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The Uprising, April 13, 2018



“Republicans and Democrats alike represent corporate interests – and uphold the nuclear family as an institution that is central to capitalist society. Preserving the institution of the nuclear family, and most importantly women’s unpaid labor within it, is of material benefit to the system.”
Sharon Smith, Women and Socialism (2005)

It’s been a smaller, fluffier week, I think. Let’s dive in:

1a. A Perfect Storm

The House Judiciary Committee voted a bill banning “bump stocks” and a bill establishing a “red flag” law onto the full House just before holding a marathon eight hour hearing on a raft of reproductive rights bills, five of which would restrict a woman’s access to abortion, and one, the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), that would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, protecting a woman’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion.

As a result, the State House was home to a 2nd Amendment Coalition Rally, where hundreds of people (mostly men) chanted “Our Votes Matter! Our Votes Matter!” as the Judiciary Committee did it’s work. People watching the committee meeting at home either online or on cable television could hear the chanting.

[Afterwards, someone messaged me that the response to “Our Votes Matter!” should have been “All Votes Matter!”]

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In contrast, activists from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America were quietly present to witness the vote on the red flag legislation.

Rhode Island Right to Life was out in force to oppose the RHCA and to support the bills that would further restrict abortion rights.

And members of the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (RICRF) were out in slightly larger numbers to press House Judiciary to pass the RHCA.

1b. The Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve been to sci-fi and comic book conventions where people in costume are treated as though they are the actual fictional characters they are dressed as. It’s a little bit of fun to say “Hi Superman!” to someone in a full outfit. But aside from small children, I’ve never seen people dressed as fictional characters responded to as though they really were those characters, without a sense of fun or irony, until Tuesday night at the Rhode Island State House.

Six women dressed as Handmaids from the from the book and television series The Handmaid’s Tale walked through the corridors of the State House until stopping and standing on the steps of the main rotunda. The women were silent, their heads bowed, dressed in red and white. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian, near future New England where a brutal, misogynistic Christian theonomy treats women as little more than chattel.

Barth Bracy, who heads up Rhode Island Right to Life, asked me to explain the outfits, being somehow unaware of the book or the show, before saying, “Never mind, I’ll read your post on it.”

But the reaction of the crowd, not only those there to oppose abortion, but among many of the men and women there in support of gun rights, was startling. I assume that some of those present had seen the show, and understood the statement in full, but others, like Bracy, who had never seen the show or book, seemed to react to the way the women acted and dressed on a subconscious instinct.

The women in costumes, there to make a point about women’s rights in general and reproductive rights in particular, were treated by many as if they were the actual characters they were portraying. The women were insulted, mocked, and dismissed.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

“Shameful! Shameful!” said a man.

“You look very silly!” said a woman.

“You’re disgusting pigs!” said another man.

1c. In a first, Governor Gina Raimondo supplied written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in full support of the RHCA.

1d. When a General Assembly committee begins its work, there is a routine call to “hold all bills for further study.” What this means is that none of the bills under consideration at the meeting will get a vote. Testimony will be heard, but no action will be taken. In this way, no bills can slip out of committee and onto the floor of the House or Senate without the direct approval of the Speaker or the Senate President.

Anti-democratic? Sure. But that’s the system.

On Tuesday night though, Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Warren) changed things up. When the call went out to “hold all bills for further study” Knight voted “nay” on the RHCA. In other words, Knight was saying that there should be a vote on the RHCA that evening. Knight was out-voted, of course, and the committee proceeded as normal.

But the vote against holding all bills for further study was a singular event: Not to say it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never seen it before.

1e. The Woman Project dropped a banner from the third floor of the State House to the first floor. The banner is a series of quilts made of squares, each square signed and decorated by a different supporter of the Reproductive Health Care Act.

1f. Among many excellent testimonies, let me highlight this one from Hilary Levey Friedman, President of RI NOW, spoke in favor of the RHCA. You can access all the video from the hearings here.

1g. All the bread and circuses overshadowed the fact that significant legislation was passed out of the Senate Tuesday evening.

Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence)’s Fair Pay Act, which would provide protections and transparency in the workplace to help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work, passed unanimously, as did Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence)’s bill (S2638A), which would collect data from employers of 100 or more people in Rhode Island to help determine industries and areas where pay gaps occur.

2a. Invenergy

The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) began final hearings on Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of north west Rhode Island on Tuesday.

The meeting was mostly procedural, but still held a few surprises.

Some testimony from Glenn Walker, Burrillville’s expert witness, was un-redacted, and as noted by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer, it should be “immediately obvious to readers why Invenergy has been so keen to keep this information away from the public.” Rather than saving ratepayers money on their electric bill, the proposed power plant would cost us $13.9 million more per year, said Walker

Whereas the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission believed, incorrectly, that the power plant would save consumers up to $79.8 million per year. In fact, the savings may be as little as $4 million per year, and these “savings” may be “reduced to zero in the near future,” said Walker.

It should be noted that when the PUC made this determination in July, 2016, there was only one person on the board: Commissioner Herbert DeSimone Jr.

DeSimone was the one member of the PUC board that did not recuse themself, and the one member who wrote the PUC’s advisory opinion to the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) on whether or not the project would save ratepayers money. DeSimone ruled early on that having only one person on the board did not violate any rules, as he was not be making any decisions, but simply crafting an advisory opinion.

But now we can plainly see the flaws in having one person issue such a weighty and important advisory opinion. Every day since the opinion was issued reveals more and more of its failings.

2b. Also revealed in Glenn Walker’s un-redacted testimony was the opinion that Invenergy cannot possibly make their scheduled June 1, 2021 “operation date.”

National Grid, the company that would build the interconnection between the proposed power plant and the grid, has indicated that construction will take 48 months. “While this schedule can be slightly compressed,” notes Walker, it is highly probable that the interconnection will… result in a delayed operation date.”

2c. “Invenergy presented a surprise motion (not filed in advance, in violation of the EFSB rules) to strike all references in the Record to Invenergy’s failed water contract with the Narragansetts,” writes Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer. “CLF and Burrillville both objected, and the EFSB will allow Invenergy to file a written motion if it wishes.  Invenergy’s argument is that the water contract with the Narragansetts is no longer in effect.  However, normally matters only get stricken from the Record if they are somehow improper (like they violate the Rules of Evidence or would create some prejudice).  Invenergy’s contract with the Narragansetts was stupid and unwise, and it casts Invenergy in a very unfavorable (but completely accurate) light.  In this context, references to the failed contract should not be stricken from the record.  They should all stay in the Record in order to be an exemplar of how badly Invenergy has managed the entire EFSB process.  My guess – and this is only a guess – is that Invenergy will realize that it is a bad idea to highlight what a huge mistake it made entering into the water contract with the Narragansetts, and won’t file a written motion, but we shall see.”

2d. The EFSB began the Final Hearings without board member Parag Agrawal, who stepped down from his position at the Rhode Island Department of Public Planning and has left only two board members,  a quorum, to decide on Invenergy’s application. EFSB Chair Margaret Curran said that Agrawal’s position will soon be posted, though whether the position will  be filled in time to have Agrawal’s replacement join the EFSB hearing in progress is unknown.

3. Last Friday afternoon nearly twenty young Jewish persons gathered outside the offices of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island on the East Side of Providence to “demand… a statement condemning the actions of the Israeli government and military in Gaza.”

The peaceful protest was interrupted by the Providence Police Department:

“We were in touch with the group prior to the protest in response to an open letter they sent to the Jewish Alliance,” said Adam Greenman, President & CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “Unfortunately, our offices were closed the day of the protest in observance of Passover. I will be meeting with representatives from their group later this week. I appreciate their passion and thoughtfulness, and look forward to continuing the conversation.”

4a. Immigration

The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a class action lawsuit against President Donald Trump, United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, on behalf of Rhode Island resident Lilian Calderon.

Calderon, 30 years old, is a Guatemalan immigrant and mother of two who was detained by immigration officials for a month beginning January 17th, during a routine visit to the Providence field office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Johnston as part of the process of applying for lawful permanent resident status. Calderon has lived in the United States since she was three-years-old. She is the mother of two young children ages one and four, both United States citizens, as is her husband, Luis Gordillo.

Calderon spent a month in prison before being released.

4b. The First Unitarian Church of Providence held a vote and decided to become a Sanctuary Church. They are currently the only church in Rhode Island known to be close to being able to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under new rules promulgated by President Donald Trump.

In order to build a living space on church property, First Unitarian is asking for donations to install a shower, replace the current sink and plumbing in the room, add a counter top to the kitchen area, and install a lock on the door. All told the church needs to raise $7500.

Here’s a link to the donation page:

4c. The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday, introduced by Representative Shelby Maldonado (Democrat, District 56, Central Falls), that would continue to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.

The legislation (H7982A) would continue the status quo relating to operator and chauffeur’s licenses to approved recipients under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It would also provide that the issuance of a Rhode Island operator’s license would not confer the right to vote in the state of Rhode Island.

“DACA youth have called Rhode Island home since they were children — some since they were infants — and have no significant connection to the land of their birth,” said Maldonado, who co-chairs the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus. “They have become a vital part of Rhode Island’s educational community, business community and culture. They are a key part of Rhode Island’s future, and I thank Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his support and involvement in this issue.”

The measure now moves to the Senate.

5a. “After much thought and consideration, I am proud to announce that I am throwing my hat into the ring and announce that I am running for Senator of District 29 in the wonderful city of Warwick” wrote Jennifer Rourke. “My family and I want to help make this great city better and I promise to run a campaign built on honesty and integrity.”

Rourke is part of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, and sat on the Nominations Committee this past fall and winter.

Rourke will presumably be running against incumbent Michael McCaffrey, the Senate Majority Leader who has served in the Senate since 1995, in the Democratic Primary. On her campaign Facebook page, Rourke writes, “My dream as a little girl was to make a difference somehow in this world and that time is now. It is time for a change to the political status quo which continues to fight for people in high places rather than fight for the rest of us who live paycheck to paycheck.”

5b. Justine Caldwell, who is running for the House seat currently occupied by Representative Anthony Giarrusso is going after the incumbent for repeatedly dodging questions about where he stands on a proposed assault weapons ban:

Caldwell published a statement, as well as an e-mail exchange with Giarrusso regarding the assault weapons ban in which Giarrusso repeatedly dodged questions about where he stood, said “People in our district are telling me that these are some of the most important issues to them. When his constituents held a forum about these issues, Giarrusso skipped it. When they tried to arrange another, he told them he was too busy to make it. When I asked him questions about it, he dodged them. When Bob Plain asked him questions about it, he dodged them. And then, when the bills came to a vote, residents of House District 30 had no say, because Giarrusso skipped that too.”

“We need new leadership at the State House. We need a Representative who is interested in engaging members of the community, making decisions, and casting votes. Those are the basic elements of the job,” added Caldwell.

“This issue is one of the most talked about issues at the State House — for people on both sides,” said Caldwell. “Even Giarrusso conceded that during our email exchange, although he was then using it as an excuse not to take a stand.” To Giarrusso, she added: “Being State Representative is not a ceremonial position — it ought to involve actual work. I’m looking forward to doing that work. And it involves taking stands. I would have enthusiastically voted for both bills. Our district deserves to know how you would have voted — Yes, or No?”

5c. Sandra Cano was sworn into the Rhode Island Senate on Thursday at a ceremony in the Senate Lounge at the State House. Cano is the first Colombian-American to be elected to the Rhode Island Senate.

Senator Cano, a Democrat will represent District 8 in Pawtucket, and has been assigned to the Senate Finance and Senate Labor committees.

6. The Woman Project has two interviews this week:

Rodrigo Pimentel, Immigrant Activist, Advocate and DACA Recipient

“Immigrants will be afraid of going to the doctor. They will postpone care. Hospitals and schools are supposed to be considered sensitive spaces in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could not enter. Now, that is up in the air: ICE has made it clear that every undocumented immigrant is considered a priority for deportation.

“The current administration has also attacked legal immigrants. Earlier this year, the administration considered targeting legal immigrants if they utilized programs such as SNAP or WIC. And just the threat of that has had a devastating effect, as enrollment has dropped in several states as a result of fear.”

Saman Sajasi, artist & immigrant

“Being undocumented and falling in the cracks of political war has made obtaining healthcare a very big problem for me. Its a necessity, and not having healthcare, not being able to see a doctor in the past 10 years brings on constant mental and emotional anxiety. More so now as I am reaching an age where yearly checkups are extremely important.”

7. Alex Nunes has a report every Rhode Islander should be interested in:

In Four Years, Taxpayers Spent $18-Million On Medicaid Assistance For Workers at Rhode Island Companies Receiving Millions in Economic Development Tax ‘Incentives’

“Between the state’s 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, Rhode Island allocated $18-million through its Medicaid-funded Rite Care and Rite Share medical assistance programs to employees working at companies that simultaneously received more than $114-million in state subsidies designed to spur job growth and workforce development.

CVS Health topped the list for total Rite Care and Rite Share expenses, as well as total tax incentives received. According to Rhode Island Unified Economic Development Reports, CVS employees and their dependents utilized $5.7-million in medical assistance during the four-year period in which the Woonsocket-based company also received $63-million in tax benefits.

“Since 2008, CVS has received more state subsidies than any other business: $175-million of the nearly $350-million disclosed in the Division of Taxation’s annual reports on tax credits and incentives.”

8. ecoRI has a terrific story about a bunch of second graders from Pell Elementary School in Newport who eliminated plastic straws from their school over concerns about plastic in the ocean.

9. United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) General Counsel Chris Callaci appears unimpressed with the Prospect CharterCare proposal for Memorial Hospital.

“No one has fought longer and harder to protect the jobs and healthcare services at Memorial Hospital than the United Nurses and Allied Professionals. Our members have been at the front lines of healthcare for more than a generation and we are proud to have provided world-class care to the people of Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley.

“Today’s farcical announcement was typical for Prospect CharterCare: short on details and long on empty promises and rhetoric. The State of Rhode Island shuttered the Emergency Room at Memorial Hospital last December and unless Prospect CharterCare officials have miraculously convinced the administration to reverse that decision, we call BS.

“The fact is this isn’t about preserving jobs or healthcare services. It’s not about serving a community either. This is about money. Prospect CharterCare executives are trying to extort higher reimbursement rates from Governor Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly by irresponsibly and irreverently promising that Memorial will be a community hospital again, when they know it will not. This is a slap in the face to every nurse, bedside caregiver and support personnel to ever work at Memorial Hospital and we hope the governor, Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio will recognize it as such.”

10a. Peace on Earth?

There were two demonstrations downtown last week calling attention to the increased militarism and war spending, which has been aided and abetted by Rhode Island’s congressional delegation.

10b. Indivisible Rhode Island wants Rhode Island residents to contact Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and urge them to vote no on Michael Pompeo for Secretary of State. Both Senators voted to confirm Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Mike Pompeo would raise the #TrumpThreatLevel to epic proportions if confirmed as our nation’s top diplomat. He would help Trump take us closer to war with Iran and worsen the Trump-made crisis with North Korea! Pompeo is also a climate change denying, torturing Islamophobe. In 2017, the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo to serve as head of the CIA under Trump, by a vote of 66-32.

That means 14 Democrats, Including our Senators Reed and Whitehouse, and one Independent joined the Republicans to help make Mike Pompeo CIA Director. This is their second chance to vote the right way and oppose an Islamophobic war hawk from becoming Trump’s Secretary of State.

Tell Senators Reed and Whitehouse to VOTE NO ON POMPEO.

Contact Info:

Sen. Jack Reed: (401) 943-3100 or (202) 224-4642
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (401) 453-5294 or (202) 224-2921 

11. From Bob Plain at RI Future:

When Caleb Chadsey died, in 1894, he left $10,000 and a parcel of property in the heart of Wickford to the town of North Kingstown for the purposes of creating a community library. And there, at 55 Brown St, is where the local library stood until 1975, when a bigger one was built a few blocks away. The stately 2,000-square-foot Greek Revival building then became the Town Hall Annex, and most recently housed the planning and building departments.

But now that the North Kingstown Town Council has moved to sell the building for $100,000 to a private party for redevelopment into a restaurant/theater/event center – a move that must be approved by voters at a special referendum election on April 24 – the Chadsey family, which first came to Wickford in 1711, is speaking out, and considering legal options.

Continue reading…

12. Picture of the week:

This guy, trying to block from view three women dressed as Handmaids at the State House. It’s called irony.

As much as I covered this week, I missed three times as much. Hope to get to some stuff later today and over the weekend, including some shocking and subtle antisemitism at the State House.

See you next week!

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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.