Thursday, September 2, 2010

Asbury Park

Greetings From Asbury Park

Shown on WYBE

A review

Having lived in North New Jersey and Philadelphia I’ve become pleasantly acquainted with a place called the Jersey Shore. On weekends during the summer the highways in New Jersey are jammed with people taking their families to one of the beeches “down the shore.”

When I was young, my family took me to Asbury Park where we walked the boardwalk, ate delicious junk food, and went on all the amusement rides. My parents moved from Newark, NJ to Long Branch and I visited Asbury Park when they lived there. During those years I was struck by the fact that in the middle of the summer, the boardwalk along the beach was virtually abandoned.

Last evening I saw the documentary Greetings From Asbury Park shown on the TV station WYBE. This documentary gave the following information.

As I said Asbury Park was once a center for people who chose to visit the Jersey Shore. The city was also a cultural center where Bruce Springsteen cut his first recording.

African Americans were interviewed and they spoke about the history of discrimination in the city. As a result, a rebellion broke out in Asbury Park and this was one of the rebellions which broke out in hundreds of African American neighborhoods throughout the US in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The mayor of Asbury Park at that time was quoted as saying that the rebellion was perfectly understandable given the conditions of the city. For many years Black people were not allowed on the main beech in Asbury Park. Today Asbury Park is 86% Black and Latino.

There have been two redevelopment schemes which have attempted to bring in revenue into the city. The first one evicted several residents from their homes and failed to complete its mission. Several high-rise potential condominiums were left uninhabited and not completed. A new redevelopment scheme has been initiated and more residents have been forced from their homes under the pretext of “eminent domain.”

Apparently, well-healed speculators hired appraising companies to declare that the neighborhoods close to the beech were blighted. The city government went along with all of this, allowed for the eviction of residents, and sold the boardwalk for the fire-sale price of $15 million. The Convention Center was sold for $3 million. New condominium housing along the beech is going for over $1 million.

The documentary centered on an older Greek immigrant woman who is being evicted from her home after having paid taxes on it for 40 years. There are two quotations from this woman that I feel are relevant.

“I came to this country as a refugee and after 56 years I’m a refugee again.”

“We should have gone to City Hall and demonstrated. We should have taken it over and had a revolution.”

Understanding these facts, we might also consider that one of the most affluent locations in the nation is in Deal, New Jersey. Deal is located just north of Asbury Park. No one has been evicted from Deal because of eminent domain.

In my opinion we need to look at what has happened in Asbury Park from a historical perspective. The process of evicting working people from their homes to make room for more affluent residents has become known as “gentrification.” This has happened in the neighborhood of Society Hill in Philadelphia, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in the area around the capitol in Washington DC.

Karl Marx wrote about how this process was under way in the 19th century. According to Marx, capitalists made deals with governments to develop neighborhoods that were in decay. They then bought up the homes in these neighborhoods, spent money on construction and made a financial killing as a result. Sound familiar?

Internationally we can also see this development. The United States government has admitted violating 371 treaties with Native Americans. As a result they were forced from their ancestral homelands and today Native Americans are the least affluent nationality in the United States.

In Palestine, Palestinians were forced from their homes and to this day they are not allowed to return. In Warsaw, Poland, Jews were forced from their homes by the German Nazis and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto.

However, when the capitalist government in Cuba was overthrown, a completely different process happened. Corporations from the United States did not like the new Cuban government and refused to cooperate with it. The Cuban government then confiscated $800 million of US assets. This confiscation only happened because those corporate interests were in violation of Cuban Law. Today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per-capita than any other nation in the world. Cuban law requires that residents pay no more than 10% of their income for renting their home.

Recently the Cuban government has said that it will sell state property in order to stimulate investment. However, the US government continues to have a trade embargo against Cuba, and the article that announced these new measures stated clearly that there will be little capitalist interest in these new Cuban initiatives.

From what we see in the facts contained in this column, corporations need governments that do exactly as they are told. The idea that governments defend the interests of working people is absurd. When the government evicts people from homes they own, to appease corporate interests, they are not defending the interests of these people. When the Cuban government confiscated $800 million in US corporate assets and used that money on their health care and educational systems, they clearly had different priorities in mind.

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