As the National Grid sponsored Waterfire began, activists from Climate Action Rhode Island and the George Wiley Center, in concert with more than 200 activists and protesters from a variety of climate, poverty and labor groups, staged multiple protests throughout the downtown area to call attention to National Grid’s egregious record on climate change, rate hikes, utility shutoffs, treatment of of their workers, pipeline explosions and environmental racism.
The video below was projected on the Crawford Street Bridge as banners were dropped emblazoned with messages such as, “Climate Crisis sponsored by National Grid,” “No Fossil Fuel $$,” “No LNG in PVD,” “Floods sponsored by National Grid,” “Asthma for our Kids sponsored by National Grid.”
Throughout the area in downtown Providence where Waterfire was taking place, people carried signs that said “National Greed.”
Union members and supporters from USW 12003, who are in a long running dispute with National Grid in Massachusetts, were also at Waterfire, holding banners that said, “National Grid puts profits before safety.” More than 1,200 union workers from USW Local 12003 and USW local 120012 were locked out of their jobs by National Grid on June 25 after the union and the company failed to agree on a contract.
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National Grid’s decision to lock out workers may have public safety implications. Medford, Massachusetts Mayor Stephanie Burke maintains that replacement workers hired by National Grid failed to follow state and federal safety regulations when dealing with an underground gas leak in her city.
The union members also projected their message for Waterfire attendees to see:
The anti-National Grid protest began with a rally at Roger Williams Memorial Park. I missed the first speaker, but caught Camilo Viveiros, organizer for the George Wiley Center, part way through his address to the crowd. In sponsoring Waterfire, National Grid is spending ratepayer money for publicity that is based on lies, said Viveiros.
“We have climate justice activists here that are fed up with [National Grid’s] unaccountability and how they don’t care about the Earth, we have steelworkers here who have been locked out, we have low-income consumers that have been shut-off,” continued Viveiros. “And we’re here to say enough is enough.”
“My goal in life is to leave the environment in far better condition than I found it in,” said Alex Duryea a Nature’s Trust Rhode Island petitioner and Master’s Student at the University of Rhode Island studying environmental and Earth sciences. “Because it is incredibly unfair to dump environmental problems on the generations to come.”
“We’re asking for an end to National Grid,” said Anna Kastner of the Providence Democratic Socialists of America. “We’re demanding a publicly owned utility and a publicly owned utility that is democratically controlled… But we know that we can’t get there overnight… In the meantime, we’re asking for PIPP – Percentage of Income Payment Plan, we’re calling for an end to shut-offs and we’re demanding that National Grid stop rate hikes.”
“I have been fighting for over three years, me and my community, against a liquefied natural gas facility in the Port of Providence,” said Monica Huertas, campaign coordinator for No LNG in PVD. “National grid wants $180 million to build this facility, that runs on fracked gas and what we’re saying is ‘No. It doesn’t belong in South Providence.'”
“In a few minutes, we’re going to be going to where [National Grid] is having their big PR push with Waterfire, and we’re going to be pushing a more honest message about what National Grid really sponsors,” said climate activist Tim DeChristopher. “Like the floods and the wildfires around the world, not just Waterfire here in Providence.”
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