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The Uprising, January 5, 2018



Took the holiday week off but now we’re back for the first of 51 consecutive Uprisings, a weekly tour of Rhode Island social, economic and climate justice news. This week the General Assembly went back into session and the state was buffeted by a “bomb cyclone” before heading into days of sub-zero wind chills.

Nationally, President Donald Trump has engaged North Korea in a euphemistic contest of button sizes because that’s what little boys do, the book Fire and Fury has angered the President and deepened the rift between him and former advisor Steve Bannon, and Vice President Mike Pence swore in Alabama Senator Doug Jones, tightening the Republican majority lead in the Senate.

But locally…

1a. The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty held their tenth annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Interfaith Vigil at the Rhode Island State House. The coalition welcomed words from Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. Notable for his absence was Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who hasn’t attended the event since 2016. In 2015 Mattiello told the coalition that when it comes to ending poverty, job creation and appropriate funding of the social safety net are important, but, “the focus has to be on eradicating the safety net and not bolstering the safety net.”

A day later House spokesperson Larry Berman clarified that Mattiello, “means that if we alleviate poverty, there will be not need for a safety net. He wants to improve the economy and get people working to eradicate poverty.”

Can we please ask a favor?

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1b. The highlight of the event was the ten minute keynote address from Reverend Nikita McCalister, Senior Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Pawtucket.

“Love is the incarnational embodiment of humanity,” said McCalister. “Love is not a powerless ideology but a pragmatic reality that changes the world we reside. Love is not passive but it is active and intentional. Love is an action word. It allows grace and mercy to abound. Love excavates the hardened and fallow ground of our souls and uncovers our common humanity.”

2. The Community Safety Act (CSA) went to effect on January 1, but already advocates for the law are crying foul as the Providence Police Department has come out with a new Intelligence Assessment Database that, “blatantly and unequivocally” violates the new law, according to Attorney Shannah Kurland, legal director of the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM)’s Community Defense Project.

One of the more contentious issues in getting the CSA passed was the gang database, which used the accusation of association with gang members as a basis for assuming membership in a gang. The CSA bans the use of association “with other people identified as gang members or any substantially equivalent factor” from the list of criteria used to determine inclusion on the so-called gang database.

The new policy merely resurrects the old gang database under a new name, say community advocates.

3. Melanie Dupont called out the Democrats in Name Only (DINOs) who introduced anti-abortion legislation in the House. Democratic Representatives Arthur Corvese (District 55, North Providence), Samuel Azzinaro (District 37, Westerly), Stephen Ucci (District 42, Johnston), William O’Brien (District 54, North Providence), and Gregory Costantino (District 44, Lincoln) cosponsored H7026, which “would define and prohibit dismemberment abortions with certain exceptions.”

“You would think, after witnessing the massive blue wave of backlash against sexual harassment and assault, Rhode Island General Assemblymen would know better than to introduce House Bill H7026,” writes Dupont. “This garbage bill seeks to tell pregnant Rhode Islanders which kinds of abortions they CANNOT have unless old white men say it’s okay.”

4. Perhaps some members of the General Assembly are getting the message that women are not to be trifled with this election year. Senate and House leadership have not committed to passing the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), which would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, preserving legal access to abortion services in the event that such access is limited by a Trump Supreme Court, but House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have both offered legislative olive branches to women.

Shekarchi’s bill, H7002, would ensure that mastectomy patients have insurance coverage for all costs related to their surgery. “Breast cancer is a very emotional cancer, one that can leave even those who fight it very successfully with a tremendous feeling of loss,” said Shekarchi. “That loss should not be compounded by struggles to pay for their treatment or the things they need to heal and recover their lives.”

Meanwhile, Senate President Ruggerio has promised an effort to “close the gender salary gap,” according to the Providence Journal.

“’Rhode Island women make 82 cents for every dollar that a man is paid,’ said Ruggerio, citing data provided by the National Partnership for Women & Families on the median annual pay for men and women in Rhode Island working full-time year-round jobs. He described legislation introduced last year by Senator Gayle Goldin to ban employers from seeking wage histories from job applicants – and barring employees from talking to each other about their pay – as ‘sensible for all parties.’”

Will this and other gestures be enough to blunt the anger of women interested in preserving their legal access to reproductive rights in the event the General Assembly fails to pass the RHCA?

5. Catching up on some interesting local writing, the Brown Political Review has a piece by John MetzGood Policy, No Buyer: The Fall Rhode Island’s Greenhouse Compact” that looks into Rhode Island’s failure to enact smart post-industrialization economic policy.

“It can be hard to understand how one of the smallest states in the country manages to be one of its worst-run,” writes Metz. “The answer, it seems, is that Rhode Island’s legislature is too risk-averse to pass grand reforms.”

6. The Woman Project is back with another great interview, this time with Stephanie Gonzalez, member of the Central Falls Board of Trustees. The interview focuses on education policy, but touches on reproductive rights towards the end.

“I think we need to demystify what ‘reproductive health care’ means in the Latino community,” said Gonzalez. “Growing up it was taboo for me to even think about birth control. My mother insisted on being with me during my annual primary care visit. She also assumed I couldn’t possibly be sexually active before marriage so she’d say things like, ‘Oh you don’t have to see a gynecologist yet.’ We need to break that trend and find ways to have conversations with our families that revolve around health outcomes and the longitudinal impact that those outcomes have on our young people and our city. ”

7. St Clair Detrick-Jules, Brown University student and documentary filmmaker, has written a wonderful piece, “The Case for a clean Dream Act“, that focuses on the experiences of Krissia Rivera Perla, who graduated from Brown University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. This year Rivera Perla started at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

“In four years,” writes Detrick-Jules, “[Rivera Perla] will have an ‘MD’ next to her name and she’ll be ready to start her medical residency. There’s just one small problem: she’s undocumented.”

8. Siham Byah was taken into custody by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last year and despite protests and advocacy on her behalf, was deported to Morrocco on December 26. Byah’s eight year old son was placed in state care. The Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) will not release the boy to the family Byah has requested for him. She has not seen her son since she dropped him off at school one morning in early November 2017 and went to ICE for a routine check-in…

ICE detaining single mother and political activist Siham Byah, rally planned in Boston

Boston rallies to free Siham Byah from ICE detention

Siham Byah remains a political prisoner of the United States, says lawyer

A letter from Siham Byah, now in ICE custody

9. John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island does our state proud in this interview with Adam Eichen (author of Daring Democracy) entitled “How a Small New England State is Becoming a Trailblazer in Democracy.”

“We’re both a laboratory and a model,” said Marion. “Because we’re so small we can implement many types of election reforms far more easily than larger states can—particularly when it comes to voting. In most states, county governments run elections. But Rhode Island doesn’t have county governments, as most things are run on a statewide basis. Changing election laws in Rhode Island therefore doesn’t require the coordination of a bunch of counties.

“And, of course, we also have some of the political conditions to support real reform, like a supportive Secretary of State and legislature. That helps.”

10. The ACLU of Rhode Island has entered into two new lawsuits.

The first lawsuit, filed in United States District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorneys Lynnette Labinger and John MacDonald, is on behalf of a group of homeless registered sex offenders (RSOs) who, because of a new state law, will no longer be allowed to stay at the Harrington Hall homeless shelter in Cranston and will instead be forced back into the streets.

The second lawsuit maintains that participants in a Medicaid program run by the state are not being given proper notice before being kicked off the program, leading to a loss of income that the suit says puts low-income residents “at risk of losing their homes and their utilities and deprives them of funds needed for their daily living expenses, including food.” The suit, against the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), ties the improper notice to the state’s infamous UHIP computer system, the subject of another pending ACLU suit regarding food stamp benefit delays.

11. While Rhode Island struggled to reinstate a free bus pass system for low-income disabled and elderly riders, the city of Dunkirk, France made public transportation free for everyone.

“…in Dunkirk, as in many cities, rider fares amount to a small proportion of transit’s total cost. Eliminating fares is about shifting tax dollars and political priorities, [Dunkirk Mayor Patrice] Vergriete said.”

See above (#5) about Rhode Island’s legislature being too risk-averse to pass grand reforms.

12. I opened this piece with a note about the tenth annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Interfaith Vigil at the Rhode Island State House, whicch is a grand attempt to infuse faith and ethics into the legislative process. But do people really think religion has a positive influence on the world? A new poll from Ipsos asks about overall attitudes towards religion: While 62 percent of Americans think “religious practices are an important factor in the moral life of my country’s citizens,” that figure is split evenly worldwide.

Are religious people better citizens? 45 percent of Americans think so, but only a third of the world’s population thinks so.

And half the world believes religion does more harm than good, while only 39 percent of Americans believe that.

13. Picture of the week is of Sister Mary Pendergast at the Rhode Island State House:

Not bad for a slow blizzard week. Let’s see how well I keep up when the General Assembly is fully underway next week.

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.


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