In the Merrimack Valley: Councilor Rivera Rebuts Boston Mag Attack on Lawrence
Ayer Mill and Clock Tower in Lawrence, Massachusett
The March issue of Boston Magazine has a scathing article about the City of Lawrence penned by “novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, investigative journalist…” from Methuen, Massachusetts – Jay Atkinson entitled “City of the Damned” wherein he describes Lawrence as “the most godforsaken place in Massachusetts” and replete with details and interviews he says back up his view. One of his sources Fr. Paul O’Brien says “It’s like the Wild West.” Since the story raised the roof on the Boston Mags Twitter and Facebook accounts and in the comments section of the article, Lawrence City Councilor Dan Rivera was asked to respond as to why Lawrence isn’t a damned city. His words are posted on the Boston Dailey blog. Here are some exerpts and a link to Rivera’s full comment and a link to the original Atkinson article – it is a must read.
If Lawrence is a city of the damned — as you state in “City of the Damned” from the March issue of Boston magazine, piling on with many other media outlets to paint the City of Lawrence as a horrible place — it is the damned hardworking, the damned hopeful and the damned resilient. While your piece makes us out to be damned of our own doing, the real news is that we are standing at all…
Our crime is up because we have watched over $11 million dollars in State aid evaporate while many of the poverty programs that concentrate poor people in
places like Lawrence have not…
Our schools are failing, yes, because of the actions of our former superintendent and neglect from our current and former mayor and former school board, but also because of the effect of the education reform law, that poured millions of dollars in to Lawrence while centralizing power in the superintendent…
Finally, when I think about the many meanings of the word “damned,” I will tell you many of us that call Lawrence home do not feel “condemned or doomed,”
especially to “eternal punishment” for living here; and I hope that your publication was not saying that Lawrence and its people are “detestable or
Many of us will continue to work to make Lawrence better — and damn anyone that thinks they can stop us.
Link to the full Rivera response here.
Jay Atkinson is no stranger to locals and readers of this blog. He has written about Lowell-born writer Jack Kerouac and includes among his other writings – “City in Amber” – a novel about the city of Lawrence. Check him out here on his official web site.
6 Responses to In the Merrimack Valley: Councilor Rivera Rebuts Boston Mag Attack on Lawrence
Here’s what I posted about the same piece on Boston Magazine website. This article is a lot like ‘high on crack street’ was the singular image broadcast about Lowell:
“Jeez talk about drive-by writing and a one-sided a story as one could possibly write about Lawrence. There are so many great stories you could have picked to ‘balance’ this even a little but. The hard work people are doing to repurpose the mill spaces in the city, the neighborhood groups meeting monthly, trying to work on how to make the city work; the great kids (I’ve met a lot of them) working hard at their education even against the often long odds they wrestle with; organizations like Lawrence Community Works, Essex Art Institute, Lawrence History Center, Notre Dame Academy, Heritage Park, Heritage Festival Committee (I can add on here) doing a great job preserving the city’s history and working on its future in great ways. Boston Magazine now ask someone with a sense of optimism about the city to write a piece you will give equal prominence to. My name is Bob Forrant, and I have been working in Lawrence for over a year on a commemoration of the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912, and I sure see another side to the city than this piece offers your (Boston Magazine) readers.”
To me, “High on Crack Street” was enlightening, especially since I knew some of the characters involved. It opened my eyes, which is what I think good journalism should do. I really had no idea what the everyday life of a of crack addict was like in our city. I don’t think it’s the obligation of the creator of such a piece to say, ‘By the way, there are a lot of fine people in Lowell,” etc etc.
In the same way, the problems of Lawrence can hardly be overstated. Jay Atkinson’s article is a wake up call, and sometimes the alarm needs to be jarring to stir us from our torpor. The pervasive political corruption in Lawrence, the overwhelmed police department, the broken schools, the devastated neighborhoods–Atkinson didn’t invent these issues, nor did he need an FBI crew to uncover them. Our own police chief said on CAP recently that a lot of the crime in Lowell is perpetrated by people from Lawrence. Was anyone surprised?
Of course there’s great history in Lawrence. There are good people who are doing their best to restore the city, and I think Atkinson gives those involved in the attempted recall their due as concerned citizens whom we should admire. The tow truck driver in the article struck me as a decent hard-working guy who’s disgusted by what he sees around him. However, the city is failing in so many ways just as a viable civic entity, that it can’t be glossed over. The good people have not been able to rid themselves of the albatross of the current mayor and his corrupt cronies. These thoroughly corrupt self-serving officials in Lawrence should not be rewarded by having the truth of what they’ve allowed to happen to that blighted city be sugar-coated.
I understand the outrage of people who are working valiantly to make Lawrence a better community when they read a powerful description of the troubles in the city. I have read most of the comments on the Boston Magazine site, which reflect a division of opinion about Jay’s article. The misery index statistics in the article were not challenged, however, more than one comment cited data on the positive side of the ledger. Communities are complex organisms. One would need a whole issue of Boston Magazine to cover the city’s narrative in all its strands. Or a novel, like Jay’s own Lawrence novel, City in Amber.
I’m glad Steve mentioned “High on Crack Street,” which was met with a furor in Lowell at the time. I resented HBO’s depiction of the city as a nest of addicts in blighted sectors of the neighborhoods. Lowell had come so far in reviving itself since the mid-70s. But it was part of the urban reality, so much so that it came back to us in quasi-documentary form via the acclaimed film “The Fighter.” The wacky crack users were a kind of comic relief in the award-winning film, as un-funny as that behavior is in reality. “Crack Street” was shock treatment. At the time I remember thinking that you had to give credit to the filmmakers for getting it made and shown. It’s up to others to get the other parts of the story in front of people. I think that Lowell collectively learned something from “Crack Street,” and since has become more aggressive and entrepreneurial in telling the community’s story in other ways. We didn’t want to be defined by an HBO film, as true as it was. I sense some of that impulse in the latest communications news in Lowell, the Howl in Lowell website. The launch video was in its own way a push back against the blanket coverage by Boston news media about the late night chaos in downtown Lowell. We don’t want to be defined by that. Same thing for Lawrence. Bob Forrant and company have 500 friends on their Bread and Roses Centennial Project Facebook page. Bob has made a pitch to Ben Affeck and Matt Damon to make a movie about the 1912 strike. The B and R folks are using social media to great effect.
There’s a great American tradition of muckraking journalism. Powerful writing can lead to social and economic reform as much as taking to the streets in 1912 or 2012. In the 1970s, I was living in Dracut when Boston Magazine published a searing article about small-town political corruption in which Dracut was labeled “Somerville with trees.” That characterization stuck for a long time, in part because it rang true–politicians had been arrested and jailed.
The test here is going to be what Lawrence does with this situation. And Lowell isn’t just on the sidelines. In other parts of the state, people lump together Lowell and Lawrence like Merrimack Valley people bundle Fall River and New Bedford. Lowell has a stake in Lawrence doing better and being seen as a healthy city. Over the years, many UMass Lowell professors like Bob have been engaged in projects in Lawrence funded by grants and contracts they have applied for and received. The University is a financial co-sponsor of the Bread and Roses Centennial events. We want all the symbolic boats to rise in the river valley.
“It’s up to others to get the other parts of the story in front of people. I think that Lowell collectively learned something from “Crack Street,” and since has become more aggressive and entrepreneurial in telling the community’s story in other ways.”
After Google, the second most-likely place that people use the Internet to search for information is YouTube (since Google owns YouTube, some count them together and list Bing as the ‘second most-popular, but you get the idea — YouTube matters). It’s not that High on Crack Street or Life on the Streetz don’t depict reality – they do – but they’re not representative of the whole city. I would admit that a single concert at Tsongas, a neighborhood walk-through, or a video about the National Park isn’t *representative* either, but it’s just as much a part of reality, so it’s important they co-exist along with the salacious stuff online just as they do in the real world. The more that individuals can capture their *slice* of things and transmit that with new media, the better that the bigger story will be captured.
I agree with Greg about higher and better local uses of the platform offered by YouTube. This can happen in ways both coordinated and uncoordinated, and is worth some conversation about methods. Prof Chad Montrie of UMass Lowell was collecting home movies from people in the city (and beyond) a couple of years ago. I’m not sure of the status of that project and whether of not the Lowell material would be available for editing into YouTube packages. LTC has miles of videotape from the old newscasts produced by the previous cable TV operation. This material has to be digitized and loaded on the web as video history of Lowell and Greater Lowell. There’s nothing comparable for moving and talking pictures of that era. This “content” would keep a YouTube channel going on its own.
This response to Councilor Rivera from article author Jay Atkinson was posted here on the Boston Daily blog: