One of the biggest challenges that Woonsocket faces is the negative attitude toward the city that the other communities around us seem to have. The city has experienced great economic and social decline in the last six decades, which is the source of this negativity, and the reputation that we have gained as a degraded and failing city may very well be accurate. Surprisingly to me, though, is the same negative attitude seems to have become the de facto attitude of even our long-time city residents who can remember when the future of Woonsocket was a lot brighter.
Recently, I had a long back and forth with a Woonsocket homeowner on my facebook page. She, like most city homeowners, is in a tough spot. Her taxes keep going up, city services continue to be slashed, and the lack of commerce in the city has forced her, and many others, to do make even the simplest day-to-day transactions - like food shopping - outside of the city. I understand her frustration, but many of her comments demonstrate an insidious negativity about the city which, I believe, is far more detrimental than even municipal bankruptcy. Here are some excerpts from her comments:
"I will be ready by summer to put my home on the market by summer (sic). I am not willing to wait around until it gets better."
So, the solution is to pack up and leave? That seems like a cop out to me. If one truly cares about the city, they stick around, get involved, and try to make things better.
"This city has nothing in case you've missed it."
I beg to differ. We have many small mom and pop shops in Woonsocket that still serve the needs of the community. These businesses have stuck it out while the Big Box stores have bugged out. They have done so because they are part of our community, and want to see it succeed. Walmart, Lowe's, and Staples, by their "CEO and shareholder profits over all" business plans, could care less about the success or failure of the city.
She then insists that our leaders are elected by,"... the elderly and the others who are on the dole one way or another," who "... enjoy being a hamster on a wheel."
As a resident and voter in this city, I find this personally insulting, and you should, too.
According to this person, Woonsocket is a, "...pathetic excuse for a city."
If you believe, as I do, that cities are not made of buildings, roads, and bridges, they are made of people, this comment means that she thinks that the residents of Woonsocket are pathetic excuses for people. Again, I'm insulted, and you should be, too.
This one is my favorite. She writes, "I am screwed living here...solve my problem!!!!" Her empahasis, not mine.
The idea that any one person can solve this city's problems is laughable, and the use of the words "my problem" are indicative of another insidious problem faced not only by Woonsocket, but the country as a whole. Until we start to view our communities as living entities, made up of people of all colors, creeds, and classes, rather than merely a collection of individuals, we will continue to see social, environmental, and economic degradation. The whole is greater, and more powerful and resilient, than the sum of the parts.
This pervasive attitude is only reinforced by our local talk radio hosts, whose shows only serve as an echo chamber for negativity, narrow-mindedness, and frankly, thinly-veiled bigotry. Tune in to the John Dionne or Larry Poitras show on any given afternoon, and you'll realize what I'm saying sooner rather than later. I understand that in the media, controversy equals ratings, but radio stations like WOON and WNRI also have the responsibility of adding to civil public discourse. I hear none of this coming out of these stations.
Even the Woonsocket Patch, where you may be reading this, serves to amplify this din of negativity, NIMBYism, and narrow-mindedness. One only has to read the comments on any post to see the magnification of our city's problems, writ large. To make matters worse, most of the commenters on Patch, in a stunning act of cowardliness, hide behind fake screen names, giving them the comfort of anonymity, and in my opinion, making their comments worth next to nothing. There is no true discourse in anonymity. If you are going to make a comment in a public forum, at least have the brass to use your real name and own it. The City Council wouldn't let you make comments during their meetings with a bag over your head, why do it on the internet?
The local radio hosts and callers are not above reproach in this matter. Many of the callers hide behind names like "Elmer Fudd" and "The Milkman", and the hosts let them get away with it.
To top it off, we don't even see the worst of it on Patch. Editor Rob Borkowski has told me, in so many words, that a good deal of his time is spent moderating comments, and I can sympathize. After working as a reporter and editor for the online environmental news site ecoRI.org for the last three years, I've had to wade through many of the naysayers' ill-informed comments. People just don't like it when you challenge their world-view.
The behavior and language used by the hosts of these shows, many who call in, and many of the anonymous commenters on the Woonsocket Patch are guilty of, at best, willful ignorance, and at worst, hatred, classism, and racism. So I offer this challenge to those folks:
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Now, I'm not saying that they should not call these shows, or leave comments on Patch, outlining what they see as the problems in the city, but for all of our sakes, begin and end your calls and comments with something you see as a plus in the city. This is what those in Human Resources call the "compliment sandwich."
I know that I will probably catch a lot of guff for this post, but one of the jobs of a mayor is to confront the social ills of a city head on, and frankly, I only see Mayor Fontaine contributing to, and pandering to those who hold, these false assumptions and negative attitudes with anti-renter, anti-low income rhetoric, which is, again, thinly-veiled bigotry and classism.