Dan Lawlor: Backlash Against the Ruling Elite
Saturday, June 09, 2012
Corruption and decadence will provoke a backlash at one point- whether the backlash is productive or reactionary is up to us.
This season, we might see some major re-alignments locally. Brendan Doherty or Anthony Gemma might defeat David Cicilline, the Moderates might seize a position or two in the legislature, and would-be Governors will start angling for positions. Who knows, maybe the Republicans will take a few seats, more women will achieve office, or (as Samuel Howard has alluded) a last-minute surge of candidates running under the Americans Elect banner will surprise us all.
For the last few years, the state's roughest economically since the early 1970s, we've been wallowing in a local decline.
In the 1990s, federal dollars and a cadre of organized, local leaders built a Renaissance City (for some residents). AS220, City Arts, New Urban Arts, San Miguel School, Paul Cuffee Charter School, and a variety of other tremendous civic organisations were born, and grew. A community of artists gathered in Olneyville, creating art now seen internationally. Waterfire began lighting up the central rivers of, as the Waterplace plaque says, "our resplendent city." Alongside all this was a dynamic, and very questionable, Mayor and a civic culture based on who you know, and what he (so often a he) could do for you. Homelessness was a stubborn problem.
In the 2000s, the Renaissance Mayor when to prison for corruption, and a good government Mayor was elected. Private capital funded condos and demolitions of historic buildings for more condos, or for parking lots. An ugly glass office tower was built, paying no property taxes, and ruining the Waterfire aesthetic. Homelessness grew - to the point that tent cities of over 100 people developed along the river. Tremendous civic and arts groups continued to blossom - notably the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence and Young Voices. Yet, the city's economy has a noticeable lack of decent paying jobs, alongside vigorous anti-union efforts at local hotels, even ones that received state subsidies for their existence. Small businesses and property owners began to pay disproportionate shares of tax burden, all the while as many schools were overcrowded and crumbling. The "good government" mayor was elected to Congress. Shortly there after, it appeared the good government mayor hid the financial mess the city was actually in, as the city teetered toward potential bankruptcy.
As we continue with the 2010s, opportunities for growth abound - and failure. One of the city's oldest skyscrapers might soon be vacant, another office tower will be vacant due to the 38 studios collapse, and many small businesses were forced out to make way for condos that never materialized. Land is opening up for development in the city's downtown, yet nary a member of the city's thriving art scene is on the redevelopment board. We are at a turning point. Without a more diverse economy, the city will continue to suffer. Even with an influx of high-paying jobs - a good thing we're still working on- many city residents won't have access to the new opportunities.
The insider network - the world of "who you know" - even predates the Renaissance Mayor. It is a disease in this city, and it needs to be challenged. At its best, "who you know" can lead to more money for some community groups, cook-outs for the elderly, cleaner streets, and extra attention paid to that neighborhood dog park. At its typical, "who you know" leads to passing the buck, under-utilized and under-monitered community and recreation centers, contracts to friends, hiring mistresses, lack of imagination, jobs for your kids, tax deals for campaign contributors, and campaign accounts paying for nice restaurants.
If the back-slapping, laughing, and drinking produced an economic dynamo, supported small businesses, and helped create opportunities for kids and families in all neighborhoods to be safe, healthy and happy, that would be something. Yet, here's the truth - the system we have isn't working for everyone. It's working fine for those on the inside- yet the outsiders, and there are many of outsiders, are being hurt by the special deals.
Many Democratic Party leaders seem to think that the game will continue like it has for decades. Democrats in the past helped provide services and opportunities in the city - introducing child labor laws, unemployment, public defenders, and the like. Now, Democrat big-wigs are leading for cuts in public services, raising tuition at state colleges, facilitating crumbling schools, while still taking care of jobs for the old boy's network. The party of the working person will find, unless the concerns of working people are taken seriously, they are setting themselves up for quiet the backlash. What if we have two more years of over 10% unemployment, crumbling public schools, rising homelessness, and more "who you know" tax deals?
The backlash against the ruling elite in this state is coming, if community groups can organize the anger and hope people have. Whether that backlash will push us progressive left, conservative right, or good government center is in the hands of the voters.
- Dan Lawlor: 1st District Needs a Democrat it Can Trust
- Dan Lawlor: Anger is Not Enough to Change RI
- Dan Lawlor: Anti-Immigrant Mindset is Uncalled For
- Dan Lawlor: Doesn’t Anyone Care About Gilbert Stuart Middle School?
- Dan Lawlor: Housing First is the Answer in Rhode Island
- Dan Lawlor: In RI, It’s All About Who You Know
- Dan Lawlor: More Collaboration Needed in City Schools
- Dan Lawlor: Political Diversity Can Save Rhode Island
- Dan Lawlor: Political Leadership Needs a Shakeup in RI
- Dan Lawlor: Providence is Still a Place to be Proud of
- Dan Lawlor: Rhode Island Needs More than 2 Parties
- Dan Lawlor: Stop Being Blind to History
- Dan Lawlor: Stop Wrecking Downtown
- Dan Lawlor: The Carcieri Tragedy
- Dan Lawlor: The DREAM Act is a No-Brainer
- Dan Lawlor: The Political 1% Need to be Held Accountable for 38 Studios
- Dan Lawlor: Time to Address to Rhode Island’s Homelessness Crisis
- Dan Lawlor: Time to Drop Dominick Ruggerio Like a Hot Potato
- Dan Lawlor: Time to Fix Gilbert Stuart Middle School
- Dan Lawlor: Too Many Left Out of RI’s ‘Growth’
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