Prognosis “Negative”: The Lamentation of a Concerned Citizen

“This town…is a losing town…it’s a miserable town…it’s a nowhere town.”

Frank Sinatra – “This Town”

I went to my favorite watering hole on a Tuesday night that was no different than any other Tuesday night in Fall River.  I sat at my usual spot, ordered my usual ale, and conversed about the usual topics of Fall River.  During a discussion over the struggles of small businesses, Frank Sinatra’s “This Town” came on the juke box.  I’ve heard the song numerous times, but this particular moment I paid close attention to the lyrics.  As the song expresses someone’s none-to-flattering feelings on an undisclosed town, I was thinking that “The Chairman of the Board” could have very well been singing about Fall River.  However, in some social circles throughout the city, my view can be construed as negative.

Was I being negative in perceiving my hometown in that way?  Pondering this, past and current conversations began to resurface.  Many people, including myself, have voiced concerns about the current state of Fall River and its problems.  Such discussions are held regularly in barrooms, street corners, and living rooms, or seen posted on Facebook and the Herald News website threads.  Unfortunately, instead of constructive debates or discussions forming on an issue someone initiates, all too often it turns into a schoolyard-like argument.


This is my concern.


Too frequently when people bring up for conversation the problems that haunt Fall River, they are quickly dismissed as negative and cast out by those “defending” the city.  While most who speak out against the status quo articulate their arguments with facts and clarity, the “defenders” do not bring much to the table for discussion except blanket statements.  So instead of participating in civil discourse, they take the easy route: vehemently attack the messenger with caustic grade-school name calling that further cements this city’s stigma.

These “defenders” are quick to call people “nay-sayers” and “haters”, then beg to “let’s focus on the positive” and finally in a more hostile tone yell, “If you don’t like Fall River, leave!  We don’t need you here!”  What they fail to understand during their vitriolic stance is that people pointing out Fall River’s problems are not putting the city down; it is about seeking truth.  It is about recognizing and understanding the problem. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, once said, “Acknowledging the problem is the first step in starting a debate in solving the issue.”  While I don’t agree a whole lot with Frum’s politics, his statement is absolutely correct.   How is the city to move forward if we do not look at ourselves objectively and not confront our dilemmas?


This is my concern.


People swift in judging and labeling others as negative without hearing what they have to say are doing a great disservice to the city and themselves.  To be conciliatory toward the issues that blight Fall River like unemployment, a growing drug problem, mistrust at City Hall and a crumbling infrastructure only to focus on the “pleasant” things is not benefitting the city.  Appeasement kills, and Fall River has been dying a slow death for decades.

I often see Fall River as an alcoholic, drunk on “city pride” and oblivious to the issues that it plagues itself with, in desperate need of an intervention.  It is possible pride is what is killing us as a community and as a people.  There are many who love to beat their chest and boast that Fall River is a “great” city.  Fall River could be a great city.  The city has an incredible amount of untapped potential (the Capital Theater, for example) and resources (an able-bodied workforce) unused and going to waste.  Overlooking the promise this city has is far worse than someone indicating the city’s problems, it borders on being criminal.  Seeing ourselves for whom we really are can be a difficult thing to do, but it must be done if Fall River has any chance to be that “great city” and not the great disappointment it is.


So, am I being negative?


Unless we put away the horse blinders, start seeing for what Fall River really is from the top of the sixth floor to the back of the unemployment and soup kitchen lines, and engage in a constructive debate about the issues plaguing our city, we as a city and a people will continue to languish in obscurity and shame.  I don’t claim to have the answers to Fall River’s problems, but by participating in civil discourse, the answers can be found…positively.


Who knows, maybe an answer can be found over a beer and Sinatra?  I just won’t be calling it a summit.

Photo manipulation of Fall River, MA by Michael Smith