Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, December 14, 2018

“Allow us to be very clear: we will not accept the usual excuses that our kids are too poor and our homes are too broken for our babies to learn.” -Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) “a newly founded, parent-led, grassroots organization with a mission to fight for parent voice in education decision-making, and for access to a high-quality public
Photo for The Uprising, December 14, 2018

Published on December 14, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

“Allow us to be very clear: we will not accept the usual excuses that our kids are too poor and our homes are too broken for our babies to learn.”-Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) “a newly founded, parent-led, grassroots organization with a mission to fight for parent voice in education decision-making, and for access to a high-quality public school option for all children of color.”

Welcome to the Uprising!

1. Hope Point Tower

In the end, Providence City Councilor Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) changed her mind and became the deciding vote to override Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s veto of the zoning variance requested by developer, Jason Fane, of the Hope Point Tower, thus granting the developer’s request for height relief and zoning change.

Harris justified her decision with a long monologue that talked about a lot of issues, including affordable housing, and she promised that the City Council would address the affordable housing crisis, in part with money brought to the City by the Hope Point Tower.

DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), Neighbors 4 Revitalization, and Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP) had issued an open letter vowing support for Harris if she decided to vote against overturning the veto. These groups said they would be willing to accept the Hope Point Tower, if the following conditions were met:

  • Contributions to the city to fund rehabilitation of abandoned properties, finance the construction and maintenance of low-income housing, and offer rental vouchers to those transitioning from homelessness, and
  • Designate at least 40 percent of all housing created in the development as affordable to very low and low income families in Providence (those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less)
  • Create 1 new job for every $35,000 given in tax breaks and or subsidies,
  • Ensure that new hires reflect the racial demographics of the city of Providence,
  • Use apprenticeship programs for construction projects,
  • Prioritize hiring people from census tracts with high crime, unemployment and poverty,
  • Ensure there is no discrimination against job applicants with criminal records and prioritize hiring formerly incarcerated workers, and
  • Fully comply with Providence’s “First Source” local hiring ordinance.

It goes without saying that none of these conditions are currently being so much as considered by the City Council or the Fane Organization, the group that wants to build the project.

And it’s not just groups that advocate for affordable housing that oppose the project. A long list of neighborhood groups and business concerns are also in opposition. They write: “Changing the rules after the City Council adopted both the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Plan in 2014 signals that rules don’t matter. This change is spot zoning being granted to a single developer. It is critical to developers and investment partners that guidelines are predictable and remain consistent throughout the build-out of an area. Drastically changing the rules midstream for one developer introduces doubt and uncertainty for both current and prospective developers.”

While many are opposed to the project, some, like the Building Trades and Ed Achorn from the Providence Journal, are in favor. But the low-point in the entire affair, no matter which side you stand on, is City Councilor John Igliozzi (Ward 7)’s excuse for delaying the vote on the veto for two days on Tuesday. Asked the reason for the delay, Igliozzi said:

“It’s pretty simple. As you can see, we don’t have the full council here this evening and I thought it important that all of us, the full council, should have an opportunity to weigh in on such a serious issue.”

City Councilors Seth Yurdin (Ward 1) and Wilbur Jennings (Ward 8) were not in attendance.

Can you help Uprise RI?

Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials accountable. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve on the beat, covering the costs of reporting our stories. If you are able to, please support us. Every contribution, big or small is so valuable. You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you.

“So we want to give deference to our Council colleagues and the people they represent,” continued Igliozzi. “So continuing it for two days will not impact that and they will have an opportunity. It’s all about Democracy.”

The truth is that Igliozzi didn’t have the votes on Tuesday due Jenning’s absence. Despite Igliozzi’s commitment to Democracy, the vote went off as planned on Thursday despite the absence of Yurdin.

Laughter broke out in the gallery at Igliozzi’s excuse, but it wasn’t funny. As a person said to me afterwards, Igliozzi’s statement was “deeply cynical” and “an insult to Democratic values.”

On Facebook a comment was written that pointed out that the word Igliozzi was looking for wasn’t “Democracy” but “Oligarchy.”

2a. Invenergy

The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) is set to resume hearings on Invenergy‘s planned $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island early next year on January 8, 9, 16 and 17. These hearings will take up the issue of whether the power plant is needed.

Ahead of the hearings, new testimony is being filed because the hearings are taking so long (it’s been four years since Invenergy filed their application) that a lot o the previous testimony is out-of-date.

In those four years, Invenergy’s expert witness Ryan Hardy has made a series of predictions, almost all of them proven wrong.

  • Hardy predicted that Invenergy would clear both turbines in FCA-10, which it did not;
  • Hardy predicted that Invenergy would clear Turbine Two in FCA-11, which it did not;
  • Hardy predicted that Invenergy would clear Turbine Two in FCA-12, the very month that the ISO disqualified Invenergy’s Turbine Two from participating in FCA-12;
  • Hardy predicted that Invenergy would clear Turbine Two in FCA-13, but Turbine Two was again disqualified from FCA-13 and the CSO on Turbine One was terminated.

The expert witness for Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), n the other hand, Robert Fagan, has shown itself to be accurate.

Imagine if Invenergy had been granted the expedited approval for heir application, as they had requested at the beginning on these EFSB proceedings. Rhode Island would be regretting the licensing of a fracked gas power plant based on a series of poor predictions and bad science.

2b. Native American Sites

If built, the Invenergy power plant will be on land presently occupied by at least three Native American archeological sites. Invenergy expert witness Christopher Donta believes that “the Project will not cause unacceptable harm to any significant cultural or historic properties.”

It would be interesting to hear what the Native American Tribes who originally occupied this land think about Donta’s assertion that the sites under threat from Invenergy were “not significant.”

2c. Providence Water

Unintended consequences?

“In my limited experience dealing in the financial space, there are certain implications that can arise from these types of conversations,” said Xaykham Khamsyvoravong, Chair of the Providence Water Supply Board to the Board’s legal advisor, William O’Gara, asking the attorney to look into whether or not there are any tax implications or any issues under our existing indenture in regard to the RFQ that has been issued by the City.

“It has been raised that this could potentially impact our ability to borrow from the State Infrastructure Bank, it could potentially impact our current, existing outstanding debt and I just want to make sure that as the City pursues what the City needs to under the Mayor’s directive that this board at least will continues to operate and meet the expectations of ratepayers while also serving the City itself.”

2d. Sunrise RI

Over 40 people sat in the office of United States Representative James Langevin Thursday afternoon after being refused a meeting to discuss a House Select Committee on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s Green New Deal. This comes just days after 1000 young people with Sunrise Movement traveled to D.C. asking Democratic leaders to support the resolution.

Langevin’s Chief of Staff, Seth Klaiman, said it would be rash for the Congressman to endorse legislation that did not exist. So Langevin, unlike his fellow Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline, is not onboard with Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal.

2e. Plastic Bags

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced Friday that the organization plans to push for legislation banning single-use plastic bags in all six New England states as part of its campaign to eliminate plastics in the region. The news comes as Boston’s city-wide plastic bag ban takes effect today.

3a. Counselors not Cops

The Providence Student Union (PSU) kicked off their new campaign demanding an increase in school counselors and health care staff and the removal of the eight school resource officers (SROs) from Providence Schools.

“Cops are not necessary in schools, it makes students feel uncomfortable and can be replaced by alternatives such as safety teams or trained staff that know how to de escalate situations,” said Providence Career & Technical Academy (PCTA) student and PSU member Aleita Cook. “Counselors and mental health workers are extremely important because there are students in school that go through mental health problems and don’t know what to do about it. Students should not have to feel alone because they have no one to listen to them.”

3b. Sandy Hook

The sixth vigil in as many years was held at the First Unitarian Church of Providence, marking the terrible events of December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children, aged six and seven years, along with six adults, were fatally shot. That event was a wake up call for a United States plagued with guns and gun violence, even as such tragedies continue at other schools, at concerts, in nightclubs, in churches and in synagogues.

Scott Lapham, director of the One Gun Gone Project, gave an art performance in which a wax gun was melted down and transformed into a candle. Lapham was accompanied by his students, including Raul Velasquez, Edwin Pastor, Brandon Morales, Joseph Rocha and Ashley Rodriguez.

Reverend Maclay was joined by Reverend Jamie Washam from the First Baptist Church of Providence and artist Howie Sneider to present the Garden Spade and Root Shovel made from the firearms acquired last spring as part of the Guns to Plowshares program. The Reverends consecrated the tools “to the fulfillment of their new purpose.”

3c. PLEE

Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) “is a newly founded, parent-led, grassroots organization with a mission to fight for parent voice in education decision-making, and for access to a high-quality public school option for all children of color.”

The group looks to:

  • Leverage collective knowledge and power among Rhode Island families to exercise our right to advocate for high-quality public schools, policy decisions that impact our kids; and
  • Demand the voice of parents in education decision-making at the local and state level; and
  • Advocate for policies that positively impact outcomes for children of color; and
  • Collaborate with other Rhode Island organizations aligned with PLEE’s mission and vision.

Read their open letter here.

3d. Judges

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has nominated a diverse set of six people to the bench.

“For whatever reasons, in my term as governor there’s been a number of vacancies and so we are seizing upon the opportunity to put the most qualified people we can on the bench. Also making sure that they are people deeply committed to Rhode Island and that they look like the people who come before them,” said Raimondo. “I’m very proud to be appointing one of the most diverse sets of judges, I think, really, ever, that any governor has been able to appoint at one time.”

The six nominees will need to be approved by the Rhode Island State Senate, which should be a rubber stamp.

4a. Healthy Planet Cleaning Co-op

Health Planet Cleaning Co-Op (HPCC) was co-founded in May, 2018, incorporated  under new legislation enacted in Rhode Island in January of this year. This is a new model of democratically owned business where the workers are the owners. Five people will manage the business, make all the decisions the business makes in a democratic manner and the owners of the business themselves will be the ones doing the work.

A celebration was held in Central Falls City Hall to announce the co-op. Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea were in attendance.

HPCC is fully bonded and insured. The company uses eco-friendly cleaning products which are safer for the worker/owners to use and are “Home Safe / Pet Safe / Planet Safe.” HPCC is available for commercial, industrial, residential, and post-construction cleaning jobs.

Health Planet Cleaning Co-Op is also the latest advertiser on Uprise RI!

4b. Workers Cooperative Academy

On Saturday, the Workers Cooperative Academy graduated its second class in a short ceremony held at Navigant Credit Union in Central Falls.

19 people graduated the class, and may be soon starting new cooperative businesses in Rhode Island.

The classes are organized by the POWER Network (People Owning Wider Economic Resources), a coalition of public, private, and non-profit partners that incubates worker-owned and -managed cooperatives.

5. Latino Policy Institute

The Latino Policy Institute (LPI) at Roger Williams University (RWU) on Wednesday announced that Marcela Betancur will become its new director on January 14.

6. House District 68 special election

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced that there will be a special election in Representative District 68 to fill the seat of Representative Kenneth Marshall (Democrat) on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Representative District 68 includes parts of Bristol and Warren.

7. Refugee Dream Center

The Refugee Dream Center, with a grant from the Department of Public Safety Grant Administration Office, has developed a program called Breaking Barriers, which will train refugees living in various communities within Rhode island to help deliver access to vital services, including mental health services, to vulnerable refugee communities.

“It’s a combination of two ideas,” said Refugee Dream Center Executive Director Omar Bah. “Survival leaders, [refugees] who survived the violence one way or another, and now they are supporting their own communities.

“At the Refugee Dream Center we model that, because most of us are former refugees, but on the weekends and at odd hours we are not home,” continued Bah. “But it is very likely that Achmed or Kamal will be living in the same apartment building as other families, and those families can be seeking help at any time.

“So that’s the grassroots approach were are modeling here.”

8. George Wiley Center

Activists from the George Wiley Center stood outside the National Grid offices on Melrose Street in Providence Thursday afternoon to sing modified Christmas Carols with a serious point: They want National Grid to open a customer service center at the site.

“We’re demanding that they open an office again,” said Camilo Viveiros, coordinator at the George Wiley Center. “They have an office in Brooklyn, New York. We think there’s no reason why New Yorkers should have it better than Rhode Islanders. We pay our bills just like they do in New York.”

Here’s “Away in an Apartment” to the tune of “Away in a Manger” :

9. Mental Health Parity Initiative

The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island (MHARI) launched its Rhode Island Parity Initiative (RIPI) last Thursday at Butler Hospital’s Ray Conference Center. RIPI is a statewide public awareness campaign to educate and empower people to understand and assert their rights to health insurance coverage for mental health – including addiction – treatment and services.

“It is time for health insurers to stop the practice of stigmatizing mental illness,” said Ruth Feder, MHARI executive director. “Mental illnesses are no less real, no less serious and, often, no less lethal than other medical conditions. We want every Rhode Islander to understand what parity means. Our goal is to arm Rhode Islanders with the basic knowledge of their rights to parity, how to assert those rights, and where to get assistance to assert them, if needed. By helping all to assert their right to equal treatment by insurers, we can make change.”

10. Yemen

The entire Rhode Island delegation signed on to the War Powers Act for Yemen

11. Transit Forward RI 2040

Three Rhode Island agencies, the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration (RIPTA), the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Division of Planning, are collaborating on Transit Forward Rhode Island 2040, a project to “envision how our passenger transportation network should look and operate in the future.”

The plan seeks to develop a transit vision for Rhode Island over the next two decades, identify the specific improvements needed to achieve the vision, identify potential new sources of funding for the improvements and identify governance changes that could help move the plan forward and improve service delivery.

12. Pre-emption

I write about pre-emption as much as I can.

See: Rhode Island is the only New England state relying on anti-labor, ALEC-inspired preemption clauses and Providence wants to regulate firearms, so the state needs to repeal preemption

Writing for the Economic Policy Institute, Marni von Wilbert defines “preemption” as “a situation in which a state law is enacted to block a local ordinance from taking effect or [to] dismantle an existing ordinance.” In the same piece von Wilbert writes, “conservative state legislators have increasingly used preemption laws to strike down local government efforts to increase the quality of life for working people in their municipalities.”

When it comes to gun laws, Rhode Island is not alone in having an overzealous State legislature taking control from local municipalities. As Jennifer Mascia points out in The Trace:

In Much of the Country, Cities Can’t Enact Their Own Gun Laws
Here’s what you need to know about NRA-backed pre-emption laws, which limit local regulation of firearms.

13. Atheism

New research finds that bias against candidates who don’t believe in God has notably weakened. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for the American Humanist Association and the Center for Freethought Equality and funded by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation shows that being nonreligious, agnostic, or atheist need not be considered an impediment to a candidate’s electoral success.

14. Foxy Lady

A letter seeking signers is opposed to the December 11th arrest of three sex workers by undercover law enforcement officers for charges of soliciting for prostitution at the Foxy Lady in Providence.

“The raid on the Foxy Lady confirms that Rhode Island law enforcement’s policing of sex workers serves to harass and intimidate workers under the guise of protection. This raid is a grotesque misuse of taxpayer dollars to oppress adult women whose only alleged crime is selling services to consenting adults in a private location.”

You can read the letter in it’s entirety here, and sign on if you are so inclined.

15. Sinclair Media

“Last March, Frank Coletta and Alison Bologna, anchors at WJAR, the NBC affiliate station in Rhode Island, gave a speech on air decrying ‘false news’ as a national threat. Meanwhile, people around the country—in Seattle, Baltimore, San Antonio, and many other cities—watched anchors make an identical statements. All of the anchors worked for stations owned by Sinclair, the largest television station operator in America (Sinclair purchased WJAR in 2014). Sinclair called the script an “anchor-delivered journalistic responsibility message,” and mandated that anchors at each station read the script on air.

“Sinclair management wrote a script telling the anchors to introduce themselves and then say they were ‘extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces.’ The speech then launched into criticism of the media, echoing comments from President Trump: ‘The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media…Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.'” …


Talking Heads: Sinclair and rising conservative influence in RI media by Alina Kulman at the College Hill Independent

16. Bartholomewtown Podcast

Dr. Wendy Schiller (Chair, Brown University Department of Political Science)

Dr Wendy Schiller is Chairwoman of Brown University’s political science department, where she instructs students in poli-sci and international and public affairs.

Hilary Levey Friedman (President, RI NOW)

Hilary Levey Friedman teaches courses in Brown University’s Department of Education, and is also an author and the President of The Rhode Island chapter of The National Organization for Women.

17. ACLU

Eight state-based and national advocacy organizations – including the ACLU of RI, the NAACP Providence Branch, the National Employment Law Center, and JustLeadershipUSA – have sharply criticized the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) for a “disturbing trend” of “undermining a major goal of criminal justice reform by increasing the barriers for people with past criminal records or substance use disorders to obtain professional licensing.” The five-page letter to DOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott highlights several recent Department rule enactments or re-adoptions that the groups say unfairly allow for the disqualification of people with any criminal record from obtaining professional licenses in a number of fields – ranging from EMTs to midwives to physical therapy assistants…

Read more

18. Picture of the Week:

The end of the school to prison pipeline, courtesy of the Providence Student Union

UpriseRI is entirely supported by donations and advertising. Every little bit helps:
Become a Patron!

Did you enjoy this article?

More Editorial & Opinion Coverage