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The Uprising, March 2, 2018



“Downpressor man, where you gonna run to, all along that day?”
Peter Tosh

Welcome to the Uprising:

1a. On Wednesday the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was in Providence as part of their coastal state tour designed to sell the public on President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke‘s plan to open up all United States coastal waters to offshore drilling. Rhode Island responded like a second HMS Gaspee needed to be burned down to the waterline.

First, the Environmental Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) and a bipartisan group of elected officials including Democrats like Governor Gina Raimondo and Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport) and Republicans like Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian and Representative Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) packed the State Room at the Rhode Island State House with over 200 people to speak out against the offshore drilling proposal. More people were in the hallway outside the State Room, unable to enter.

1b. Then Save the Bay led a march from the State House to the Providence Marriott Downtown on Orms Street, where BOEM was holding its public meeting. About 150 people marched and chanted.

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1c. Then came the coup de grace. In the middle of BOEM’s meeting, which was set up like a high school science fair, where BOEM employees were prepared to speak, quietly and one-on-one with the interested public, a group of people, led by Climate Action Rhode Island‘s Justin Boyan and the Climate Disobedience Center‘s Tim DeChristopher held an actual, robust and loud public meeting, allowing the public to let their opinions be known.

Smooth bureaucrat Bill Brown, chief environmental officer of BOEM, played the ropes and wisely did not interfere with the public meeting, until engaging them in conversation towards the end. For over 90 minutes the people held the room. Governor Raimondo sent her deputy chief of staff, Rosemary Powers, to address BOEM and the people. Representatives Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown and Narragansett) and Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) addressed the crowd.

“We didn’t only make a thoughtful, heartfelt, diverse appeal to oppose offshore oil drilling,” wrote organizer Justin Boyan later. “We didn’t only put on a clinic for how to run a democracy, with open testimony and public discourse.

“No, what came out of our action last night was a transcendent community experience. It was almost like a church service: the passionate speeches about justice, the call and response with the large audience encircling the speaker, the poems and songs, the voices of young and old, voices of integrity and defiance. I think everyone who was there felt that energy.”

“[T]his system,” said Duane Clinker, addressing the crowd and referring to BOEM’s “sham” meeting, “Requires us to write little messages on pieces off paper and hand it in to the teacher, believing that it will be read. But we don’t get to hear each other. We don’t get a sense of our power. These bogus hearings are meant to convince us of their power. So I thank God for what the organizers here did today. Let this be a beginning.”

Here’s Tim DeChristopher setting the stage and starting the show:

2a. There was plenty of action and political positioning on guns this week in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

On Monday Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed a “red flag” policy, a step towards keeping guns out of the hands of people who might pose a danger to themselves and others. Raimondo is the first governor in the United States to take such an action. Though there is now a policy in place, red flag legislation, such as that proposed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), would still be needed, as there is no law on the books that would allow the police to remove guns from a person’s possession, and Raimondo cannot establish such a policy by executive order.

2b. Around 500 people rallied in the rotunda of the State House on Tuesday for the introduction of legislation to ban assault weapons. Rhode Island State Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston) and Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Warren) introduced the legislation. The bill also bans high-capacity magazines.

Since it’s the student survivors of the Parkland shooting who are leading the way on this new wave of gun control in the United States, it was appropriate that students from Rhode Island spoke at the assault weapon ban rally. Here’s Taliq Tillman from the MET School and Adah Bryan and Osiris Cortez from Classical High School in Providence:

Go ahead, Millennials, destroy us

2c. Of course, not everyone was impressed by the courage and thoughtfulness of these teenagers. Republican State Representatives Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) and Justin Price (Republican, District 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) referred to the students as, “just props.”

“I was immediately upset that anyone would think that teen-agers would be used as props for a political agenda,” said Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport) in response to a request for comment. “It sounded so cold and distributing. I turned to my House colleague and said that this was not the case here. I would never approve of using anyone as a political prop. They noted that I would not use anyone and I added that neither would the members of the gun safety rally. I turned and walked away.”

2d. The Republican-controlled Cranston City Council had been stonewalling debate and passage of a resolution recommending that the Rhode Island General Assembly pass a law banning concealed carry gun permit holders from bringing guns into schools for over nine months before finally passing the resolution on Monday in an 8-1 vote. Only Council Member Trent Colford Sr voted against.

Previous to the meeting, Council President Michael Farina introduced his own bill on guns for passage. Farina’s package of proposals included installing metal detectors at all school entrances, having specially trained armed officers oversee school security at all schools, establish lock boxes at all schools so that concealed carry permit holders (such as Farina himself, who said he has such a permit) can safely store their weapons and establish a system whereby concerned residents might anonymously report people they feel may pose a danger to students.

During the public testimony period, 30 people spoke. No one spoke in favor of Farina’s proposals and most rejected or ridiculed them. Some outright distrusted the motive behind the proposals. Farina’s suggestions were sent to a specially created committee on an unanimous vote, where they will most likely languish.

2e. In 1986 the Rhode Island General Assembly preempted the ability of cities and towns in Rhode Island to pass their own gun control laws. This has stymied Providence’s efforts to take effective action against gun violence in the city. This week Providence City Council President David Salvatore and the crest of the city council announced their intention to request legislation that would enable Rhode Island municipalities to regulate firearms. The proposed legislation would remove section 11-47-58 – The Firearms States Preemption clause – of Rhode Island’s Criminal Offense Code. Its removal would enable municipalities like Providence to enact regulations around firearms and their components.

According to Dan McGowan, “Larry Berman, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, indicated the proposal will go through the committee process, but said the speaker ‘believes that Rhode Island is too small a state to have different laws in 39 cities and towns.’”

3. 150 Eastland Food Products workers went on a one-day strike Tuesday for better benefits, working conditions and respect on the job. Workers  voted overwhelmingly to join UFCW Local 328 in May of 2016. The company, located at 69 Fletcher Avenue in Cranston, currently offers no paid vacations, no paid holidays, no personal days and offers most workers only minimum wage despite years of hard work and dedication. The union has been negotiating for two years and said that the latest company proposal is unacceptable which led to today’s strike.

“We are fighting for better benefits. We are fighting for our rights,” said Delvina Garcia, who has worked at Eastland Food Products for 12 years. She has never had a vacation, a pay raise or health care through her job. “It’s been a long time struggle for many years. I went to the office a few times to ask for an increase in my wages, but the only increase that I got was more work.”

4. Over 200 people gathered at the Rhode Island State House Saturday afternoon as part of Indivisible Rhode Island‘s “No president is above the law” rally. Organizers saw the event as a reminder to President Donald Trump to not interfere in Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia/Trump investigation and as an objection to an alarming “shift away from democratic ideals [and] towards the Trump agenda of authoritarianism, corruption and racism.” But the event touched upon many of the evils of the present administration.

The Reverend Doctor Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches gave a fiery speech, encouraging the crowd to yell, “Trump!” every time he asked, “Who’s not above the law?”

“We have just over eight months to dismantle this anti-American administration,” said Anderson. “Begin by taking down his power base in Washington, in the House and the Senate in November of 2018.

“And the make sure in 2018 that we put people in that house,” continued Anderson, pointing to the State House behind him, “that hold to the values that we claim today, and haven’t drunk the Trump Kool-Aid.”

5. “With each passing day, I am increasingly terrified of what the future may hold. My family immigrated to Rhode Island when I was just ten months old, from Portugal,” said DREAMer Rodrigo Pimentel at the No President is Above the Law rally.

“Because of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA, I have been able to lawfully work, study, and build a life — something I’ve only dreamed of in the past. I pay my taxes and remain active in my community. This seems so small, but so meaningful to people like me. Through many years of struggle and hard work, my family and I have achieved the American Dream — such as purchasing a car and moving into a home. And I am proud to call the United States my home.

“But last September, the administration terminated DACA, and here in Rhode Island, the lives of our family members, our neighbors and our co-workers are in jeopardy as a demagogic administration tears apart at the fabric of our community.”

6. Gabe Ortiz at the Daily Kos picked up the Lillian Calderon story (and cited some UpriseRI reporting):

Trump claims ‘MS-13 thugs being hit hard’ as ICE arrests moms, dads with no criminal record

“The ‘thugs being hit hard’ are Lilian Calderon, a Rhode Island mom of two United States citizens who was taken into custody by [United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] last month after she and her husband, a United States citizen, had gone to a meeting with immigration officials in their ongoing attempts to adjust her status. ‘It was just a routine interview,’ Calderon later said. ‘We didn’t think anything of it.’ While she was eventually freed from detention following an ACLU lawsuit, she could still face deportation. ‘Everyone thinks that when you get detained by ICE it’s because it’s either drugs or violence or crime,’ she told UpriseRI. ‘But it’s not true.'”

7. Judee Burr has a nice report in Motif about the status of Governor Raimondo’s “statewide goal to install 1,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy by the end of 2020… It’s a 10-fold increase over the amount of clean energy that was installed in Rhode Island at the end of 2016.”

8. Sandra Cano handily won the Democratic Primary for State Senate District Eight in Pawtucket. She faces Republican Nathan Luciano on April 3.

9. Ending months of speculation, progressive activist Sam Bell has announced that he will be running as a Democrat for State Senate District 5 in Providence. That seat has been held by Paul Jabour since 2007. Bell is running on his record as an opponent of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and as an opponent of the original PawSox Stadium deal.

In 2013 Bell discovered that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was illegally funneling national money into Rhode Island elections. As a result, the NRA’s Rhode Island PAC was forced to shut down and pay a $63,000 fine. Bell writes that his investigation “ended the NRA’s flood of illegal national money” and that Rhode Island has since “passed crucial gun control legislation to take the guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.”

10a. The FANG Collective disrupted a Morgan Stanley event at Brown University‘s Brown Faculty Club on Magee St in Providence Wednesday. (You can watch the video of the disruption at this link.)

“Morgan Stanley is the eighth largest shareholder of Energy Transfer Partners and the largest shareholder of it’s parent company, Energy Transfer Equity. In total Morgan Stanley holds over $1.2 billion in Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity, and has loaned money to both companies,” said a FANG member at the disruption. ““ETP, the very same company behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, is trying to build a 162-mile crude oil pipeline across Louisiana, called the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. BBP will pollute water, crossing and outstanding 700 bodies of water, including Bayou Lafourche, a critical reservoir that supplies the United Houma Nation and 300,000 Louisiana residents with clean, safe drinking water.”

10b. People who dismiss FANG do so at their peril. On Thursday activists and organizers with The FANG Collective, the Shame On Citizens campaign and other groups celebrated after learning that Citizens Bank had ended their financing of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Citizens Bank faced waves of demonstrations last year over their dealings with ETP and their sister company Sunoco Logistics. This included a lock-down action at the Citizens Bank headquarter building in Providence on March 2, 2017 carried out by the FANG Collective. Three people were arrested as part of the action.

11a. Mary MacDonald over at Providence Business News (PBN) hit DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality)’s Malchus Mills with five questions about DARE’s rent control initiative.

“What we’re trying to do with rent control is stabilize our communities,” said Mills. “We would like to keep these apartments available to current tenants. Most of the municipalities fail to meet affordable-housing regulations and the state really fails to enforce them. There are a lot of outlying communities, where people have money, and what they do instead is they create housing for the elderly and disabled in order to maintain segregation.

“Around 60 percent of Providence residents rent. That’s well over half of the city. And of those, well over half of the city’s renters are low-income. Well over half of the city’s renters are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income just in housing costs. Sometimes a landlord will raise the rent $100 to $200 a month, all in one month. Sometimes you get a year’s lease and after that year it becomes month to month. That is not good for the tenant.”

11b. DARE presented Steve Ahlquist, this reporter, an award for his journalism at the DARE Brunch last Saturday morning. Ahlquist attended the award ceremony with his wife Katherine Ahlquist. Providence City Council Member Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) was awarded for her years of work on behalf of DARE’s Tenant and Homemowners Association (THA). The FANG Collective for its work this past March supporting DARE’s Behind the Walls action on 2017’s Day of Empathy.

“Though we don’t often give awards to white guys,” said emcee Justice Gaines, “DARE’s membership, board and staff take this moment to recognize Steve Ahlquist for documenting the movement for ourselves, for our allies and for our partners…”

“When I was younger, all I wanted to do was write comics, write stories about superheroes,” Ahlquist said, upon receiving the award. “Now, thanks to DARE and the people in this room, I get to do that everyday. You all inspire me. I am deeply honored by this, and where you lead, I will follow.”

12a. “I’ve always been baffled by how much interest the government has in regulating women’s bodies and their personal choice,” said Janie Segui, mother, activist and graduate student in a recent interview at The Woman Project. “Reproductive Freedom is a human right, and it should be protected under our “democracy,” not infringed upon. Reproductive rights should be taught in all public schools to ensure that all of our teenagers have access to a comprehensive curriculum that will inform them of how best to protect themselves and what resources are available to aid them in making informed decisions. As someone who has worked with teenagers, there is nothing more scary to me, than one of our impressionable young adults making uninformed decisions because they are scared and they fear a parent or caretaker will find out. Our society has made these topics shameful for women. We need to actively break down these misconceptions and empower our most marginalized populations which include our women of color and trans population.”

12b. What does “uterize” mean? The Woman Project at the State House:

13. Lauren Niedel took issue with Mike Stenhouse‘s description off the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity as “nonpartisan” and also took issue with pretty much everything else Stenhouse said in his oped that was published by both the Providence Journal and the Valley Breeze.

“I would like to point out that his ‘non-partisan’ organization, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity is a member of State Policy Network, an $83 million enterprise and growing,” writes Niedel. “This network is part of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), is heavily funded by the Koch Brothers, and are extremely partisan and align with the Republican Party. How are we to even think Mr. Stenhouse’s argument has any validity when he displays such blatant hypocrisy?”

14. The Providence City Council voted in the members of the newly reconstituted Providence External Review Authority (PERA) Thursday night. PERA is an essential part of the Community Safety Act (CSA). Here’s J

15. People talk about a “blue wave” but Bob Plain over at Rhode Island Future has some evidence of what we might call a “red tide.”

“Of the 114 legislative districts in Rhode Island, President Donald Trump carried 28 of them. But only eight of those districts sent Republicans to the General Assembly. That means there are 20 Democratic legislators who represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016,” writes Plain. “The most famous example is House Speaker Nick Mattiello, whose Cranston district voted for Trump 54 percent to 39 percent. But Mattiello is far from alone among House leadership in representing districts that voted for Trump.”

16. Picture of the week: Cindy Sabato with megaphone, leading the march from the State House to the BOEM presentation:

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.