Bushville comes to Jersey City Homeless rights group sets up mobile encampments pre-GOP convention

An unusual tent has been appearing in different parts of Jersey City since June 1.

Known as “Bushville,” this encampment is the brainchild of the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign. The campaign, a product of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union in collaboration with other grassroots organizations, has come into Jersey City to bring attention to the issues of poverty, homelessness, accessible healthcare, and access to quality education.

An unusual tent has been appearing in different parts of Jersey City since June 1.

Known as “Bushville,” this encampment is the brainchild of the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign. The campaign, a product of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union in collaboration with other grassroots organizations, has come into Jersey City to bring attention to the issues of poverty, homelessness, accessible healthcare, and access to quality education.

The Bushville has also been set up as a base for organizers to plan for a massive rally in New York City to take place in late August during the same week as the Republican Party’s National Convention (hence the Bushville moniker).

Since the beginning of this month, the Bushville encampment has so far been in five different locations in downtown Jersey City. The movement has been the result of being forced off different sites by the New Jersey State Police, the N.J. Turnpike Police or the Jersey City Police Department, or a combination of all three.

The authorities have cited the organizers for various violations such as posting unauthorized signs and have confiscated much of their camping equipment. The reasons given by police officials have been security concerns and unlawful camping on private property.

The organizers have countered that police are harassing them and impeding their right to public protest. They also point out that the locations where they are setting up the Bushville camp are public property, and have already mapped out more locations that they intend to utilize if they are forced from a specific place. They are also determined to stay in Jersey City, or in any city across the river from New York City, until the end of August.

B>What is a Bushville?<

Last week, at a Bushville encampment set up under a railroad overpass on Bright Street in Downtown Jersey City, there were about a dozen organizers, mostly from the Philadelphia area, taking a break after setting up – for the second time that day.

Earlier that morning, around 5 a.m., the volunteers began putting up a Bushville on an empty lot at the junction of Grand Street and Pacific Avenue. They believed it was public property based on the fact there were no signs indicating otherwise.

The first Bushville, erected earlier this month, was a larger encampment with at least four tents, a grill for cooking, a couple of mattresses used as billboards to advertise their disapproval of U.S. policies, and children’s toys.

But as a result of what the organizers had claimed was the equipment being confiscated by either the Jersey City Police Department or the Incinerator Authority, the Bushville had been scaled down. As of early Monday morning, it was just one tent and a few signs and billboards.

By 10 a.m. that morning, according to Nina Swanson, an organizer with the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign who helped erect the Bushville, representatives of the New Jersey State Police had come to the site and showed a map of the site indicating that it was private property. Swanson said that the organizers were then asked to vacate the land.

Later that day, around 4 p.m., the organizers set up at a second site under a railroad overpass on Bright St. near the Booker T. Washington housing complex.

The encampment was a makeshift shelter where volunteers taking part in the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign planned to gather and live, with their days spent organizing and dealing with local residents to bring attention to the plight of those who in the United States who exist everyday without proper housing, healthcare, jobs and education.

Clintonvilles and Ridgevilles

Cheri Honkala, the national spokesperson for the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign and founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, said in an interview last week that she and fellow organizers from her home base in Philadelphia, along with other grassroots organizations from across the country, have been setting up these types of encampments since 1995.

“Since 1995 we have set up our encampments and named them after the person responsible for the economic conditions that exist,” she said. “We have built Clintonvilles, Ridgevilles [named for former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge] and now Bushville after the man in the White House.”

Honkala said that the reason for this Bushville in Jersey City was to not only point out the failed economic policies under the current White House administration in a city that has been impacted directly by those policies, but also to have a base for supporters with close proximity to New York City.

On August 30, while the National Republican Party Convention is being held in NYC, the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign and other grassroots organizations will be holding the March For Our Lives. It will start at the United Nations and end at Madison Square Garden (site of the Republican convention).

But Honkala said that the recent experiences in Jersey City have been a modern land struggle reminiscent of the 1800s, and she believes that police action in the city has overly aggressive.

“It’s very interesting that there’s such an effort to demolish our encampment. Supposedly Jersey City is a heavily Democratic Party city,” said Honkala. “There is a conscious effort to make this segment of the population invisible.”

Leon Grauer, the attorney for the Bushville organizers, called the law enforcement involvement harassment.

“[The police] say that there it is trespassing on private property, and they get on the organizers for this,” he said. “Yet, I don’t see them get on the owners of this property for maintaining it in such poor shape.”

Grauer said that Bushville organizers actually cleared the debris from a site under a NJ Turnpike overpass in downtown Jersey City.

The Bushville that was located on an empty patch of land near the Booker T. Washington project complex had to be taken down on June 22. Conrail, which owns the property, sent some of their officers to inform those gathered on the property to vacate.

Police react

Sgt, Edgar Martinez, spokesman for the Jersey City Police Department, said last week that the organizers were just looking for press to promote their agenda. He said that Jersey City could eventually become a gathering place for several thousand organizers before the Republican convention.

Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith said he didn’t approve of the Bushville, and that he did not want Jersey City to be an “escape route” for the organizers to go into New York to protest during the Republican convention and then come back to Jersey City.

Councilman Mariano Vega, on the other hand, had a positive reaction to Bushville.

“The level of commitment that they show opposing this country’s policies is very impressive,” said Vega.

Vega also said that he was reminded of when he was a student at Montclair State University during the late 1960s and early 1970s, helping to shut down the campus with his fellow students in opposition to policies both on and off campus.

Local residents have also been impressed with the effort of the organizers.

James Hankins, who has resided in the Booker T. Washington Housing Complex all his life, identified with Bushville and its message.

“I think it’s good. They are trying to make people more aware,” said Hankins. “I know what it’s like to be without healthcare, to go up to the Jersey City Medical Center and fill out the paperwork for Charity Care.”

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