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The Uprising! June 29, 2019

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This week the Rhode Island General Assembly finished the session (sort a/kind a) passing legislation important to many people, but also leaving some very worthy legislation on the table. It will take days to parse the good, bad and ugly effects of the Assembly’s actions, if not months and years. Meanwhile, The FANG Collective was fully engaged in their “Week of Action to #ShutDownICE,” which culminated Saturday with a Rally Against ICE at the Bristol County House of Correction.

Oh, and a lot of other important stuff happened.

1a. The FANG Collective Week of Action

The FANG Collective‘s Week of Action was held in response to the expiration of all 80 of ICE’s 287(g) agreements on June 30. These agreements effectively deputize local law enforcement as ICE agents. FANG and other immigration rights groups would prefer that these agreements not be renewed.

IGSA (InterGovernmental Support Agreements) are signed between ICE (United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and state and local prisons. According to ICE, 67 percent of their detainees are held at facilities with IGSA agreements, like the 287(g) agreements mentioned above. Without such agreements, ICE’s ability to persecute, detain and abuse undocumented immigrants would be more difficult.

1b. Monday: UMB Bank

FANG and their allies hit UMB Bank, and their CEO Mariner Kemper, with a “media storm” on Twitter and Facebook, and with phone calls and emails to demand that the company divest from the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island. UMB Bank, said FANG, “is profiting from prisons, ICE contracts and tearing families apart. UMB even sued the Central Falls City Council and forced them to continue to hold people detained by ICE at the Wyatt facility.”


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The media storm resulted in the following response from UMB Bank on Twitter and Facebook:

1c. Tuesday: Locke Lord LLC and Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald

Members and allies of the FANG Collective entered the law offices of Locke Lord LLP in Providence on Monday to call on Deming Sherman to do his duty as the Special Master of the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island and ensure that the detained immigrants there are afforded their full rights and access to lawyers.

Inside the law offices of Locke Lord LLC

Immigrants detained by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are once more being held at the Wyatt Detention Center, a move that immigration advocates and Central Falls elected officials have largely decried. After the Wyatt Board rescinded the contract between Wyatt and the ICE, bondholders sued, and won a preliminary injunction request made by the trustees of the Wyatt, that is, the bondholders of UMB Bank.

Sherman was made the Special Master, “accountable only to the court” by United States Chief judge William Smith, who is overseeing that case. The $130M lawsuit, which also names the Mayor and the Central Falls City Council as defendants, has effectively silenced the elected officials until at least July, when Judge Smith plans to look at the case again.

FANG was not warmly received. You can read my full account of the action here.

Tuesday was a two-fer, as that evening The FANG Collective disrupted the monthly meeting of the Plymouth County Police Officers Association, urging Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald to end the County’s 287(g) agreement with I.C.E.

The activist group asked Sheriff McDonald not to renew the County’s 287(g) agreement. McDonald responded by saying, “you know the answer to that question, the contract will be renewed.” The activists held a banner saying , “PLYMOUTH COUNTY END YOUR 287G AGREEMENTS” and they chanted “Shame, Shame, Shame” as they left the building.

I couldn’t tag along for that one, but FANG has the video of what it looks like when you temporarily keep law enforcement from eating their pasta dinners:

1d. Wednesday: Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn

FANG organized a call-in to Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn to urge him to stop prosecuting activists and to investigate Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson instead. FANG writes:

One FANG member recently served a ten day jail sentence in Bristol County after being arrested during an action at the Bristol County House of Corrections last August. The action was carried out in solidarity with hunger striking ICE detainees demanding better conditions at the facility. Sheriffs responded to the action with violence, resulting in two action participants receiving traumatic brain injuries.

Three more people who were arrested during that action are facing trial next month. While another FANG member who was violently arrested by Bristol County Sheriffs at a public event is due back in court soon.

Meanwhile Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and the Bristol County Sheriffs Department are facing several investigations from the State of Massachusetts, the ACLU and current inmates focused on corruption and the dire conditions at their facilities.

But the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office has yet to open an investigation of their own.

CALL Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn and urge him to stop prosecuting activists and to investigate Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson instead.

1e. Thursday: Massachusetts Department of Corrections

Two activists from FANG blocked an entrance to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (Mass DOC) headquarters in Medford, Massachusetts. One of the protesters, Anusha, was cut free and arrested.

Mass DOC has a 287(g) agreement with ICE.

The action lasted several hours, and at first, when only local Medford Police were on hand, got very intense. I was asked for my identification twice and told that I was not allowed to stand on private property or public property while I tried to record what was happening. I tweeted out the Massachusetts ACLU, just in case I happened to be arrested for no reason. But after the Massachusetts State Police arrived on scene, the situation deescalated and was resolved with further incident.

Here’s the video:

I was present at the action, but other reporters weren’t. As I was leaving, I saw television cameras from two news crews, one from Telemundo and one from what I think was Channel 5 out of Boston. According to the Milford Daily News, “Police turned away a Daily News reporter who responded to the scene.” So much for freedom of the press.

1f. Friday: Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings and the Anniversary of Stonewall

1g. Saturday: Rally Against ICE

The FANG Collective wrapped up their week of action with a rally outside the Bristol County House of Correction that drew over 200 people on Saturday morning. Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was not pleased…

Thomas Hodgson, right

2a. Rhode Island General Assembly

The Rhode Island General Assembly wrapped up it’s business shortly before 11pm on Friday night, with a promise to come back into session later this year to look at the new 20+ year deal between the State and IGT to run our lottery and hold onto 1100 jobs. This deal happening seems a foregone conclusion.

The House never suspended the rules, a traditional move that allows legislation to sneak up and suddenly pass with little to no oversight or process. The Providence Journal‘s Katherine Gregg noted that this made for the “least chaotic” closing she’s ever seen. I can’t possibly get to all the bills that did or didn’t move, but here’s a smattering:

2b. No Minimum Wage increase

Borrowing the trikle-down economics arguments of pro-business extremists such as the Rhode Island Business Association and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Kool-Aid drinker and Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello warned of robots taking out jobs, saying, “I make personal note of the fact that a lot of companies are going to automation with the minimum wage increasing. I mean, we’ve been saying for years they’re going to cut jobs. They are doing it. You don’t have to look very hard to figure that out.”

The idea that minimum wage increases cause businesses to automate jobs is nonsense. Automation of jobs is a non-stop technological rollercoaster, and no one, not even lawyers like Mattiello are safe from it, as this piece on the World Economic Forum website and this piece from the MIT Technology Review demonstrate.

Maybe Mattiello and other lawyers should consider lowering their fees to prevent lawbots from taking their jobs…

See how stupid that sounds?

But as funny as all this may be on one level, on another level, low-income Rhode Islanders are going to feel the pinch this coming year. Every year that the minimum wage does not increase, the buying power of low-wage workers goes down, putting to a lie Mattiello’s statement that his 2020 Budget is somehow “consumer friendly.” Less buying power is less money cycling through the local economy and contributes to stagnation.

Most disappointing is the non-action by the Senate. They overwhelmingly passed a $1 minimum wage increase, but failed to take any meaningful action to amend the the Budget when the ball was in their court. Even a fifty cent compromise would have been better than nothing, which is what the Senate ultimately delivered.

2c. No meaningful gun legislation

It was a hard struggle, but the House ultimately restored funding for the Nonviolence Institute in Providence, which works tirelessly to prevent gun violence throughout Rhode Island’s urban core. I covered a Lock Arms for Peace vigil in Providence while the House debated whether or not the Nonviolence Institute was a more worthwhile cause that a lone, politically connected Cranston chiropractor.

But the General Assembly passed on bills supported by Moms Demand and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, such as the bill to prevent concealed carry permit holders from bringing their weapons into schools or even the completely non-controversial ban on 3D printed guns.

2d. Election reform bills essentially ignored

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea had a slate of election reform bills before the General Assembly. Only one passed, and it was amended in a way to make it not really accomplish what it was intended to do.

Gorbea’s original bill, H5764, was intended to bring Rhode Island into compliance with Federal Law and allow military and overseas voters the time they need to participate in the November 2020 election. Gorbea wanted the primary to be held in late August. The General Assembly moved it to the day after Labor Day, which still may prevent some active duty and overseas military personnel from participating in the election.

2e. Parentage Act sent to study committee

Even conservative Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) supports the Rhode Island Parentage Act (RIPA), which would address discrepancies in the law that negatively impact same sex parents. Instead, a group of cisgendered white men sent the bill to a study commission, delaying the bill’s inevitable passage for a another year and new same sex parents to another year of second class citizenship.

“Did you know that in Rhode Island, LGBTQ parents need to spend a minimum of 6 months and several thousand dollars to secure their rights to their children?” asks parent Moira Hinderer in an oped, “That Rhode Island’s laws related to parentage haven’t been updated since 1979? That in some cases the state cannot pursue child support if LGBT parents fail to voluntarily meet their obligations to their children? That LGBTQ parents using anonymous sperm donors must advertise for the “father” of their child and go to court to see if any man shows up seeking to claim their child in response to that ad?”

Outrageous.

See also:

2f. Statute of Limitations on Child Sexual Abuse extended

Another too-long, hard fought battle to accomplish something obvious was the passage of Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)’s legislation (H5171B), that amends the state’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.

The legislation seemed in jeopardy going into the final days of session, but a last minute compromise in the Senate led to the modified bill going to the House the same night. The legislation extends the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse claims to 35 years. Currently, the statute of limitations is seven years in Rhode Island.

2g. Natural Hair Braiding

The tendency is to treat a bill to exempt natural hair braiders from the state’s requirement for hairdressers and cosmeticians to be licensed with the state as something small and insignificant, but for many low-income black women, the passage of this legislation frees them to pursue this trade for their economic betterment.

Under current law, braiders have the option of either pay thousands of dollars and undergo 1,200 hours of cosmetology training, or go into the “underground economy” to avoid being shut down. Now braiders can work out of their homes openly, advertise their businesses without fear of being fined or arrested, and even open up store fronts. It can be a real help in lifting low-income women of color out of poverty.

Not small or insignificant at all, when you think of it as a decriminalization bill.

2h. Other bills:

The bill that would allow women to access doula services during their pregnancy and be covered under their insurance passed the Senate but failed in the House. The bill, which would have positively affected black maternal mortality, was not considered important enough to bother with by House leadership.

Fair pay legislation, which passed the Senate last year only to be slaughtered by the House, which passed a frankly stupid bill that would have been worse for women and minorities, did not pass.

On the environmental front: The plastic bag ban failed. The straw bill failed. The state made it easier, not harder, to chop down forests to build solar farms.

A bill to allow juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison the possibility of parole failed.

I could do this all day. Let’s move on.

3a. The Budget

The $9.9B 2020 Budget was approved, and right to the end bothe House and Senate leaders were lauding their own efforts. But it wasn’t all laurels and celebration:

3b. The Pedro Million Shows the Worst of RI

Terrific post by Samuel Gifford Howard at the Rhode Island Liberator:

“It’s hard to look at this, to look at Pedro and his donations, who he’s given to, to look at Mattiello, the actions of the State Democratic Party in the last primary, the struggle simply to enshrine in law the status quo (and plank of the state Democratic Party’s platform) and not come to the conclusion that Mattiello, Pedro, and their ilk don’t give a flying fig about ‘Democratic values.’ No, for them, it seems to be about power and profit.”

3c. ProJo takes the credit for breaking the chiropractor story

The Providence Journal published a letter from Ed Arage in North Providence that complimented the paper and reporters from Channel 12 for breaking the news about the $1M in the state budget earmarked for a Cranston chiropractor.

“Thanks to the reporting of The Providence Journal and WPRI-12 investigative reporter Tim White, we got that little bit of sunshine,” wrote Arage, who apparently didn’t know that UpriseRI.com broke the story first, and that the ProJo got to the story over five hours later.

Even if Arage didn’t know, Providence Journal Editor Ed Achorn, who decided to publish the letter, did. Achorn should have noted that, and he didn’t.

4. Refugee Dream Center

The Refugee Dream Center held their annual World Refugee Day celebration in South Providence on Saturday where hundreds of people were treated to food, music and access to important information and services.

Omar Bah

“Please!” said Refugee Dream Center founder Omar Bah to the crowd, “Refugees are not the enemy. Refugees are your friends and refugees are the most vulnerable people in this world. We want help. All we need is support and help…”

David Cicilline

“In Rhode Island we should remember, was founded by a refugee. Roger Williams came here because he had to flee the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his religious beliefs” said United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island). “So our state has a special responsibility to understand what it means to welcome people who are fleeing very challenging circumstances in their own country, making very difficult journeys.”

5. Woonsocket City Council Special Election

A meet the candidates forum sponsored by the Woonsocket Republican City Committee turned into a lively and contentious debate last week. Alex Kithes, Roger Jalette Sr and Anita McGuire-Forcier answered questions and took jabs at eah other for about 90 minutes, covering topics like preserving the City’s water supply, revitalizing downtown, and whether or not keeping the CVS headquarters in town is worth the tax subsidies the City offers to keep them.

The primary is scheduled for July 2, the general election for August 6.

6. PERA

Who watches the watchmen? In Providence, the answer is PERA, the Providence External Review Authority, reformed in compliance with the Community Safety Act (CSA) two years ago. PERA is supposed to evaluate potential violations of the CSA, and at the most recent hearing, local residents brought a doozy: The Providence Police Department has been maintaining a gang database that violates the CSA in any number of ways, opening the City to a potential lawsuit.

Unfortunately, PERA was unable to reach a quorum, and therefore could take no action.

I looked into the attendance records of the PERA board members. Five of the members have missed around a quarter of the meetings. Only the chair of the committee, Alison Eichler, has attended every meeting.

“I just feel like PERA is very messy,” said Charles, a resident of Downtown Providence, addressing PERA. “Since we began this info session one of the board members hasn’t even taken his phone off of him and looking at it.”

“I’m looking at legal stuff,” said board member Kenneth Cohen, looking up from his phone. “I’m listening as well.”

“We want you to be facing the community,” said Charles. “We want you to see our anger! We want you to see the passion that we have because why is it that only four people are here out of nine people? …

“You haven’t been here for the past couple of meetings as well,” said Charles to Cohen, who has missed 25 percent of the PERA meetings. “I haven’t seen you for a while. So what is that? What’s the responsibility there? Why do you have people that are not taking it seriously?”

7. Providence Student Union

Two Providence students suing the state to ensure that civics classes are taught in schools were featured on The Daily Show.

Aleita Cook and Ahmed Sesay dealt with Jaboukie Young-White for the segment, discussing their lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island, Cook v Raimondo, alleging that their rights under the United States Constitution have been violated because they have not received a robust civics education.

The segment has some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it video from UpriseRI’s coverage of the lawsuit.

8. Direct Action for Rights and Equality

Rhode Island Housing held a tour for developers of one of the units located within the Barbara Jordan II housing complex on Somerset Street in Providence this morning. Over 30 developers, investors and contractors seemed to be in attendance. This is part of Providence’s RFP (Request for Proposals), where developers will be asked for their ideas and bids to renovate the complex.

Activists from DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) were on hand to remind these developers and Rhode Island Housing that low-income tenants living in the City have no representation on the committee that will review the submitted RFPs. DARE is demanding that three low-income tenants living in Providence (or who may be currently homeless) be added to the review committee for developer applications.

9. Warwick Education Cuts

In response to the funding cuts presented by the Warwick School Committee (which would eliminate the sports program and cut funding to teacher assistant positions, janitorial services building improvements, mentoring and transportation) about forty Warwick students, along with parents and other stakeholders rallied outside Warwick City Hall on Tuesday, directing chants to Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon like “you’re a liar,” “save our schools” and “keep your promise” before storming City Hall and rallying directly outside the mayor’s office.

Special correspondent Benjamin Branchaud provided the story here.

10. HP Lovecraft

If you really want to piss people off, write something true about HP Lovecraft. GW Mercure wrote about Lovecraft’s racism, and his piece received more angry comments than any previous piece on UpriseRI. Check out Mercure’s piece and the angry (along with some positive) comments here.

11a. Invenergy

Invenergy‘s proposed $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant may be dead, but the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is still in the process of granting the company a “major source” air pollution permit.

Paul Roselli, President of the Burrillville Land Trust, explains that the DEM is using outdated metrics and is asking for an updated process that might better protect the environment.

11b. The beginning of the end for “natural” gas?

Tina Casey, writing for CleanTechnica.com, sees the Invenergy decision in Rhode Island as evidence that natural gas has “hit a wall.”

Casey writes, “…fossil energy fans in New England are facing a double whammy: local opposition plus the availability of an alternative, that being offshore wind power.”

12. Beach access

13. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

13. Burrillville Now

14. ConvergenceRI

  • Codifying reproductive rights: A new generation of women political activists comes of age, redefining the landscape of reproductive freedom and reproductive justice, by Richard Asinof

15. ecoRI

16. GoLocalProv

17. Providence Daily Dose

18. Westerly Sun

19. Picture of the week:

Anusha, waiting to be arrested outside the Massachusetts Department of Corrections
(See: Item 1e above.)

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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