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Resisting hate by winning some elections



“Here’s my proposition,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, state director of Rhode Island Working Families. “In order to resist hate we need to win some elections.”

Hollister Isman was speaking at Sunday’s Resist Hate Rhode Island Community Meeting at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence.

“I feel as if we’re fundamentally caught in this weird place where we always have to answer ‘What kind of state is Rhode Island?’ And we hear a lot, at least I hear a lot, that ‘Rhode Island is a very conservative state. It’s a Democratic state but it’s a conservative state.’

“I don’t think that’s true, and I think the evidence is on my side,” said Hollister Isman. “But we do have this very big problem where our politics and our government is fundamentally disconnected from what people want. But the good news is that voter overwhelmingly shared our [Resist Hate Rhode Island] values.”

Hollister Isman then showed the audience a series of pie charts, based on the most recent polling available on various issues of importance to progressives. The pie charts showed strong support for an assault weapons ban, a woman’s right to choose, a $15 minimum wage, raising taxes on the rich and earned sick days, which passed last year.

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“If this is the case, why is it so challenging to make any of these things law in Rhode Island?” asked Hollister Isman. The next slide pointed towards an answer. It showed a map of Rhode Island, where red areas were represented by legislators endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life and the blue areas are represented by legislators endorsed by Planned Parenthood. The map was overwhelmingly red. “You’ll see that this does not at all look like a state where the people are majority pro-choice.”

“So we have a big disconnect in Rhode Island between what voters want and what all of us want and what’s actually represented in our government,” said Hollister Isman. We are trapped in a vicious cycle, one promoted by conservatives interested in destroying good government.

This vicious cycle can be characterized:

Blame government for all problems … government is seen as dysfunctional … good people tune out … good people do not seek public office … government becomes less responsive to people … which brings us back to the beginning, perpetuating and amplifying the problem.

“At Working Families and I think all of you, are about reversing and breaking this cycle and creating a new one,” said Hollister Isman.

This new cycle, a virtuous cycle, can be characterized as:

Good people tune in … good people run for and win public office … government will be more responsive … government makes a more positive difference … government is seen as more important and more people tune in, perpetuating a virtuous cycle.

“2018 might be an opportunity to really speed up this cycle,” said Hollister Isman. Though this cycle could pick up speed in any election year, “2018 is a year where people are particularly tuning in. More people are voting and more people who share our values are voting in down ballot elections.”

There are three important fronts in getting and maintaining progressive seats in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

First is defending what they have. Hollister Isman noted that many progressive wins, the election of Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) and Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown), for instance, need to be defended in the coming election. “Conservatives have noticed that progressives have won some elections in recent years, and they are mobilizing to try to fight back.”

Second is working hard to gain seats that are currently open. “There are some wonderful opportunities for open seats,” said Hollister Isman, mentioning Liana Cassar, running for State Representative in District 66, Barrington and Rebecca Kislak, running for State Representative in District 4, Providence.

Third is challenging conservatives, whether they be Republicans, as is the case with Justine Caldwell challenging Republican Representative Antonio Giarrusso (Republican, District 30, East Greenwich), or conservative Democrats like conservative Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, who is being challenged by progressive Democrat Aaron Regunberg.

“If you want to make a difference in a campaign,” said Hollister Isman wrapping up, “Use your time on a weekend to knock on doors for one of these candidates. That’s an incredibly valuable investment any of you could make. Pick one, or two or three places this year where you think the person who is running will make a great addition to the legislature and spend some time there this summer. That will make an enormous difference and create a legislature that better represents our values and sees them as more important.”

Here’s the introductory material ahead of Hollister Isman’s presentation.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.