“I want our city to unite. We sink or swim together. This is about us.”

– Betty Lewis of the NAACP on the state takeover of Atlantic City

Atlantic City is under threat – but this historic American community has faced threats before.  This spring, facing a massive bankruptcy, Governor Chris Christie and State Senator Steve Sweeney pushed to move Atlantic City’s finances to state-level control through a state takeover.

If passed, the proposed takeover, meant to protect the City from declaring bankruptcy, would have dismantled collective bargaining for city employees, nullified the power of elected officials (and hence the votes of the city’s 39,000 residents) to make decisions about the community and its needs, and privatized the city’s water infrastructure, along the same model that privatized the water of Flint, MI.

Now it’s up to the city to balance its $80 million 2017 budget deficit by October, or the state can take over the city.

This past week, at the first of a series of townhall meetings meant to make the budgeting process transparent, Council President Marty Small proposed cutting two at-large seats from the council, reducing it to 6 ward members and one at-large, saving $480,000 over four years. The next public hearing is July 26.

Part of the reason the plan for a state takeover has stalled, and the budgeting process lies in the hands of local officials and residents, is due to the strong public outcry from a coalition of local residents and their allies. On March 10, 2016 representatives from the NAACP, National Action Network, Black Lives Matter: AC, Food & Water Watch, the civic associations of Bungalow Park and Venice Park, and more packed committee rooms in Trenton, and pressured lawmakers to preserve their sovereignty, right to collective bargaining, and clean drinking water.

At an organizing meeting held by this coalition in April, NJPlatform interviewed Betty Lewis, President of the Atlantic City chapter of the NAACP, and other community leaders. Referring to the promises of prosperity made to Atlantic City in the late ‘70s, when gaming came to Atlantic City, Lewis said, “The promises have been broken for the residents, the community, the state. We allowed our elected officials as well as the casino CEOs to manipulate the system to the point that the haves keep getting and the have-nots keep losing.”

In a city where 35% of its 39,000 people live in poverty, her words are chilling. “To live an honest life, and to have to be subjected to the will of men and women who would be willing for you to starve, your children to go without, a whole city to fall in order for them to gain, is something that is unfathomable.”

There is real power in this city, and it’s in the hearts, minds and actions of the residents, who amidst great odds resiliently carry on, raise their youth, and fight for the communities we all deserve.

“I want our city to unite, to grow, to have jobs, to have young entrepreneurs. We sink or swim together. This is about us.”

This video is a part of NJ Platform’s Our City, Our Voices series.