Tag Archives: Atlantic City NJ

Atlantic City Women’s March, January 19, 2019

I made my decision to join the AC March at the last moment, on the morning of the event. Before that, I was distracted by family troubles. So I woke up on Saturday, ate well and dressed warmly, and headed to Atlantic City, without a buddy or a single protest sign.

I reached the New Jersey Avenue assembly point early, and the March started late. I got chilled but had fun, greeting many friends among the arrivals, talking to people about their signs, organizations and interests, and doing my usual informal demographic analysis. (I’m always, in some sense, counting and classifying. Is good or bad? Comment below.)

About half the participants came as identifiable members of organizations. These are some of the groups I spotted:

  • League of Women Voters
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Sororities – African American
  • Students in Stockton University’s Master of Social Work program. Stockton supported the March with free parking.
  • Young Muslim women, identifiable by head scarves
  • Men (maybe 5% of participants)
  • One Women’s Center (Cherry Hill)
  • Two dance corps
  • Local Democratic politicians
  • At least three unions – CWA, NJ Education Association, and government employees
  • Furloughed government employees – FAA
  • Admirers of Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • Feminists and “girl power” advocates
  • Families
  • Immigration activists

Atlantic City suffers from poverty and political corruption, but the Women’s March brought out its wonderful diversity and multigenerational energy. I think it deserves the term “intersectional”. Of course, the various “stakeholder” groups have occasional disagreements, but the March was a positive and unifying event. The organizers dedicated it to the honor and memory of Fanny Lou Hamer (1917-1977), one of the leaders of the Mississippi Freedom Delegation that bravely challenged the Democratic Party at its 1964 national convention in Atlantic City.

FINALLY we started to walk. My feet warmed up and I forgot about the weather. We moved south towards Boardwalk Hall by fits and starts. There was some chanting, usually “call and response”, my favorite being

  • “What does democracy look like?”
  • “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

I was surprised by the lack of organizational guidance. I expected to be told “We have a permit and these are the conditions – stay on one side of the Boardwalk, cooperate with marshals and police, medics are on hand…” I remembered marches when no sticks (for signs or banners) were permitted. And no bags or backpacks…

There was no supervision except for an outside group performing some “marshal” type functions. I spotted about 25 women and men, wearing bright orange hoodies with “The PeaceKeepers Global Initiative” written on the back and “I AM PRESENT FOR PEACE” on the front. They were extremely tentative in giving directions about leaving a clear lane for non-participants and emergency vehicles. I wondered if they were in any way ready to deal with the unexpected.

On the other hand, it was unlikely that they would need to. The Atlantic City Police were present in good numbers and seemed entirely supportive of the March. If they had been hostile to it, they could easily have called the whole thing off, since Governor Murphy had declared a statewide emergency based on the expected harsh winter storm. But with his Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver a featured March speaker, was that going to happen? Nope. (The state wide march in Trenton, regrettably, was cancelled due to weather.)

I’ve written about my fear of demonstrations – see blog entry dated January 22, 2017 that includes my grim memories of a march that “went bad”. Any public demonstration can “go bad”. There was little at this March to trigger my anxiety. I kept an eye out. The crowd wasn’t so dense that I feared being trampled. There was no counter protest.

But what was it like in Charlottesville, VA? Would I have bailed out because of the huge crowd and the terrible, obvious hostility?

When we got to Boardwalk Hall, I hesitated to enter because I was tired and didn’t want to have a problem getting back out. After most of the marchers had entered, I followed. Upstairs, I finally had a chance to ask one of the orange garbed marshals who they were and how they got involved. I approached a small group and found a man who was happy to talk and who introduced himself and his companions, including a woman I probably should have heard of, a singer. They described themselves as a “local” group that supported community organizations, especially those oriented towards youth activities. He was truly local, and we uncovered some mutual acquaintances in the facilities management field. We might have talked longer, but I really needed a restroom break, and my new friends were able to send me in the right direction.

Refreshed, I entered the Ballroom. (We would have been a very tiny group in the giant main arena used for shows and sports events and national political conventions!) The rally was slow to get underway, and the crowd began to disperse. I circulated, finding more friends to greet and sizing up the speakers on the podium, but I ran out of energy, and left.

I made a quick Starbucks stop to fuel up, and walked alone to my car. Later, a friend offered the opinion that the speakers I missed had been long winded and, in some cases, repetitive. In other words, I’d have been fine if I had brought my needlework!

An event like this March takes so much work! I admire the organizers and think their efforts bore fruit. A large crowd in Atlantic City supporting progressive interests is a good thing, and I look forward to seeing what happens next for my region. New leadership is emerging.

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“Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City” and “Why We Chose This Way” by Turiya S.A. Raheem

Here I go again, writing about books I didn’t read, on the excuse that I met the author. Turiya Raheem gave a talk on her recently published book “Why We Chose This Way” at the Northfield (New Jersey) Public Library the first weekend in December.

The original announcement of Raheem’s book talk attracted some negative attention in Northfield. A few people objected to a public lecture by an African American Muslim woman writing ABOUT African American Muslim women. The Library declined to change its plan, and the lecture was very well attended – standing room only.

Raheem, who teaches English at Atlantic Cape Community College, first attracted media attention after HBO aired the made-for-TV period crime drama “Boardwalk Empire”, starting in 2009 and running for five seasons. The book “Boardwalk Empire” by Nelson Johnson had been followed by “The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City”. Reporters wanted to talk to people who remembered the Northside in its best days, when it was a hub of African American culture, a miniature Harlem, perhaps. After Raheem was interviewed extensively, she realized she had a potential book in her sights, and “Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City” emerged.

In her lecture, Raheem said that she found out that she loves the genre of creative non-fiction. (Readers of this blog may remember that I’ve expressed uncertainty how it is defined.) She decided to exercise her skills on her own demographic niche – she is an African American woman who converted to Islam as an adult.

The first requirement for this writing project was that she guarantee complete anonymity to the women she interviewed. She did this by changing names, locations, numbers of children, and other details, and by sometimes combining the stories of more than one woman. Her goal was to “normalize” these women, who may be thought of as different or exotic by those who don’t know them. She interviewed 30 women, all over age 50. Only one had been born into a Muslim family. Clearly these women find their lives richly satisfying.

The conversation at the lecture covered many topics. Muslim women make various decisions about their distinguishing dress, which makes them so much more conspicuous than Muslim men. This is a matter of choice and custom, not religious requirement. Raheem pointed out that only a limited number of practices are universal in Islam – the “pillars” like prayer and pilgrimage, and abstaining from alcohol or pork. All the rest (much of what we see) is cultural and depends on culture of origin.

Certain themes ran through the discussion – social justice, social class and the nature of community. Community and sisterhood seem chief among the reasons these American converts to Islam are content in their chosen identities.

I’m very glad I got to meet Turiya Raheem, and I’m looking forward to reading her books, which are available on Amazon.

“The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel – a performance AND a book!

First, the performance… I sang alto in the chorus for Stockton University’s Oratorio Society performance of “The Messiah” by George Frederick Handel last week, on December 13.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/stocktonoratorio/

This was a large scale performance. Two hundred singers! An organ, a grand piano and a professional chamber orchestra – all directed by Professor Beverly Vaughn, with several able assistants. It was as much drama as music. The soloists ranged from students making a first public performance to seasoned professionals. All performed exquisitely.

We performed over 80% of “The Messiah”. Most people don’t realize how much comes AFTER the “Hallelujah!”, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Of course I love to sing “Hallelujah!”, but I get an equal thrill from listening to “The Trumpet Shall Sound” (air for bass) which depicts the Day of Judgment. The dead are raised! The trumpet is glorious.

There’s some especially beautiful (and challenging) music at the end of “The Messiah”. Listed only as “Worthy is the Lamb” (Chorus), it’s a three part extravaganza: “Worthy is the Lamb” is followed by “Blessing…” a list of gifts:

  • Blessing
  • Honor
  • Glory
  • Power
  • Riches
  • Wisdom
  • Strength

A rich version of Christianity, but who am I to question Handel’s vision? There follows a graceful, energetic “Amen”. I hope it was as satisfying to hear as to sing.

The Stockton Messiah was performed in The Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, in their larger venue. Stockton has had difficulty “placing” “The Messiah”. I was in the audience years ago when it was offered in the University Performing Arts Center and in the Gymnasium. Neither was satisfactory. I also went to St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Atlantic City, and some other casino. Now the University has its own big event room. I think it could work, but everyone was very excited about Borgata. I fear it cost us some audience members among the University community (who wants to drive to Atlantic City on a Sunday evening?!), but maybe it evened out, and we reached other listeners.

Now, what about the book, which I excavated from my piano bench? Properly, it is called a score. Mine is the complete vocal score, published by G Schirmer, Inc. The conductor works from a full score, with all the instrumental parts, an even more impressive document. My score includes an “Introductory Note” with advice to singers and conductors. The writer places particular importance on dynamics (variations in volume). The book includes the libretto (all the words in the oratorio) with Biblical chapter and verse in every case.

One page of Handel’s original writing is reproduced at the front of the book. It was not chosen randomly, but to emphasis a point about the dynamics of a particular chorus, “Glory to God”. Gazing at this page, I think back to a time when the only way to get this music was to copy it by hand, and the only way to hear “The Messiah” was to make your way to a performance. Thinking of these difficulties, I’m profoundly grateful that this music survived into our times.

How did I get my score? It has my sister’s name in it, but she wasn’t able to tell me how she acquired it. I believe it was stolen from the church of our childhood, and I suspect our Mother may have been an accomplice. Mom worked for the church, and certainly had a proper respect for church property, but she strongly supported our musical endeavors, and I think a good bit of music was “borrowed”.

The copyright in my score dates from 1912! I love to think the book is old, but on the title page, in tiny letters, it says “Ed. 38”, so probably it’s not old, nor of particular value (except to me!)

“The Messiah” is performed by Stockton in alternate years. Will I sing in 2017? I don’t know! But I am boundlessly grateful for this year’s experience.

“Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy” by Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart

Some coincidences are really strange. Consider, for example, the timing of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident – March 28, 1979. That was just twelve days after Jane Fonda’s antinuclear movie The China Syndrome was released. (The expression refers to the fact that, in theory, an out-of-control nuclear core meltdown might progress indefinitely.) That was the public weirdness.

The private weirdness, for me, was that in March of 1979 I was teaching a college course on Environmental Issues! Nuclear power was among the “issues” on the agenda, and news reports superseded my teaching plans for weeks. (Younger readers may not realize how frightening the TMI accident was. Many people had their “escape” routes planned, in case a large region had to be evacuated.) I learned so much about radiation that I think I could have passed a licensing exam for Radiation Safety Officer. The timing was one of the strangest coincidences in my life.

And now… I have been reading Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy by Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart, and what happens? The casino industry implodes. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. The bold and (somewhat) controversial plan by Stockton University to establish a campus in the former Showboat Casino has been torpedoed by a casino industry mogul. The Press of Atlantic City has all the dirty details. A project that might have been a cornerstone of redevelopment for suffering Atlantic City has been delayed. Time is money, and the plan may be dropped entirely. Stockton University is in shock.

Mutari and Figart released their book Just One More Hand about six weeks ago. It focuses on the workers in the casino industry, featuring details about the lives of several dozen casino employees. The authors interviewed these people in their homes or on neutral territory, and protected their identities through the use of pseudonyms. This is really a book about the nature of work, and the impact of work on quality of life. It is both well documented and highly readable. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

Consider what the “casino industry” represents! An illegal activity considered a serious social problem has (over about 40 years) been

  • legalized
  • organized
  • regulated
  • cultivated
  • nurtured…

and transformed into an “industry”; a branch, in fact, of the “entertainment industry”. Early on, intense efforts were made to ensure that organized crime didn’t follow gambling into AC when the first casino opened in 1978.

I am well of an age to remember when gambling was illegal. A vice. A crime. I still question its morality. Is it okay to get something for nothing? Advocates point out that participation is voluntary. I choose not to gamble.

Mutari and Figart don’t delve into the question of what came along for the ride as Atlantic City rushed down the path to being a one industry, gambling town. I wonder about drugs. About fifteen years ago, I attended meetings of the “Family Life Committee” at my son’s public school. We dealt with issues like sex education, the level of racial tension, domestic violence, and DRUGS. All the fun stuff. One parent casually referred to gambling as Atlantic City’s number two industry. He was convinced more money was changing hands over drugs than through the legal channels of the gambling industry in Atlantic City. Is this true?

I found Mutari and Figart’s chapter on public investment and risk very interesting, especially the information about Revel, the immense casino that now stands dark and empty, next to the former Showboat which Stockton so optimistically tried to repurpose. Every day the news brings an update on Revel. Is there a buyer? What will happen to the tenants? And whoever thought the mega luxury resort was a good idea?? It’s quite clear that the casino industry, shiny and new in 1978, has matured, spread, and, in fact, reached a saturation point. There was no market for Revel. A shocking amount of tax money was sucked into that black hole. Some experts refer to this as a case of “economic predation”. The money is gone. Little benefit accrued to the taxpayers.

The future of Atlantic City is a mystery. You can understand it somewhat better if you read Mutari and Figart’s excellent book, but really, all we can do is wait and see.