the 1960s. If there is a loss of Black or Brown ownership of businesses in a Black and Brown community, then it is safe to say that Asbury Park is being colonized and that the lack of money flowing through their community threatens to lead to greater poverty and suffering there. Sandra also revealed to us that she works in a community garden located just across the street from Springwood Park so we are going to engage in talks with the community garden through Sandra about supplying our future FTPs with fresh fruits and vegetables. With that said, Sandra herself is very supportive of what we are doing and would like to get us into more residential community spaces, she also offered to cook a pot of rice and beans for our next distribution.
While on the topic of Sandra, I must address an error which I am claiming responsibility for. As I mentioned, a student activist that I invited from Brookdale helped with our distribution for about an hour. When Sandra sat down to talk with us my friend spoke to her in Spanish about registering to vote and the “importance” of doing so, to which Sandra responded saying that voting doesn’t do shit and has never made a difference in her community. I added on to the conversation by agreeing with Sandra and explaining to my friend that that is not what the FTP program is about as she insisted that it is important that we get people to register to vote. I explained to her and Sandra that we are not there to get people to vote, we are there to find ways organize against the problems afflicting the community in a way that more immediately affects their lives, not getting people to register to vote.
My friend attempted to dictate a liberal position over the position of the semi and lumpen proletariat which was in direct contradiction to the work we were doing, for not explaining our positions in regard more clearly to her sooner and inviting her knowing she had a vague understanding of the FTP program, I hold myself responsible for this error. When my friend had to leave I had a sigh of relief. I wasn’t going to have to combat this liberal agenda of creating change in marginalized communities through electoral politics any longer.
After Sandra left, a homeless man stopped by riding a bike. We talked with him for at least an hour, his name was Francisco and he explained to us how he had problems moving his fingers but he could never afford the medical expenses over the years and now he keeps his clothes in a bush and sleeps in the streets. The homeless problem in Asbury Park is not limited to this man, it is a very noticeable and growing problem. One woman who is the mother of two children came to our table that day and revealed that she was homeless too. It is an unfortunate truth for many people in these conditions that are constantly raising property values in town. That woman is homeless because she came to Asbury Park from Pennsylvania and was not prepared for the outrageous cost of living in New Jersey. FTP was able to provide her and her children with clothes and food for however long it lasts them. Francisco left saying he was inspired by us and took a FTP flyer to show to people he knows.
There is a homeless problem in the community that is much worse than expected and it is exemplified in that single mother raising her two boys on the streets. Francisco's was an interesting case, because he exemplifies two major problems in the community. The first, being the growing homeless problem in Asbury Park. The second, that people in the community require easier access to healthcare.
As the day dragged on we noticed that few people were at the park and quickly realized that it was mid afternoon on a Friday and that most people that would be there were working. Knowing most full time jobs get out around 4:30, I suggested that we stay past 5 to see if more people would come by later in the afternoon and they did. As people sifted through clothes and food we were able to explain why we were there and what the FTP program is about and hand out flyers. Even children came to us to get iced tea, got clothes for their moms, and ran back home with flyers to bring back home and show their parents. One guy rode by and didn't take anything but took a flyer so he could tell his people. One girl came by so she could put our flyers on her Instagram. Overall we were very well received.
What we found to be a recurring follow up question was “when are you doing this again?”. To which we could not respond with any certainty since Kevin and myself were still figuring out our schedules for the summer. Despite the uncertainty we were able to decide and respond with confidence that we would return to the same spot in around 2 or 3 weeks and made a promise to the people that we would try to make our FTP distributions a regular event every 2 weeks in Springwood Park for the rest of the summer until FTP Asbury Park gets more members. In order to be more efficient in letting the people know when they can expect a distribution we discussed putting the date of the next distribution on our flyers. We are certain that we should and will put the location of the distribution on the FTP Asbury Park flyers from now on.
Springwood Park proved to be a great location. Not only people from the community garden came by but it is also next to a nursing home and the director of the nursing home came by and picked up some clothes and a flyer so that she could display it for people inside the home. We also discovered that many people were looking for us on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. However we do not currently have any social media for FTP Asbury Park. The Facebook and email on the flyers we distributed were both for FTP Atlantic City. As a result it seems crucial that we set up social media pages for our newly established chapter, specifically on Instagram and Facebook, and create our own branch email. This will greatly improve our ability to advertise events and make this information more readily accessible to the community of Asbury Park.
Our second contact we made that was a single mother named Denise. Denise and her kids had been at the park for several hours and throughout the day she would chat with us on occasion. She like Sandra is very supportive of our work thus far. She said that shes never seen a group like us doing what we were doing before and that “ A lot of groups come here and make promises that they never follow through with”. Beyond her criticism of other groups, Denise had a lot to say regarding children in the community. She explained that her son who was excitedly asking how he could help us, was born from a rape. Denise believes that in the community there is a severe lack of daycare centers, orphanages, and places where children can be positively influenced or taken care of.
Denise was especially moved by the FTP program because she was saying shes gone to all kinds of places for assistance whether its police or the welfare building and nobody ever gives her the help she's in need of. What did help her was the clothes and food she picked up from the FTP event. Denise posted us on her Instagram and offered assistance with establishing our social media pages and the next event we hold in Asbury Park.
The first FTP in Asbury Park was a massive success and to prepare for the next one Kevin and I decided that we can do a few things to improve the next distribution:
1. Establish social media presence for For The People: Asbury Park
2. Update flyers with the location of the distribution and possibly the date
3. Create an email for For The People: Asbury Park
4. Supplies for a table banner, saying “For The People” or “Free Clothes and Food”