The Uprising! June 21, 2019

I don’t even know where to begin. Any one of three stories might be the biggest of the month, and they all happened within two days. And there’s so much more happening. Let’s start with, I don’t know… Invenergy? 1. Invenergy Invenergy‘s permit to build a $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the pristine and irreplaceable

Rhode Island News: The Uprising! June 21, 2019

June 21, 2019, 1:08 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

I don’t even know where to begin. Any one of three stories might be the biggest of the month, and they all happened within two days. And there’s so much more happening. Let’s start with, I don’t know…


1. Invenergy

Invenergy‘s permit to build a $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the pristine and irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island was denied by the Energy Facilities Siting Board in a unanimous decision nearly four years after Governor Gina Raimondo promised the company’s CEO Michael Polski to do everything in her power to make the plant happen.

And she never really wavered in her support of the power plant. Despite public protestations of neutrality, Raimondo’s Office of Energy Resources was a litigant in the proceedings, strongly advocating for the power plant to be built.

“The EFSB has conducted a thorough and independent process,” said the Governor’s Spokesperson Josh Block in an email. “Today’s outcome reflects years of public input and deliberation, and the Governor respects the Board’s decision.”

Despite the backing of the Governor, the neutral position taken by “climate change champion” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (and virtually every other state elected official), the full-throated support of the Providence Journal‘s editorial board, the support of pro-business extremist groups like Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and TEC-RI, the support of the Rhode Island Building Trades, the money of a multi-billion dollar corporation, the legal advocacy of some of Rhode Island’s most expensive lawyers and Invenergy’s legal council Michael Blazer flying in to our podunk state from Chicago…

…The people of Burrillville won.

They won with hard work. They won by going to city and town councils across the state and out of the state, getting 37 councils to pass resolutions opposing the power plant. They won with lawn signs and bake sales.

Every single environmental group in Rhode Island opposed the power plant. Hundreds of people showed up to provide testimony to the EFSB. The people of Burrillville did their own research revealing important facts about the company, pressured cities and towns to stand with them and not sell their water to the company, and denied Invenergy an easy path to being licensed.

These delays paid off. People might remember that Invenergy first requested an expedited docket before the EFSB, asking for a slam-dunk, quick and easy licensing. The delays brought by the relentless advocacy of the people of Burrillville dragged the process out, allowing four years of energy market trends to be introduced and analyzed by the EFSB. And the market trends are clear:

Despite the relentless drumbeat of lies and misinformation streaming from the Providence Journal editorial board in concert with fossil fuel advocacy groups that care more about dollars than clean air and water, (one such oped printed a day before the final hearing took place) the markets paint a picture of lower prices and a diminishing need for fossil fuel as more and more renewables come online faster than anyone predicted.

These trends, projected by ISO New England ten years in the future, show no signs of slowing down as was noted by EFSB board member Janet Coit during deliberations.

Invenergy also made mistakes and often attempted to mislead the EFSB or conceal information unfavorable to themselves. At no time did Invenergy present themselves as a trustworthy community partner. They even sent out mandated public notices to the people of Burrillville that directed residents to the wrong address for public meetings.

The other significant factor in beating the power plant was the brilliant lawyering of Burrillville’s Attorney Michael McElroy and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer. Two lawyers with limited money took on eight or more highly paid lawyers with virtually unlimited cash. It is rare to be in a room watching genius at work. I feel lucky to have seen it.

I know that the Building Trades wanted the jobs that went with building this massive project. Building the power plant truly would have been a massive boon to hardworking families struggling to get by in Rhode Island. But I know, from talking to some of these workers, that many of them want to build things they can be proud of. Things they can show their children and say, “I built that” and have their children smile. They didn’t want to build a power plant with a fifty year lifespan that burned fracked gas, ruining water and land across the country; that burned oil, ruining the air quality right here in Rhode Island and contributing to the asthma rates and other expensive and debilitating health issues fossil fuels bring to our children. They didn’t want to build outdated, evil remnants of an industry that is killing the planet.

They wanted to build the future.

So let’s find a way to put the Building Trades workers to work building that better future.

We all owe a debt of praise to Burrillville, a front line climate crisis David confronting a fossil fuel Goliath, and winning.



Two recent Providence Journal opeds, pro and con, on the now dead Invenergy power plant:

2. Codifying Roe

It’s all such a blur. Did Rhode Island really codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law within the same 24 hour period that we managed to defeat Invenergy?

Yeah, I think that happened.

In some ways this has been a two year effort, in that since the election of Donald Trump, activists have been trying to protect Roe v Wade from being overturned or undermined by a Trump-stuffed United State Supreme Court. In other ways this has been a battle being waged for literally decades, since Rhode Island first failed to pass the protections of Roe v Wade and its legal progeny on a state level.

There are legislative heroes here: Especially Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence) and Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence), who have been carrying the ball forward on this legislation for ever. I won’t even attempt to list the Representatives and Senators who have helped them, supported them and preceded them. They are legion.

Then there are the advocates. The tireless advocates from Planned Parenthood, The Womxn Project, Rhode Island NOW and the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Justice, to name just a few. These last two years I’ve seen them laugh, cry, lobby and fight for this legislation. Every day they were at the State House, choking the chambers with advocates and supporters demanding that the legislature do the right thing.

This is what Democracy looks like.

And the odds, despite their advocacy, were not with them. The Providence Diocese of the Catholic Church might be losing a step or two under the leadership of Bishop Thomas Tobin, who continues to invent new ways to insult LGBTQIA+ people on Twitter, but they, and Rhode Island Right to Life are a formidable political force in the Rhode Island State House.

The membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to be constructed as a bulwark against the possibility of protecting abortion access in our state, and worked exactly as it was supposed to when Senator Stephen Archambault first tanked the legislation over a month ago.

But activism and advocacy overcame that issue, resulting in fast moving legislation that jumped from the Senate to the House to the Governor’s desk as fast as the legislation could be transmitted.


3. Budget

When I first heard about CIT I had no idea what I was looking for. I found the reference to Cortical Integrative Therapy in the Sub A of the budget bill at Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s budget briefing on Tuesday and assumed that must be it. On Facebook, I asked:

This allowed me to crowdsource research in a way I never really tied before. I was blown away by the leads and links thrown my way. Given that the budget was to be voted on today, I didn’t have time then to really come to any conclusions about the research. All I could do was ask questions, raise red flags.

The story exploded. Easily the most viewed story I’ve written so far on UpriseRI. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) was caught giving money to a single chiropractor peddling unproven therapies while pleading poverty on issues of real and lasting importance and need. Donations from Dr Pedro to Mattiello made it look like a quid pro quo deal, which Pedro denied when I talked to him that morning and Mattiello denied when talking to Tara Granahan on WPRO radio.

People everywhere on the political spectrum were outraged. From the Rhode Island Republican Party to advocates for Veterans to homeless advocates to mental health care advocates and practitioners, everyone wanted to know how long this has been going on and how much money was being diverted to Dr Victor Pedro.

Turns out, it was a lot of money.

Ted Nesi, Tim White and Eli Sherman at Channel 12 followed up with a piece that filled in some important details on the relationship between the Speaker and Dr Victor Pedro. Pedro has been the recipient or something like $1.9M over the last few years, and was due to get his hands on $1M more, before Mattiello agreed to cut the item from the budget.

I received a letter from two dozen healthcare professionals, actual neurologists and psychiatrists, who called into question the medical efficacy of Victor Pedro’s treatments. Meanwhile, Mattiello, apparently a true believer in the powers of Dr Pedro, continues to defend him.

On the WPRO Tara Granhan radio show Mattiello said, “Regrettably, I am going to pull the money, because it is being politicized. It is now controversial and I will have a terrible debate on the floor [of the House during the budget debate]… I will continue to support the doctor because I think he brings a unique and special treatment to kids and a lot of individuals who have nowhere else to go.”

Dr Victor Pedro’s loss may prove a gain for “front-line workers caring for our developmentally disabled,” writes the Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson.


4. Budget woes

There are many things the budget could fund, other than a single chiropractor working in Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s district. For instance:

  • 125 units permanent supportive housing initiative $500K
  • Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) expansion $200K
  • Lead prevention $200K
  • School meals $55K
  • Funding for the Nonviolence Institute $200K
  • Funding Veterans $200K

Here are some pieces on the budget:


Pride, a historic celebration of our LGBTQIA+ community, has its discontents. Pride was started as a celebration of the Stonewall Uprising, and battle that broke out between trans and queer people against the New York Police Department. Many feel that these celebrations have become too corporate and too cozy with the police. I’ll have more on this subject in the next few days and weeks.

In the meantime, here are two pieces highlighting both aspects of Pride:


6. Wyatt

7. Fair Licensing

The Senate has passed the Fair Licensing bill, but the House is poised to scuttle it. Maybe send your Representative a reminder that this issue is important and will contribute to our economy by putting people to work. Also, it’s good for people, but those arguments don’t always convince legislators.

8. Statute of limitations on Childhood Sexual Abuse

The House has passed Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)’s bill to extend the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse, but the Senate has changed the bill to prevent institutions like the Catholic Church, who have a history of protecting pedophile priests, from being sued. This was accomplished by altering the discovery rule in such a way to leave perpetrators open to lawsuits, but not the institutions that abetted them.

The Catholic Church has lauded the Senate’s changes to the bill, of course.

McEntee was very angry about the prospect of her bill once again dying during the last days of the session. “Why would they oppose a discovery rule? Because the minute that victim finds out that [the institution] knew about their abuse and did nothing to protect them… that is the minute the clock starts to tick for that victim.”

2019-06-20 Child Sexual Abuse 02

Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) said, at an emergency press conference yesterday, there was a rumor in the State House that her bill was somehow traded to pass the Reproductive Privacy Act. She also noted that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) denied that rumor.

2019-06-20 Child Sexual Abuse 01

9. Street Sights

Street Sights, a news blog written for, about, and by people who are homeless or have been homeless, has produced an exposé by investigative reporter Peder Schaefer on the living conditions, such as they are, offered by Crossroads, a homeless direct service agency with a $10M annual budget.

“Just the bugs themselves,” said Mario who has been homeless for two years, living off and on at Crossroads. “I don’t care much for them, and the way (Crossroads employees) treat you. They don’t treat you like a human person the way they talk to you.”

10. Guns

11. Turtle Boy

12. Uprise on TV

Not many people know that Uprise RI has a television series on Cable Access. Hosted by the amazing Jennifer Siciliano, you can watch the recent episode here:

13. Economic Progress Institute

14. Motif Magazine

I’m listed as one of 2019’s Rhode Island people you should know in a piece in Motif Magazine. Thanks Motif!

15. Red Bandana Awards

I finally wrote up the Red Bandana Awards ceremony, with video. I was honored to be a recipient.

Here’s part of my acceptance speech:

“In Bruce Lee’s breakout film Enter the Dragon, the great martial arts star is instructing a student in how to use emotion to apprehend the divine. “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon,” says Lee. “Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

“When I do my job correctly, I feel like I am that finger. While I am so honored and proud to receive this award, I want to implore everyone here to realize that I am not the point of what I do.

“The communities I serve and the people who trust me are not the communities of privilege and power.

“Those who wield privilege and power do not trust me. To them I am a finger, but not one pointing to the moon.

“They don’t like that very much.

“In my work I try to capture and amplify the voices of people who are too often marginalized, too easily ignored.

“For the communities I serve I hope to be and index finger, pointing towards heavenly glory, the promise of a better tomorrow. It is my honor to give their voices an outlet, that their words and actions might inspire others, and better yet, inspire the change we need in the world, to make it better.”

16. Picture of the Week

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