The Uprising! May 10, 2019

Handmaids at the State House

“Hey, Rhode Island, what’s up?”

“Not much,” lied Rhode Island.

Welcome to The Uprising!

1. 7th Annual Red Bandana Awards

Every year the Red Bandana Fund “honors individuals and groups whose work embodies the spirit and work of Richard Walton, a longtime Rhode Island activist who died in 2012.” This year the committee chose community activist Camilo Viveiros, community activist and director of Coyote RI, Bella Robinson and me, Steve Ahlquist.

Previous winners of this award are Amos House, Henry Shelton, the Providence Student Union, Eric Hirsch, the workers at the Renaissance Hotel, Artemis Moonhawk, Sarath Suong, Phil Edmonds, Omar Bah, Henrietta White Holder and Linda Finn.

I feel like I photobombed the (Social) Justice League. Looking at the picture later people will say, “There’s Superman, Wonder Woman, and uh, that guy.”

I couldn’t be more honored.

The awards will be presented on Sunday, June 9th at a celebration at the Providence Firefighters Memorial Hall, 92 Printery St., Providence, from 3 to 6 pm. The event is open to the public and is family-friendly. The award includes performances by Joanne Lurgio and the Extraordinary Rendition Band.

2a. 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Towns

Four towns in Rhode Island have declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuary Towns since Burrillville got the ball rolling by passing a resolution on April 24. Hopkinton joined Burrillville on May 6, West Greenwich on May 8, and Foster on May 9.

The resolution was crafted by Burrillville Town Councilor Donald Fox, who bristles at the idea that he did so at the behest of pro-gun forces from outside our state. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a scholar,” said Fox, defending his resolution at a Burrillville Town Council meeting on May 8, the same night West Greenwich passed their resolution. “I cobbled that resolution together by doing research. Nothing was sent to me. I’m acting on nobody’s behalf but my own. I crafted that resolution on my own.”

That resolution was amended by Burrillville Town Councilor Dennis Anderson, who added a paragraphed culled from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulations regarding people who are not legally permitted to own guns in the United States.

The resolutions passed in the other towns are slightly revised versions of Burrillville’s.

Proponents of the resolutions say that they are trying to accomplish two goals: They are protecting their constituents Second Amendment rights, and they are pushing back against the Rhode Island General Assembly and “unfunded mandates” – that is, state level laws that put financial burdens on cities and towns without compensation. “…we have to wrestle with [unfunded mandates] every year to make sure that we don’t blow through the tax cap and raise your tax rates exponentially,” said Fox.

A ban on assault-style weapons or high capacity magazines, two of the bills under discussion at the General Assembly, may require towns to, as the resolution reads, “appropriate funds for the capital construction of building space or purchase of storage systems to store weapons seized pursuant to the requirements set forth in any legislation if such bill is enacted by the Rhode Island General Assembly and on for the purpose of enforcing any other law that unconstitutionally infringes on the right of the people… to keep and bear arms.”

“Our town the budget is very tight,” said Foster Town Council President Denise DiFranco. “If you were at the financial town meeting on Tuesday night you know it’s very tight. [The pending gun legislation, if passed] is just one more thing that the state is telling us we have to do, but they don’t give us any support for that. I think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back – taking this away from us – our right to keep our guns…”

2b. Slippery slope?

“Are we talking about not enforcing state laws that the council and the police department deem to be unconstitutional or are you talking about federal laws such as bump stocks?” asked Foster resident David Violet at the Foster Town Council meeting that ultimately approved a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town resolution..

“We’re not talking about bump stocks, no,” said Foster Town Solicitor Mark Tourgee. “What the thrust of the resolution is is the state is giving at the Town another mandate they’re not going to fund. So what Forster is saying by this resolution is that if they’re not going to get any funds to go out and do this type of work then the state’s going to have to provide them money to do that.

“So if the state was willing to provide money there would be no sanctuary city in the offing?” asked Violet.

“If the state’s willing to provide money it’s a possibility,” replied Tourgee.

“I don’t think that’s the case,” countered Violet. “I don’t think that’s why this is up here for a vote. I don’t think it has anything to do with monetary [reasons].”

“I stated that I think our police department is worked very hard now,” said Council President Denise DiFranco. “It’s a small department. Add one more thing and they’re not going to give us money, let’s face it…”

“I’m not really up here pro or against guns,” said Violet. “I’m here against the town council deciding which state laws they’re going to follow and not follow under the guise that there’s a constitutionality appearance here, because I [don’t] think the Town Council, and no offense of Town Council or the Police Department, should be deciding constitutionality. The Supreme Court decides constitutionality.

“I just think we this isn’t real,” continued Violet. “I mean, this is not why this is being done. It’s not about constitutionality. Nothing that’s been proposed by the state has been deemed unconstitutional. So why is the Town Council making the police department decide on a case-by-case basis what it is it isn’t constitutional?

“This is not about the Second Amendment. It just seems like we’re in this vicious cycle here where if we don’t like the people in power, we’re not going to follow their rules…

“I just think that this is a slippery slope…” concluded Violet.

David Violet was the last member of the public to speak before the Foster Town Council passed the resolution on a 4-1 vote. You can watch the entirety of Violet’s testimony here:

2c. Safe Schools Act

The Safe Schools Act, if passed, would allow only law enforcement and persons approved by the school authorities for the purposes of educational instruction to carry firearms on school grounds.

“I support the Second Amendment, that’s my job,” said Representative Dennis Canario (Democrat, District 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) at a constituent forum Monday evening. “This is a mental health issue.”

Canario believes that banning certain kinds of guns, like assault weapons, and not allowing guns in places likes schools, puts people at risk.

“I supported common sense gun violence legislation,” said Representative John Edwards (Democrat, District 70, Tiverton). But given that Rhode Island already has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, Edwards sees no reason to do more.

“We may need to do some cleaning up around the edges, but I believe that our gun laws are more than enough and effective,” said Edwards.

Asked toward the end of the evening, “If the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, why would you pass a bill that guarantees there would be no good guys around soft targets?” Representative Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth) said that in the event of a school shooting, you don’t want someone in plainclothes running around with a gun. No one will know, said Cortvriend, that they are a “good guy.”

“It could be Representative Canario,” said Cortvriend. “When he pulls out his gun and he’s in just plain clothes and the SWAT team it comes around, then Canario’s gone.”

Talking about the hypothetical concealed carry permit holder who decides to get involved against a mass shooter, Canario said, “You know what? If he pulls his gun and puts his life on the line, thank him.”

Canario disputed the idea that more people with more guns adds to the danger of a chaotic gun attack. In a tense situation, maintained Canario,” a concealed carry holder and an expert shoot no differently.”

Seveney asked, what happens when “a second good guy with a gun gets in there? Now you have two and they don’t know each other. Neither one is wearing anything that identifies them as a good guy. They’re probably not wearing their ‘good guy with a gun’ tee shirt. What’s the odds that they shoot each other by mistake?”

3. John Hope Settlement House

The Wangari Maathai Community School, a newly planned charter school in Providence, has approved a lease to move into the John Hope Settlement House, over the objections of the community on a 7-2 vote.

In a carefully worded statement, prefaced by saying the board will answer no questions, Wangari Maathai Board Chair Karla Vigil stressed that, “No programming will stop [at John Hope]. That is not our intention. Your children will continue to go there. That is not who we are.”

Karla Vigil

The Wangari Maathai Community School will pay the John Hope Settlement House “significantly more” than $125,000 a year, said Vigil. “Investment to the building will be made to revitalize a certain side of the building.

“We are renting approximately 5,478 square feet in the space, which is currently unused,” continued Vigil. “The total space that Wangari will use is less than 14 percent of John Hope. About 13.5 percent.

“The day care and programs and services at John Hope will not be affected or changed and will be respected and supported by us.”

Vigil ended her statement with a nod towards the community’s fear of gentrification, recognizing that “people from this community have been at the whim of political and economic agendas that have led to the disinvestment in their community for decades.”

Promised community meetings with the John Hope Settlement House Board and the Wangari Maathai Community School board have yet to be scheduled.

4a. Reproductive Rights

As seen in the picture at the top of this page, the Handmaids are still haunting the Rhode Island State House, attempting to persuade Senate leadership to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act and codify Roe v Wade into State Law.

The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus is urging Senate Judiciary Committee members to vote the bill out of committee and to the Senate floor for a vote. “The truth is,” said Chair Tracy Ramos said in her testimony in March, “Rhode Island law does not protect women equally when it comes to health care and our ability to make our own medical decisions and it does not protect the rights afforded under Roe.”

The Womxn Project sent an ad truck to the districts of Senators Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) and Dennis Algiere ( District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) before it began slowly circling the Rhode Island State House. Archambault, who authored a piece during his campaign defending the right to abortion, has been difficult to pin down on this subject since his re-election.

Photo (c)2019 The Womxn Project

Archambault isn’t the only Senator tough to pin down. Senator Walter Felag (Democrat, District 10, Tiverton, Warren) at a community meeting with constituents said that as a practicing Catholic, he “cannot support the existing language, as it exists,” in the RHCA. It seems that Felag has bought into the lie, perpetrated by abortion foes, that the RHCA expands, rather than codifies Roe v Wade.

At the same community meeting Senator Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), also a Catholic, said, “I do not support the abortion bill that’s before the Senate. It comes down to protecting the unborn child… at the end of the day for me, it’s conception to natural death.” But unlike Archambault and Felag, DiPalma’s views do not come as a surprise.

4b. Marriage Equality

Speaking of conservative, Catholic State Senators, when I said hello to Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston) in the halls of the State House on Thursday he stopped to tell me that he still hasn’t voted affirmatively for any solemnization of marriage bills that come up before Senate Judiciary.

On May 2 I was in Senate Judiciary and I was surprised to see Senators Lombardi and Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) vote for what I assumed to be a same sex marriage. When I read through the solemnization of marriage bills, I have to make assumptions about the gender of the couples based on their names. Not a perfect system, of course. I wrote about this a little on Facebook:

“Rory was a girl’s name,” said Lombardi.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Senator Metts Googles the couples and looks at their pictures,” said Lombardi.

Who knew bigotry required so much work?

5a. Invenergy

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced yesterday that it has found that Invenergy’s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island will “comply with applicable state and federal air pollution control rules and regulations.” DEM has prepared a draft permit for public review and comment. Though the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) is responsible for the ultimate decision as to whether the power plant will be built, the decision on the air permit stays with DEM per state law and is not connected to or sequenced with the EFSB.

The DEM will be scheduling a public comment session for the draft permit before the July 15 deadline for public involvement.

5b. eco-RI

“I don’t think that Invenergy can meet these emissions,” said Paul Roselli to me after taking a quick look at DEM’s draft permit. Roselli is an environmentalist and one of the leading opponents of Invenergy’s proposed power plant.

There is a lot of evidence to support Roselli’s hunch. Reporter Tim Faulkner, at eco-RI, points out that the Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup, Pennsylvania, has violated air-pollution regulations since it began operations last spring and Invenergy hasn’t been forthcoming with the details.

“Since May 2018 there have been at least six unreported releases of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in excess of state standards,” writes Faulkner. “NOx is linked to several health and environmental problems, such as respiratory illnesses.

“Invenergy didn’t initially report the air-pollution releases to state officials.”

6. 11th Annual Interfaith Poverty Conference

The 11th Annual Interfaith Poverty Conference featured the Reverend Aundreia Alexander as their keynote speaker. Alexander is not from Rhode Island, but she has heard of us. For instance, she knows about the controversy in Warwick due to the systemic lunch shaming there, which is national news. She advised those in attendance to go to Warwick and let City officials know that this is not acceptable.

Her keynote address was quite amazing, and worth the time to listen to:

7. Economic Policy Institute

The Economic Progress Institute (EPI) hosted its 11th annual policy and budget conference Supporting Immigrants in Rhode Island with over 200 community leaders, lawmakers, and policy staff in attendance. Each year, EPI hosts a half-day conference to educate Rhode Islanders about critical policy challenges and opportunities facing Rhode Island. This year’s conference focused on immigrants in Rhode Island: specifically focusing on the role they play in our communities, and how we can better support our immigrant neighbors in the Ocean State.

The keynote speaker this year was Connie Choi, Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign Field Manager and Strategist for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Established in 1979, NILC is one of the leading organizations in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.

8. ACLU

9. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

10. ConvergenceRI

11. GoLocalProv

12. Picture of the Week:

Foster Town Council Meeting

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About Steve Ahlquist 910 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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