“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
In Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 dystopian science fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the United States has been overthrown by Christian extremists and become a totalitarian state, a theonomy, in which women have become property. The book was written during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a darling of the religious right, and set in the near future. The book serves as a warning against the rise of the Christian right, which threatened to erode the hard won freedoms of women. Today, 34 years later, under the even more extreme presidency of Donald Trump, who panders to the religious right more than Reagan ever dared, the United States is poised to deny an important right from women: abortion.
Handmaids dress in red, except for a white bonnet. At the Rhode Island State House, women, organized by The Womxn Project, have begun wearing handmaid outfits while seated in the Senate galley and Senate committee rooms. They haunt these rooms of power silently, as handmaids in the novel must be, as a protest and warning against a science fiction future that seems to be becoming more possible every day.
The Senate has delayed passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act, which would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law. This law would protect abortion rights in our state were the Trump stacked United States Supreme Court ever to overturn that decision. The handmaids are a visible and terrifying reminder of the kind of world that awaits us when women lose the right to autonomy over their own bodies.
Over at The Womxn Project, Cori Garland writes about her experience dressed as a handmaid at the State House, including the effect it had on her and the effect it had on those who saw her.
“The costume is disorienting, and I didn’t feel like myself. Wherever we went, we were met by stares, smiles, giggles, and audible gasps. I’m not a shy person, but the attention even made me a little uneasy,” writes Garland. “Attention, however, was the point. And it worked. Senators and spectators were visibly disturbed by the visual of several handmaids. Some snapped photos. Some wagged their fingers. Some were clearly annoyed and uncomfortable. Good.”
Here’s some video:
1b. Franklin Graham
Speaking of Christian extremism, Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, is coming to East Providence on May 26 to preach his message of anti-LGBTQ, anti-Islam, pro-theocracy, pro-Trump intolerance. The last time Graham came to Rhode Island was ahead of the 2016 election. He stood on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House and basically stumped for then candidate Donald Trump. You can read what I wrote about Graham the last time he came to Rhode Island here.
2a. Second Amendment Sanctuary Town
The Burrillville Town Council passed a resolution declaring the Town of Burrillville a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town. The Town of Glocester is considering whether or not to follow suit. (Here’s a petition to sign if you oppose the idea.)
Town Councilor Donald Fox said during the meeting, “We’ve had a progressive creep in this state where every year we have to put on our yellow tee shirts and go down to the State House and fight against the Governor and often against the progressive wing in that building to maintain our constitutional rights and I for one I’m tired of it. I believe now is the time to begin pushing back.”
The resolution calls “for the Burrillville Police Department to exercise sound discretion when enforcing laws impacting the rights of citizens under the second amendment” – in other words, the Burrillville Police Department has been told by the town council that they don’t have to enforce state gun laws if they don’t want to.
The resolution was crafted to protect the legal rights of gun owners under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. But it was important, said Town Councilor David Anderson, introducing an amendment to the resolution, to be clear that these Second Amendment rights are not absolute: Certain people should not have a right to guns, like people convicted of crimes.
Anderson explained that in his amendment he really wanted, “to put the accent on the law-abiding citizens of Burrillville and note that the resolution is to protect and defend the law-abiding citizen’s Second Amendment rights from being encroached, but it does absolutely nothing to impact those who have forfeited their Second Amendment rights and are currently not legally entitled to firearms ownership or purchasing.”
This is all well and good, pointed out Town Councilor Jeremy Bailey, who was in full support of the resolution, but if people continue to own guns made illegal by the state government, how can we refer to them as “law-abiding?”
“If the state legislature passes a law, we [may be] current law abiding citizens, [but] may not [remain] law abiding citizens,” explained Bailey. “For example, let’s say they come out with some sort of a magazine cap so your standard off-the-shelf Glock that maybe holds 13 rounds – and they pass a law [and the] new cap is only ten [rounds] – so now you could potentially become a non-law abiding citizens by being in possession of it.”
“Then you have to legally, unless the law is challenged and overturned, have to surrender those magazines,” said Burrillville Town Solicitor William Dimitri.
“Which ain’t gonna happen by many people,” said Fox, defiantly.
“It’s not going to happen,” agreed Dimitri.
The resolution passed unanimously after the term “law-abiding” was stricken.
2b. Burrillville Now
- ‘Sanctuary’ resolution draws reactions statewide by Sandy Seone
3a. Wyatt Detention Facility
In the battle between people and profit, profit won once again in District Court. United States Chief Judge William Smith has granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the Wyatt Detention Facility bondholders (called the “Trustees” in his decision) and directed the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) board to rescind the April 5, 2019 vote suspending the contract between the Wyatt and the United States Marshall Service (USMS) to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees.
In other words, the Wyatt is open for business again, and will once again begin housing detainees under Donald Trump‘s zero tolerance southern border strategy. Though Central Falls City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk painted the ruling as a win of sorts for the detainees, who will now have a “Special Master” to over see the protection of their Constitutional rights, that’s not what the ruling says. The Special Master’s job is described as protecting the profitability of the prison, not prisoner rights.
The City of Central Falls, including elected officials such as Mayor James Diossa, City Council President Maria Rivera and other members of the City Council, as well as members of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) board are being sued by the Wyatt bonholders for $130 million in response to the elected officials call to shut down the Wyatt several weeks back.
Not so fast, said City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk. In a counter suit filed on April 23, Central Falls City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk counters that, “the Mayor and Councilmembers have spoken out against the action of the Corporation and the Warden, as is their First Amendment right to do so.”
Jerzyk hit the bondholders with an anti-SLAPP counter suit seeking attorney fees, costs and damages. When Judge Smith issued his ruling re-opening the facility to ICE detainees, he also stayed any hearings on the lawsuits and counter suits until July 24, 2019. So a resolution may be a long time coming.
4a. Worker’s Memorial Day
Over 100 people rallied at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket on Saturday to mark Workers’ Memorial Day, a day to remember “those who have suffered and died while earning a living.” People held signs, sang and chanted in front of Hope Artiste Village for about an hour before marching to the site of the old Hope Webbing Mill at the intersection of Esten Avenue and Warren Avenue.
The event served to highlight the October 22, 2018 accident that caused three workers to be badly injured when the floor collapsed at the site of the old Hope Webbing Mill during renovations. The owner of the mill is California developer Lance Robbins, who has been tagged as one of the worst slumlords in Los Angeles history.
At the rally, people demanded “justice and accountability” for the injured workers, adding that, “We will raise our collective voices to demand safe working conditions for all workers, in construction and in all industries.”
The workers demanded:
- A thorough investigation into all projects receiving tax credits and the revocation of such if labor law violations have occurred or are occurring;
- Guaranteed jobs for local workers;
- Guaranteed safe working conditions, with minimum training requirements and safety standards; and
- Guaranteed good middle class jobs by ensuring area standard wages and benefits are paid to all workers on jobs receiving tax payer money subsidies.
My thanks to Selene Means, who captured the event on video and in pictures while I was out of town.
4b. Worker’s Cooperatives
Worker owned cooperatives were celebrated on Tuesday at the Rhode Island State House, with a press conference, resolutions read in both chambers of the General Assembly and exhibitions from local cooperatives and supporters of cooperatives. The events were coordinated by Fuerza Laboral, the Central Falls Labor and Community Organization, and the Center for Employee Ownership, a group working to promote and support Worker Cooperatives.
Worker owned cooperatives are businesses established and rooted in communities within Rhode Island. These jobs don’t leave the state. Cooperatives are local, promote worker-owned job creation, and are democratic in nature. These jobs are also sustainable and green, such as the Healthy Planet Cleaning Co-op in Central Falls.
5. Sex Work is Work
“Sex. Now, we all like it. I know there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), introducing her bill to form a commission to study the laws around sex work, H5354. “But I don’t think there are enough of us bold enough, open enough, to talk about it – openly talk about it – have a grown folks conversation about these topics.”
At the House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday night, there were 18 people eager to talk about it. No one spoke in opposition to the creation of a commission. The came from all over the country and from literally the other side of the world to testify.
Dame Catherine Healy is a New Zealand sex workers’ rights activist, field researcher and former prostitute working for decriminalisation of prostitution and generally for the improvement of the sex work profession. She is the national coordinator and a founding member of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.
“New Zealand,” said Healy, “decriminalized sex work in 2003. We take the responsibility to ensure that sex workers have a relationship with government agencies etc. We broker a lot of relationships there with our contract with the Ministry of Health – they resource us.
“I have to say I can reflect on 17 years of criminalization and 17 years of decriminalization and we have a lot of evidence that we’ve gathered out of both of these different contexts. If you have a study commission… you will gather all that evidence as well and it will deliver some kind of situation you can reflect on and project into your future response to sex workers.”
6. John Hope Settlement House
It might be the perfect metaphor for gentrification in Providence. The John Hope Settlement House, a 90-year old community resource center built and named for one of the founders of the NAACP, with a mission to serve the entire community, most particularly communities of color and the Black community, is in negotiations to be taken over by the Wangari Maathai Charter School, which is being built to serve the children of gentrifiers.
Or at least that’s the way the story looks, considering that nobody from the Wangari Maathai Board or the John Hope Board will actually talk about the deal until after the deal is made, which could be as early as tomorrow. The secrecy and the tactical, feel good comments from the Wangari Maathai board seemed designed to deflect and delay inquiries, not promote honesty.
On Wednesday, 50 members of the community gathered at John Hope to demand that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) delay the approval of the Wangari Maathai Community School. These community members don’t want a charter school in their community center, they want a community center in their community center.
“We are not against Wangari Maathai School, we just don’t want it housed in John Hope” said Suzette Cook, who leads a growing group of “committed residents” in a campaign to prevent the takeover of John Hope. “John Hope is a 90-year old community resource center and we should be in celebration as opposed to standing here fighting to keep John Hope alive. We call on all our state and local elected officials, faith-based institutions in our neighborhood and other community organizations to join us in our stance to restore John Hope to its original purpose as an agency that is open to our entire community and is inclusive of all of our neighbors.”
“Several requests to John Hope have been ignored,” noted Cook. “These requests include a list of all current Board members (including names and their individual addresses), a copy of John Hope’s current bylaws and/or other governing documents that outline what is needed to make decisions, and the board meeting minutes that record when this board would have voted to approve the MOA with Wangari Maathai.”
Cook maintains that the statements of the boardmembers sited above and the lack of response from the John Hope board, “raises questions of whether the board at John Hope is following its own legal process to approve the agreement” with Wangari Maathai.
“We demand RIDE fulfill its required due diligence in making sure that its process to approve Wangari Maathai’s location is legitimate,” continued Cook.
7. Port of Providence
Shell Oil Products’ US Terminal at 520 Allens Ave is in the process of renewing their air quality permit, and two local groups, No LNG in PVD and the Washington Park Neighborhood Association(WPNA), are challenging that permit in a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) on both environmental and public health grounds.
“We are asking that DEM not renew the permit, or at the very least do your job and manage it, monitor it, enforce it and fine them,” said Huertas, reached by phone. “We want the DEM to use the resources from the fines to help improve the Port.”
The letter is requesting a “public hearing that is fully accessible to the impacted community.”
I started this piece with a warning about a dystopian future where women are regarded as not being entitled to their bodily autonomy. I’d like to end it by talking about a future where women’s autonomy is valued, and where women are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race.
Doulas are trained professionals who provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to women during pregnancy, childbirth and the first few postpartum weeks. They assist in making women as comfortable as possible during birth, providing help with breathing techniques, massage and advice, and can help advocate for the woman during the birth.
The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services heard testimony on Senate Bill 0678 that upon passage will provide medical assistance health care for expectant mothers and establishes medical assistance coverage and reimbursement rates for perinatal doula services through Medicaid.
“The data is clear, however many women are unable to take advantage of doula services during pregnancy because they are not covered by Medicaid or private insurance and cannot afford to pay out of pocket,” said Kavelle Christie of Planned Parenthood. “In addition, many doulas are unable to provide care to pregnant women because they cannot be reimbursed through Medicaid or private insurance.”
“Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom believe that carrying a pregnancy to term should not put women’s lives at risk. Maternal mortality and morbidity in the United States is a public health crisis and its severe impact on black woman is simply unacceptable. Access to reproductive health care including culturally competent perinatal and postpartum care is an essential human right. Planned Parenthood of Southern New England also believes that health care providers including doulas deserve fair compensation for the work they provide.”
Imagine a world where all births are wanted births, and all mothers were treated with real care and respect…
Now lets build that world.
10. The Public’s Radio
- Providence Water: Is It The City’s To Sell? by Sofia Rudin
11. The Bartholomewtown Podcast
- Roundtable: Leaders of Rhode Island College Democrats from Brown, Bryant and University of Rhode Island
- Joe Wilson, Jr (Trinity Repertory Company Actor, Coordinator of Activism Through Performance)
- What are the actual costs of privatizing Medicaid? by Richard Asinof
13. Picture of the Week
Rhode Island is the first government, anywhere in the world, to enshrine the concept of separation of church and state into our laws. Should we really be placing a “God Bless America” poster in our State House?
What would Roger Williams say?
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