PROVIDENCE, R.I. – I was born in Central Falls - at a time when Broad and Dexter streets were booming with small businesses, churches on Sundays were over-crowded and neighborhood social clubs were choice venues for weddings, celebrations and community events. It was a thriving, spirited and engaged community.
Those were the days when people believed - if you played by the rules, stayed in school, and worked hard - you and your family would prosper. The American dream had no boundaries and it was driven, for the most part, by hope and self-reliance.
Now, that dream has become a nightmare. Hope and self-reliance have been replaced by despair and dependency - dependency on an unsustainable and inefficient government model - burdened with unfunded mandates and liabilities, ballooning public personnel costs and the erosion of the tax base.
It's become painfully obvious that local government cannot fix the problems it created. Facing bankruptcy, it also appears the citizens of this once proud community are willing to "wait and see" what state government and the courts are going to do about their predicament.
Where is the outrage? Where is the spirit of self-reliance and entrepreneurship that once built this proud community? Have the citizens just given up on democracy? Have they lost hope and confidence in their own ability to control their destiny?
While the right of the state to intervene in this matter is being decided in the courts, a majority of the 19,000 citizens of Central Falls seem woefully disengaged. In this time of great uncertainty and economic chaos, only 31% of the 6,700 registered voters went to the polls in the last election. If the citizens of this community did not actively engage in critical times like these, they will certainly lose their ability, and their right, to self-govern - if not now, then at some point in the future.
Sadly, this lack of engagement has allowed our state and other local governments to become demanding economic divas - unwilling to consider self-sacrifice - while our families and small businesses struggle for their survival. By not participating in the democratic process, the people have allowed career politicians, public employee unions and those who make a living off of government to call the shots and protect the status quo.
It's highly likely that Central Falls will not survive bankruptcy and consolidation may be the only solution. Could this have been prevented? I think so, had the spirit of self-reliance and independence endured, and had the people of Central Falls been willing participants in their own government. Unfortunately, their lack of engagement over time has led to corruption, wasteful spending, unaffordable contracts and the absence of meaningful economic development.
Maintaining democracy and freedom is hard work. The question of survival for Central Falls should have been answered the people of Central Falls not by the state or the courts in its final hours. However, when local citizens choose apathy over activism they abdicate their right and responsibility to self-govern.
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