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The Uprising, December 7, 2018



“Taking the time in recent days to be with the people I love and who love me has only made that clearer. That’s why I’ve decided to not assume my seat as State Representative.”

Laufton Ascencao

Welcome to The Uprising!

1. Laufton Ascencao

It’s been an interesting week in Rhode island politics with the unexpected and unfortunate fall of Laufton Ascencao, a progressive Democrat recently elected to serve as a Rhode Island State Representative for District 68 in Bristol. Ascencao, in his own words, did a stupid and immature thing, costing him a seat he campaigned hard for.

After admitting to creating false documents, including a fake invoice and fake check, and presenting them to the Warren Democrats, Ascencao at first said he was going to hold onto his seat, but mounting pressure from opponents and allies forced him to reconsider. The Reform Caucus, a group of 21 Representatives opposed to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), issued a press release saying that Ascencao was no longer welcome to be a member. This move on the part of the Reform Caucus seems to be the reason that Representatives Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) have disaffiliated from the group. Both representatives are friends of Ascencao.

The greater tragedy, though, befell Ascencao’s supporters, many of whom gave money and time to his campaign, resources that in retrospect could have been better spent on other campaigns. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) wrote that, “Many of our members gave up precious time with their families to knock on doors for Laufton because we trusted him.”

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The RICAGV called on Ascencao to step aside.

Ascencao represented himself as something better than the Representative who has served District 68 for the last few terms, Kenneth Marshall. Marshall is a part of Mattiello’s leadership team who declined to run for re-election after it was revealed that he had failed to report some campaign contributions. Now Marshall is considering a run for his old seat in a soon to be announced special election.

Laufton Ascencao

2. Providence Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is still pursuing his plan to ‘monetize’ Providence Water, and an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) will be issued by the city on January 19.

The RFQ, said Providence City Solicitor Jeff Dana, was developed with the help of outside counsel. The RFQ also serves as a statement as to the intentions of the City of Providence, said Providence’s Director of Sustainability, Leah Bamberger. The RFQ has built into it a series of protections or stipulations guaranteeing water quality, consumer rates, environmental protections and labor protections. Dana noted that because of these stipulations, it’s, “not the most attractive RFQ.”

I asked Dana what he sees as the difference between ‘monetization’ and a public-private partnership (PPP or p3).

“I’m not even sure how to answer,” began Dana. “There’s all different kinds of public-private partnerships. There are communities that use public-private partnerships to build schools. Monetization is, I guess, in a general sense, utilizing an asset to derive some revenue. Whereas a public-private partnership is a public entity working with a private entity to achieve some end goal.”

So this would be the same then, I replied. We are reaching out to a private entity to achieve a goal, which would be monetization.

“Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a private entity. It could be another public entity. It could be a public-public partnership, it could be a public-private partnership, we don’t know where it will end up.”

3a. Invenergy

The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) held its final hearing this year on Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of Burrillville. Hearings will resume in January. This week’s hearing dealt with assorted issues that at this point don’t seem to be make or break. Noise, appearance, lighting and archeological impacts were discussed.

On noise, there is a dispute as to whether Invenergy will be able to make good on its promise to keep its construction and operations under 43 decibels, as promised. Invenergy is promising new technology that will meet the town’s noise ordinances. But this technology has never been tested and no power plant of the kind Invenergy is proposing has ever met such a low bar.

Though Invenergy absolutely promises that they will in fact keep the sound at or below 43 decibels, the company is not willing to post a bond guaranteeing their compliance. And of course, the EFSB is not beholden to any town ordinances about noise if they choose to grant the license. The EFSB is empowered to overwrite local zoning ordinances at will.

3b. Native American sites

Christopher Donta, a Senior Principal Investigator of Gray and Pape, Inc was cross-examined regarding Gray & Pape’s analysis and studies regarding the cultural and archeological survey performed on the proposed project’s location. Donta believes that “the Project will not cause unacceptable harm to any significant cultural or historic properties.”


Phase I Archaeological Identification Survey for the Proposed Invenergy, LLC, Clear River Energy Center, Burrillville, Providence County, Rhode IslandANDPhase II Archaeological Site Examination of the Iron Mine Brook Dune Site (RI 2757)


Six sites were identified as being of interest. One the areas examined, the Iron Mine Brook Dunes site, had “deposits similar to many Native American sites in New England, according to Donta, and was possibly in “its original context and had the potential to aid in understanding Native American settlement in this region,” Donta recommended avoiding any construction there.

Invenergy countered that avoiding this location was not possible, so Donta conducted a “phase 2 survey” to assess the area’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Based on Donta’s survey and what he determined to be a “lack of diversity of artifacts and the absence of cultural features,” Donta determined that the site was ineligible for the National Register.

Burrillville attorney Michael McElroy asked if simply not qualifying to be included in the National Register of Historic Places mean the site is unimportant.

“Just because a site is not of significance doesn’t mean it has no information at all,” said Donta, adding that after the phase 2 survey was conducted, Invenergy decided the site does not have to be used after all, and will not be impacted.

That said, Donta would not issue a recommendation that a condition of the license granted to Invenergy by the EFSB contain a prohibition against using the site. “I would not recommend that the site be avoided if [Invenergy] did need that space in the end. That was the purpose of our site examination and we did determine that it was not significant.”

4. South Kingstown School Committee

The South Kingstown School Committee is off to a rocky start due conservative opposition to the recent election of four progressive women, Stephanie Canter, Sarah Markey, Emily Cummiskey and Jacy Northrup. The women called themselves the “final four” because they were listed last on the ballot. The final four successfully took four of the five open positions on the seven member School Committee.

Not everybody is happy about the election results. A conservative opposition has formed around some ousted members of the School Committee, and they have pushed hard against Sarah Markey in particular, who ran as an independent and works as an organizer for National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI), a teacher’s union. Previous to her election, when Markey was being considered for a nomination to the school committee in 2017 (in the wake of a School Committee member stepping down) School Committee legal counsel Sara Rapport wrote an opinion claiming that the Rhode Island Code of Ethics would require Markey to “recuse herself from many, if not most matters that the Committee must address” due to her job with NEARI. Markey disagrees, and has asked the Rhode Island Ethics Committee for a determination.

At a special meeting called last Friday evening, The School Committee decided to terminate Rapport as legal counsel. This is completely normal. When a newly elected majority takes over a council or board, they often bring on new legal counsel.

The most chilling part of the evening came when School Committee Member Cummiskey spoke about receiving a threat over the telephone, telling her that if she voted to terminate Rapport as legal counsel, “bad things” were going to happen to her, and she wouldn’t “know what they were going to be.”

After the meeting was over a very angry man approached Markey and, jabbing his finger in the air, said, “You are infiltrating our democracy!”

“I honestly don’t believe that this kind of hateful, anti-union, anti-woman attitude is actually reflective of our broader community,” said Markey to me, in an interview.

5. Racist Stickers

Racist stickers have been affixed to street signs along Greenville Avenue in the Town of Johnston, Rhode Island.

Warning: This post contains disturbing messages and pictures.

Joseph Razza, Deputy Chief of Police at the Johnston Police Department wrote, “The Town of Johnston does not tolerate matters of this kind and we will investigate this matter to the fullest extent possible.”

6. World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day was unfortunately overshadowed by the death of former President George Bush I. This did not stop two dozen people from gathering on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House to remember those who have been lost to the disease and those who live with the disease to day.

“Since the start of this epidemic, 35.4 million people have been lost,” said organizer George Marley, “There’s a saying that when all hope is lost all we have is grace. I don’t like that. I like to say that when all hope is lost, we have to fight. Until every person living with AIDS has access to clean and hospitable living environments, we can’t stop fighting. Until every person living with HIV can find support and love, and not be stigmatized by their status, we can’t stop fighting. Until every person living with HIV has access to health care and life saving medications, we can’t stop fighting. Until every person is treated with the same unalienable rights, we can’t stop fighting.”

Marley had some words for Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) as well, saying, “On a personal note: We can’t stop fighting until our Speaker of the House is no longer Speaker of the House. He is a danger to health care in the State of Rhode Island. Several years ago he stopped funding for the state’s only syringe exchange. Fortunately the [Rhode Island] Department of Health was able to pick up the slack, where Nicholas Mattiello failed us all…”

“I just want to start off this speech by saying thank god George Bush Senior is finally fucking dead,” said Rhode Island Pride’s Miss Gay Rhode Island 2018 Yolandi Fizzure. “That is something we can all be thankful for on this World AIDS Day. It’s incredible to stand here and know that one of the people that was so responsible for killing so many of us is now gone from this planet and cannot do us harm any longer.”

See: It’s a Disgrace to Celebrate George H.W. Bush on World AIDS Day

7. Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila

Over twenty people, mostly members of Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) but also members of many other activist groups in Rhode Island, enjoyed dinner in Westerly last Friday evening at Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila, the restaurant targeted by Rhode Island State Senator Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich). Morgan took exception to the staff wearing tee shirts that said, “86 45” on the eve of the midterm elections this year and encouraged a boycott of the restaurant. As a result, the restaurant has become the target of racist bullying, harassment and threats.

Morgan claims to believe that the term “86” is synonymous with assassinate, as if the employees of this restaurant were calling fro the assassination of President Trump, but obviously the term is common restaurant slang for “no longer available,” “cancel” or “get rid of.”

“We organized with several other activist organizations and community members, and traveled to Westerly to have dinner together at Amigos in support of their right to free speech and informed opposition to bad policy. We were shocked to learn about the harassment that the owner and staff have endured over the last few weeks, and the cost in emotional stress and thousands of dollars spent to ensure everyone’s safety, as a result of the harassment by an elected official,” said CARI in a statement. “In a world so deeply divided, Senator Morgan should be ashamed of herself for causing so much harm to a small business and her constituents. We support Amigo’s right to political expression, and their opposition to Trump. In this time of political turmoil and looming environmental disaster, we must stand together in solidarity with those willing to speak up for what is right.”

Truthfully, the most delicious way to combat Morgan’s ignorance is to get some food at this amazing restaurant.

8. CoLab

Since I just dropped what is essentially an advertisement for Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila, I might as well speak about our newest advertiser, CoLab, a co-working space for artists. Located in scenic Pawtuxet Village, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Also, as CoLab is proving, advertising on UpriseRI is great. Reasonable rates. Negotiable.

9. Central Falls curfews

Progresso Latino and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU RI) have sent a letter to Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and the Central Falls City Council urging the repeal of the City’s juvenile curfew law. The letter was prompted by the publication of “The Curfew Myth” by Ivonne Roman, writing on The Marshall Project, a criminal justice blog.

Roman writes:

“A systematic review of research literature on juvenile curfew programs was published in 2016 by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit that synthesizes research studies for policy-makers. Campbell examined over 7,000 studies on juvenile curfews and synthesized the 12 most rigorous studies. The report stated that, ‘evidence suggests that juvenile curfews are ineffective at reducing crime and victimization. The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive – that is a slight increase in crime – and close to zero for crime during all hours. Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.’”

Beyond not working, curfews criminalize ordinary behavior and primarily target youth of color.

“Curfew ordinances … make perfectly innocent activity – walking, talking or traveling outside – illegal,” says Progresso Latino and the ACLU in their letter. “By doing so, they give police virtually unbridled discretion to stop, detain, harass and search teenagers. This can only encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

10. Transit-Oriented Development

“What is TOD?,” asked John Flaherty, Deputy Director of GrowSmart Rhode Island at a workshop to discuss Making Transit-Oriented Development a Reality. “At it’s core, Transit-Oriented Development is a type of development that includes a mixture of housing, office, commercial, retail, amenities… integrated into a walkable neighborhood with access to high quality, high frequency public transportation.”

11. Roger Williams

“As a Baptist preacher, I am inspired by the legacy of Roger Williams. As a Christian, I am inspired by Jesus, who dissented against the political and religious leaders of His day who unashamedly legislated “unjust laws and oppressive decrees,” and who exploited the poor and the “least of these” for their own power and political gain (Isaiah 10:1),” writes Darrell Hamilton on Baptist News Global.

“As reported by Baptist News Global, it was the Christian religious practice of dissent, in addition to the Baptist tradition of protecting the rights of free exercise of religion, that compelled me to stand and freely exercise my faith to disrupt Jeff Sessions at a gathering of Christian supremacy and right-wing, Christian extremism disguised as a luncheon to discuss the future of religious liberty. Additionally, I took a stand to defend the “soul freedom” of all people and the intrinsic, God given value of all people regardless of their beliefs, race, sexuality, gender identity or immigration status in this country…”

Read: I disrupted a speech by Jeff Sessions on religious liberty. My Baptist faith compelled me

12. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The Rhode Island Media Cooperative‘s Andrew Stewart interviews Bella Robinson ahead of December 17’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Robinson is the executive director of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (Coyote RI), a group of sex workers, former sex workers, trafficking victims and allies that are advocating for policies that promote the health and safety of people involved in the sex industry.

13. ACLU

The ACLU of RI announced Wednesday “the settlement of a lawsuit that will ensure that no shelter operating on State property is required to turn away vulnerable homeless Rhode Islanders seeking shelter even though beds are available.  The settlement reached today ended a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and John MacDonald challenging a state law, slated to take effect last January and specifically aimed at Harrington Hall in Cranston, which limited the number of registered sex offenders that could stay there to 10 percent of the shelter’s population, which amounts to 11 people.”

See: ACLU Settles Lawsuit Preserving Shelter Access for Homeless People

14. Bartholomewtown Podcast

An interview with WPRI reporter Kim Kalunian

15. Burrillville going solar?

Sandy Seoane, writing for Burrillville Now:

Town looks to install solar on 16.5 acres in Commerce Park

16. Kennedy Plaza

Marly Toledano, writing for the College Hill Independent:

Safety First – But Wait, There’s More: Juggling multiple interests in the improvements to Kennedy Plaza

17. Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Richard Asinof, writing for ConvergenceRI:

Meet Tonya Harris, the new director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence

18. Driverless Buses

Tim Faulkner, writing for EcoRI:

Driverless Mini-Buses Headed to Providence Next Year

19. Hilary Levey Friedman

The Public’s Radio interviews Hilary Levery Friedman, president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization For Women.

Political Roundtable: Levey Friedman On Fane Tower, Women’s Issues In The RI House & George H.W. Bush

Bonus Q&A: Levey Friedman On Electing More Women, Fighting Harassment & The Merits Of Beauty Pageants

20. The Womxn Project

The Womxn Project has announced a new podcast premiering in January of next year, The Pie-Corner Talks, by Jennifer Rourke.

“Jennifer Rourke brings a new Rhode Island podcast that will break down the mystery of what happens at the State House through the lens of reproductive freedom. She will host perspectives from guests across the state about issues that matter to them and how they intersect with reproductive freedom.”

21. Picture of the week:

World AIDS Day at the Rhode Island State House

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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.

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