The Uprising! March 24, 2019

Another late edition of The Uprising! There’s just so much stuff going on!

It was kind of sad week, with vigils held for Lauren Ise, a victim of domestic abuse, and for the mass shooting victims in New Zealand, who were just people trying to pray in peace. At the same time, it was kind of a hopeful week, as people pushed back against water privatization in Providence, reckless gun laws at the State House, and advocated for our government to do more for families and more to bring secure housing within reach of those most in need.

Let’s take a look:

1a. New Zealand

The white supremacist terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 50 dead, 50 wounded and dozens missing sparked horror and outrage across the world. The victims, which included men and women, from ages two to 71 was specifically targeted at the Muslim community and took place in a mosque and an Islamic Center.

Here in Providence, the religious community, representing Jewish, Christian, non-believers and more, gathered to support their Muslim brothers and sisters at a vigil in the parking lot of Masjid Al Kareem, the Islamic Center of Rhode Island. I estimate that around 500 people attended.

I was reminded of the vigil held outside the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island to mourn the loss of life to hate and gun violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh last October.

“When he was done he had murdered 51 people and their only crime was that they were Muslim,” said Mufti Ikram al-Huqq. “They were worshiping Allah. They were worshiping the God. All of this is painful for all of us. We all are hurt. And this pain has been going on for a while now. And we must come together to stop this bleeding of humanity. Because we are all bleeding…”

1b. Rhode Island

The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee took up 18 separate bills having to do with guns on Tuesday. Crowds of people on both sides of the issue testified for and against the bills. Early on, Representative Dennis Canario (Democrat, District 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) summed up the argument on the pro-gun side rather succinctly, saying,

“You know, everybody wants to keep the kids safe, don’t get me wrong. But we can’t do it at the expense of taking away someone’s rights.”

I hope the parents burying their children across the United States can find some measure of peace knowing that their children died in service to the Constitution.

1c. Las Vegas

The smallness of Canario’s point of view was vividly revealed when East Greenwich resident Erica Keuter spoke to the legislators. In brief testimony, Keuter described surviving the deadliest mass shooting in the United States, in which a gunman opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas. Here’s the beginning of her testimony:

“My name is Erica Keuter… I live in East Greenwich and I am a survivor of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. On October 1, 2017, I was having a wonderful time listening to country music with friends at Route 91 Country Music Festival in Las Vegas when a lone gunman fired more than 1100 rounds from his hotel room on the 32nd floor. He killed 58 people and 851 people were physically injured all within 11 minutes.

“He had numerous high capacity magazines capable of holding 100 rounds a piece. All these weapons were legally purchased. We were sitting ducks and he just took aim. When we first heard the gunfire, we were not sure what it was until people were hit with bullets and the yelling and screaming began.

“I dove for the ground and my husband dove on top of me to shield me from bullets in hopes that one of us would make it home to our girls. We felt the blast of the bullets as they whizzed by us. When I looked up, I saw people who were shot laying all around me, including our dear friend.

“I watched as he gasped for air and his wife frantically searching for his inhaler, and him telling her to run, she needed to get to her daughter.

“I saw people trying to be revived as they laid motionless and I saw so much blood. I heard screaming and crying and smelled gunpowder and saw the carnage that one person can do with these firearms, all of which were legally owned.

“One minute we were singing and dancing and the next, we were trying to survive…”

1d. Rhode Island

“I would much rather send my children, when I do have them, where’s there’s a responsible gun owner on premise,” said House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) to Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence) during the House Judiciary Committee hearings.

“That’s your opinion and there are many, many people who feel differently and that’s who I’ve been hearing from in my district,” countered Kazarian.

“I understand that,” replied Filippi. “Listen, we operate on facts, not emotion. So thank you.”

1e. Providence

Nearly 200 people, mostly students, gathered on the southern steps of the Rhode Island State House to once again demand changes to state and federal laws surrounding guns. The event was planned for the anniversary of last year’s March for Our Lives rally, which brought around 5000 people to the State House. Last year’s event was inspired by the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the amazing activism of the student survivors there.

As state and federal lawmakers refuse to budge on guns, the youth are pushing hard, channeling revolutionary language to make their points. Here are some examples from the rally:

“…every day I see students just like me protesting in the streets because their brother was gunned down in math class,” said Francesca Binder, a Junior at Classical High School in Providence. “I see teens, just like me, building a revolution before they can even vote… gun violence is a poison, a virus…”

“We have something now we haven’t had before. We have an amazing group of young revolutionaries, an inspiring, heroic, legendary lot of people ready to do whatever it takes to make this country a safer place,” said Miguel Figueroa, a Chilean social activist and member of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) and Students Demand Action. “And we’re out here, showing our strength, and scaring the shit out of our out of touch friends in the State House…”

“Being young and not being a revolutionary is a biological contradiction,” said 12 year old Cole Middle School student Eduardo Figueroa, quoting Salvador Allende. “Us young people will not stand by as people die across the country and we sure as hell won’t be silent.”

The final student speaker was Halima Ibrahim, who last year knocked out the crowd with her poem, “Wake Up!” This year Ibrahim presented a new poem, “The Hero’s Journey.” Here are a few lines:

When you asked us what we wished for we said world peace.
When you asked us who we wanted to be when we grew up we said the first female presidents.
We said pirates and princesses and superheroes.
Do not expect us to be quiet while we watch our world be destroyed.
Do not be surprised when we decide to make those dreams a reality.
Do not be surprised when we stand up and fight. Do not be surprised when we call BS.
The pirates are going to take back the nation. The superheroes are going to lead the world to peace. The princesses are going to rule.
We are not the school shooting generation. We are not the Tide Pod generation.
We are the revolutionaries. We rise up…

2a. Rhode Island Democratic Party

Sunday night’s Rhode Island Democratic Party elections have suddenly become very interesting as at least two progressive woman lawmakers have announced their intention to run against conservative incumbents.

Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence) is challenging the Chair of the Party, Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick). McNamara made international news when he endorsed former Republican and conservative Trump supporter and MAGA sign wielder Michael Earnheart over Walsh in the 2018 election. Walsh handily defeated Earnhardt.

Walsh said her run for the Chair’s seat is not petty or personal.

“The primary reason that I am running is that I believe that our Party should be run democratically,” said Walsh. “Since I’ve been elected as a Representative in 2016, I’ve been actively fighting for rules reform, transparency, democracy and equity within the State House, so it should come as no surprise that I expect the same from my party. As of right now, there are a lot of problems within the party that are very similar to the problems within the State House. Namely, power is significantly centralized to one member of the Party, that being the Chairman.”

At the same time, Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) will be challenging conservative Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) for the position of Secretary of the Party.

In a series of tweets Tanzi wrote:

2b. Nicholas Mattiello

Speaking of Representative Tanzi, she just wrote this blockbuster piece on Facebook:

“The @RISpeaker had sent word that He will never pass anything with my name on it,” writes Tanzi. “Why, might you ask?

“Has to do with the fact I refused to support Him in the leadership race in January, and with the State @RIDemParty elections today Seems my latest decision to challenge the current secretary of the State @RIDemParty has upset the @RISpeaker enough to have “someone” call the lobbyist working with these advocates on His behalf and say the bill has no chance with me as the main sponsor…”

3a. Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza held the second of three scheduled Community Conversations on his idea to “monetize” Providence Water, that is, to enter into a public-private partnership with a large company that will pay the City for the rights to manage and profit from the Providence Water system. (See coverage of the first Community Conversation here.)


The next Community Conversation is scheduled for:

Monday, March 25 6pm-7:30pm, Nathan Bishop Middle School, 101 Session Street, Providence


Around fifty members of the public attended the meeting, most were from Providence but at least five people attended from the towns of Scituate and North Scituate. Present also were activists from Water Is Life – Land & Water Sovereignty Campaign, a group established to protect water in Rhode Island from corporate despoliation.

If anything, the push back against Elorza’s plan to lease the water supply is intensifying.

“You’re coming before us hoping that no one has any information or any ability to do research,” said Gillian Kiley, who wrote about the possible sale or lease of the water system back in May 2018. “25 percent of any transaction like this, which I consider to be a., immoral and b., completely impractical, is eaten up by transaction fees. So take 25 percent away. That’s $300 million. $300 million does not solve the pension crisis once and for all or at all…”

Kiley went on to point out that there is no example of a water deal like the one proposed working out for the municipality. The three examples the City provided at the last Community Conversation by Providence City Solicitor Jeffrey Dana – Allentown, Pennsylvania; Rialto, California and Bayonne New Jersey – are all experiencing rate hikes, labor issues and/or water quality issues.

In response, the administration is now claiming that despite such a plan not working in any of the 600 or so municipalities where it has been tried, Providence is a unique situation, and they are confident that they can work it out.

“I’ve tried to be respectful. I’ve sat hear and listened to both sides,” said a person from North Scituate, “I’m to understand… that a city that somehow, for the last two decades has headed for bankruptcy, is somehow capable of becoming not the 601st city, but the only city in the country that can pull off this magic trick, extracting massive amounts of money from the Suez Water country or God knows what they’re called?

“I apologize for losing it but I’ve listened to you guys for an hour and a half and I’m not buying it… This is the most absurd idea anybody’s ever come up with.”

Applause.

3b. Brown University?

Mayor Elorza has presented his plan to lease the water as the only way to save Providence from bankruptcy caused by the underfunded pension system. Brown University graduate Daniel Crowell says it’s time for Brown and other non-profits to start paying their fair share:

“Currently, Brown pays a token sum to Providence through a voluntary agreement in lieu of taxes. That agreement ought to be annulled and replaced with compulsory taxation. Of course, some will argue we should just be grateful that Brown brings jobs to the city and that local businesses profit from wealthy visitors. While we do get those benefits, the university also drives up the cost of living, squeezing out working-class residents. And there is no serious risk of capital flight when you tax an elite college campus. Brown is not going to pack up the Main Green and move to Massachusetts.

“Providence residents must demand that Mayor Elorza exhaust every opportunity to tax wealthy institutions such as Brown before he even thinks about privatizing city water. It’s the least he could do.”

4. Parentage

Rhode Island’s parentage laws are woefully out of date. The statutes were enacted in 1979, and have not been revised or updated much since that time. Some parts of Rhode Island’s parentage laws are archaic and perhaps unconstitutional, since the United States Supreme Court held that laws barring marriage between two people of the same sex are unconstitutional in Obergefell v Hodges (2015).

Two bills introduced by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) would remedy this situation, and bring Rhode Island squarely into the 21st Century regarding parentage.

The first bill, H5706, would simplify the process for same sex couples to adopt their own children. The current process takes months to complete, requires parents to undergo a rigorous screening process, place advertisements in the newspaper notifying anonymous sperm donors that the court will be suspending their paternal rights, includes finger printing and home visits, and invasive questionnaires.

Opposite sex couples do not have to undergo this process, even if unmarried.

The next bill, the Uniform Parentage Act, H5707, is a more comprehensive overhaul of Rhode Island’s parentage laws. This law would bring Rhode Island up to date with current scientific advances and cultural norms, and provides procedures establishing parentage, genetic testing, surrogacy agreements and assisted reproduction.

No one spoke against the bills, and even conservative Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) said that he would support the legislation, to the surprise of Representative McEntee.

“You don’t have to convince me,” said Corvese. “I’ve already committed to both bills if they hit this committee…”

“Whoa!” said Representative McEntee.

“As everyone knows I am politically and philosophically consistent and I don’t break my word,” said Corvese.

5. Source of Income Discrimination

While the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, sex and disability, and Rhode Island law offers further protections, landlords may still reject interested renters because of where their income comes from, even if they can afford the listed rent. Those most vulnerable to this type of discrimination include tenants that are disproportionately disabled, low-income, families with children and people of color.

Now the Providence City Council will consider, with the support of Mayor Jorge Elorza, an ordinance to prevent this kind of discrimination.

“Our goal is to end discrimination based on income from public assistance and housing vouchers, statewide, by starting right here in our Capital City,” said Providence City City Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13), who is introducing the ordinance. “Because, as we often hear, as Providence goes, so does the state. If you have the funds to pay your rent, that should be the end of the discussion. Sadly, for many in our community, it’s not. This ordinance will put an end to the housing discrimination that too many face, and it will provide a pathway to keeping our neighborhoods thriving, and also keep them diverse.

“When it comes to basic human rights like having a roof over our heads, if you can afford it, no matter the source of income, you should be afforded the same opportunity as the next person,” continued Miller.

6. Hair

Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) has introduced legislation, for the fourth year in a row, to “exempt natural hair braiders from the requirement to be licensed as hairdressers or cosmeticians, and would define the practice of natural hair braiding.” Last year the bill passed the House but didn’t pass the Senate.

This is unfortunate, because as I showed last year, this bill and its implication for low-income black women are profound. This is the kind of bill that can literally lift people out of poverty. There are also important cultural and racial implications addressed by passing this bill. Hair braiding is a cultural tradition, and forcing onerous licensing on those who wish to practice this tradition is racist.

This year, after Williams presented her bill, a new wrinkle was added. Brown University student Austen Rose testified on behalf on Representative Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick)’s bill, H5680, which would repeal and replace all Rhode Island law governing barbers, hairdressers, cosmeticians, manicurists and estheticians, and enact “a new all-encompassing registration and regulation procedure” similar to that of New York.

Rose, following in the footsteps of conservative economists like Milton Friedman, noted that regulation and licensing are often a barrier to job entry and job creation. This argument is obvious when it comes to something like natural hair braiding. When applied to a field like medicine, barriers to easy job entry become necessary for human health and safety. Rose claims that by examining the numbers, and comparing the licensing in Rhode Island to states and countries where licensing is less onerous or non-existent, we can see that the licensing of hairdressers and barbers in Rhode Island only serves those who charge fees for training, and prevents people from entering this job market.

You can read an oped from Rose about his ideas here and watch him in the video below:

7. ICE

The ACLU of RI has learned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun moving some detainees from facilities near the southern border of the United States to the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls. The news follows months of reports of cruelty, human rights violations, and an inhumane “family separation” policy at the hands of ICE agents and in immigration detention facilities across the nation.

8. Medicaid

“This week, state lawmakers in the House Finance Committee considered a proposal to penalize businesses whose low-income employees receive Medicaid,” writes Andy Boardman. “On its face, the proposal appears to be a narrow matter of fiscal management. But it also represents something far more significant: the state of Rhode Island’s public morality…”

Another fantastic piece by Andy Boardman analyzing the fiscal and moral impacts of Raimondo’s plan to force corporations to pay their share of Medicaid expenses for their employees.

“It’s true that measures tasking corporations with more social responsibility won’t sufficiently support all low-income Rhode Islanders unless they are matched with more universalist policies,” writes Boardman. “But unless and until the state overcomes its aversion to spending and taxation, we can expect the corporatist approach to prevail.”

9. Senate Rules

State Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) wrote and oped explaining the importance of robust Senate Rules to maintaining good Democracy. Nesselbush writes:

“Rhode Island is great place to live, but our General Assembly is badly broken. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil (or the demise of democracy) is for good people to do nothing.” That is what happened in our Senate last week.

“And that’s why Rhode Island will continue to lose population and why the public will continue to lose faith in its government, frustrated by the “leadership” and “followship” we have here. I ask you to join me in a call for more and better democracy, with less concentration of power in the hands of the powerful few. Until the public demands change, the few will continue to take advantage of the many. For a state whose symbol is hope, it feels almost hopeless.

“Rise Up Rhode Island!”

10. Rhode Island Foreign Language Association

“Now it is time to ensure that all Rhode Island students have access to a multilingual education; our future depends on it!” write Rabia Hos and Erin Papa, from the Rhode Island Foreign Language Association.

“We can start by supporting the World Language and Dual Language Immersion Act, Senate Bill 0198 and House Bill 5192. These bills would establish a dual language program fund and a World Language and Dual Language Immersion Specialist position at RIDE to lead and coordinate efforts across the state. Join us to advocate for state-level support for a #MultilingualRI at Rhode Island’s first Multilingual Education Advocacy Day at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 from 3:00-5:00pm!”

11. UHIP

Richard Asinof from ConvergenceRI writes a great piece on Governor Gina Raimondo‘s decision to renew Rhode Island’s contract with Deloitte. “Despite what the Governor said in explaining her decision to renew the Deloitte contract, after three years of flawed operations, there are still apparently ongoing, pervasive, unresolved glitches with the UHIP software system that require major fixes…”

When it comes to UHIP, money talks, the needy walk

12. RI Future

Bob Plain, my editor at RI Future, is taking a sabbatical from journalism and “going back to Vermont where for the next 8 months I’ll be living at and working for a CBD cannabis farm in the Hardwick area.”

13. LEAD

“Jails and prisons have become the United States’ largest housing complex and healthcare system for people with mental health and substance abuse issues. As former Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox told the College Hill Independent, “it’s not working.”

“Cox, now director of policing strategies for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, is building new solutions. LEAD is a pre-arrest program that interrupts the revolving-door cycle of incarceration (about half of people released from jail or prison will return within three years, according to the Pew Center on the States) by helping people access stable housing and behavioral health services. When a LEAD-trained police officer arrests someone on an eligible charge, the officer can offer the individual enrollment in the program instead of putting them in jail. If the person opts in, they will be matched with a case manager and referred to services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, avoiding the criminal legal system altogether.

“Cox summarized LEAD neatly: “Police have to stop being everybody’s answer to public health issues. Law enforcement can’t solve homelessness.”

“Now, local advocates want to bring LEAD to Rhode Island. Diego Arene-Morley, the community engagement coordinator at Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts (RICARES), is working to bring the program to Pawtucket, as a response to the opioid crisis. (Central Falls, Providence, and Pawtucket have higher overdose rates than the rest of the state.) …

Read A Tale of Three Cities: Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion in Seattle, New Orleans, and Pawtucket by Rachel Rood-Ojalvo.

14. Lead

“The Providence Water headquarters in Lower South Providence is wedged between Mashapaug Pond—contaminated, still, from toxic waste emitted by the old Gorham silver spoon factory—and a set of old train tracks. It’s a low building topped with an assemblage of solar panels and the “PW” logo emblazoned on the facade. Inside the front set of doors is a customer service window through which you can spot dozens of phone operators taking calls about utility bills, water quality, and, maybe, lead.

“Through the back doors are the administrative and engineering offices. There is a pair of turnstile security gates at this entrance, but if you can get a pass and are buzzed through, there is a small museum that documents the history of the utility. They have models of old wooden pipes that once ran under the city, quaint compared to the huge cast-iron mains and lead services that now lie beneath the streets of Providence.

“In an austere conference room off the museum, the College Hill Independent met with a team of five Providence Water engineers to learn more about how they’re trying to manage a water system whose problems are sprawling. The Providence Water system has 13,800 homes serviced by a lead pipe and, from 2010 to 2017, failed to meet EPA standards in the 90th  percentile of homes tested for lead in the water seven out of those eight years…

Read There’s Still Something in the Water: The Public Health Crisis of Providence’s Lead Pipes by Peder Schaefer, Deborah Marini and Ricardo Gomez

15. Picture of the Week:

Jorge Elorza
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About Steve Ahlquist 864 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

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