With municipal pensions now taking center stage, and with the apparent stage-left exit of the prayer banner issue, I wonder what has happened to my hometown of Cranston?
I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in a model Americana town that seemed to strike an ideal balance among its residents. My brother and I were students in Cranston public schools, my mother was a teacher in the system, my uncle was a Cranston cop and my father invested in building his own insurance business.
Strife was not the order of the day. Taxes were reasonable and people flocked to Cranston to build up its west side. My peers and I benefited from school music programs beginning with elementary school instrument instruction, then junior high band and on to high school band and orchestra, while others likewise participated in the chorus and in school musicals. We developed our competitive character and athletic skills through a full slate of junior high, junior varsity and varsity athletic programs. We had our streets plowed, streetlights turned on and public pools open. It seemed like police, fire, teachers and other city workers, and the public, were generally content with the taxpayer/municipal-employee relationship. Our churches were full and we openly celebrated the joyous Christmas season in our schools.
We lived in a kind of symbiotic environment in Cranston ... and the future looked bright.
I am living again in Cranston, but now I am left to ask: What has happened to my hometown? Tension and clashes are everywhere, pitting special interest groups versus taxpayers; property owners versus pensioners; the religious versus atheists; sex-ed advocates versus parents; teachers versus students; academics versus athletes and artists; and emergency services versus other municipal services. What happened to that balance that once held us so closely together?
For decades we have gradually seen the interests of the few become the politically correct and dominant culture at the expense of the many. This culture of depravity is divisive and is ruining my hometown.
The Cranston pension fiasco, created by this culture, has become the focus of a task force of nationally prominent public policy organizations because of the severity of the potential consequences and the dismal options we face as a city: increased property taxes would drive out homeowners to other cities and states; cuts in pension benefits would drive some retirees into financial peril; and cuts in city services would drive away others who are looking for a hometown to raise their families. The depravity of a culture that has placed more value on providing for the specially connected few rather than ensuring there are safe school buildings and streets and advanced educational tools and extracurricular activities for its many students and citizens is now painfully clear to all of us. What happened to our priorities?
The Cranston prayer banner debacle is yet another example of this new enlightened culture, which has also attracted national media attention. On the one hand, we openly educate younger and younger children about sexual matters, and then we are told that we should celebrate this progressive thinking. On the other hand, we are also told that innocuous words on a wall, or statues on a lawn, or the singing of Christmas carols in an auditorium have now, themselves, become the new culture’s definition of depravity. What has happened to my hometown? To my country? Who is John Galt?
Cranston is by no means alone, but the convergence of these two issues has brought a harsh national spotlight to our city and I, for one, am deeply saddened by all of it. And the most depraved part of the whole situation is that we – the citizens – have been asleep at the switch and allowed this culture to take root and to rot away our children’s prospects.
But it is not too late to reclaim the moral high ground by rejecting the special-interest culture and by advocating for public policy that protects private property and religious freedom for all. Our nation and my hometown were built on such principles. Now is the time to restore common sense and to start rebuilding our city’s culture and our future.
Mike Stenhouse is a Cranston native, graduated from Cranston High School East, is a member of the City’s Athletic Hall of Fame and earned an Economics Degree from Harvard University.