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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising! July 7, 2019



The Fourth of July weekend is usually pretty slow, news-wise, but President Trump’s odious immigration policies made for a busy week of protests…

1a. Wyatt Detention Center

18 people, including former State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Roger Williams University Professor of Law Jared Goldstein were arrested outside the Wyatt Detention Facility Tuesday evening as they blocked the gate where a Plymouth County Sheriff van was trying to exit. Members of the Central Falls Police Department conducted the arrests with the help of Cumberland Police Department personnel and Rhode Island State Police Troopers.

Here’s video of the arrests:

The protest was staged as a part of a larger, nation-wide series of protests coordinated by Never Again is Now, Jews opposed to President Donald Trump‘s immigration policies, his use of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as a modern gestapo and the use of brutal concentration camps to warehouse undocumented immigrants and children.

“As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” wrote organizer Tal Frieden. “Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE raids targeting our communities, and people dying at the border while seeking safety in the United States, we are seeing the signs of a mass atrocity. Jews, immigrants, and our allies refuse to wait and see what happens next.”

Tal Freiden

1b. Aaron Regunberg

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Among those arrested was former State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) who had delivered a stirring speech to the 150 or so people gathered to protest outside the Wyatt, saying in part:

“…Concentration camps are being operated in our name, under our flag and a modern-day Gestapo called ICE is targeting families in our communities, ambushing mothers and fathers on the street and warehousing them in private prisons like this one, making profits for corporate shareholders

“So let’s be very, very clear: When we say, Never Again Is Now, we mean that this is our fight! This is our responsibility – our responsibility as Americans, and especially as Jews!

“There’s always going to be fascists. There’s always gonna be wannabe fascists. There’s always going to be Hitlers and Trumps. What makes the difference between Again and Never Again comes down to what we do.

“It comes down to whether we choose to go about our lives business as usual, or whether we choose to rise up and take that maxim Never Again and put it into practice. It comes down to whether we choose to resist the nomenclature used to describe the government’s horrifying atrocities, or whether we choose to resist the government for committing horrifying atrocities.

Aaron Regunberg

1c. Sy Gitin

18 people were arrested outside the Wyatt, and this number, 18, is important in the Jewish mystical tradition. According to the system of gematria, the letters of the Hebrew word “chai,” (which means “life“) add up to 18, and for this reason many Jews make charitable donations in multiples of 18.

So 18 people being arrested outside the Wyatt has a spiritual significance for many Jews, but there were 19 people blocking the exit, not 18. The police arrested all but one protester, Sy Gitin, who they left all alone blocking the Sherif’s van.

Sy Gitin is disabled, and was in a wheelchair.

“I’m still here,” said Gitin. “I wonder why? Do you think it’s because our system is totally unequipped to deal with disabled people? Is this because the police believe that disabled people can’t make a difference? Well, we fucking can. We’re here!”

1d. Central Falls Police

As the police moved in to arrest the protesters blocking the gates outside the Wyatt, the crowd began to chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and sing “Which side on are you on?” A few people, a very few, were more direct in their criticism of the police, saying things such as “Fuck the Police” and “Fuck you Pigs.”

The police report, as seen here, paints an incomplete picture of the crowd’s attitude towards the police. Reading it, one would think that the crowd as a whole was hostile towards the police when in fact there was a broad spectrum of opinions present, with some people telling me that they were sympathetic to the police, who were being cast against their wills in the role of villain.

The police charged the protesters with disorderly conduct for blocking the sidewalk and the gate to the Wyatt. They will appear in court on July 11.

1e. Katherine Bogen

Among the 18 people arrested at the Wyatt were Katherine Bogen and Maya Dayan, who had met only hours earlier at a civil disobedience training ahead of the planned protest and arrests.

Bogen was kind enough to submit a piece talking about the importance of building these kinds of friendships and connection:

“…We watch together, trembling a bit with adrenaline, as our fellow protesters’ hands are zip-tied. When Maya is arrested, I stand in front of her and do not break eye contact. I put my hands on her shoulders, and then on either side of her face. I tell her it will be okay, even though I’m not sure, even though I’ve never done this before. She looks at me, hard, and says, “this is worth it…” Maya’s commitment to addressing my anxieties, even while she is in the process of being arrested herself, is a stark reminder of what selflessness and solidarity look like. I watch police walk Maya away, and offer my wrists when an officer approaches me. I am put in the back of a squad car.”

1f. Channel 12 and Channel 6

Channel 12 used some of my footage of the arrests here:

Channel 6 used some of my footage of the arrests here:

2a. Bristol 4th of July Parade

Eight people, dressed in black, carried signs along the parade route of the Bristol Fourth of July Parade, the longest running Independence Day celebration in the United States. Reactions were mixed. Some shouted at the protesters, others applauded. The were ignored by some, met with confusion and even anger by others.

Their message was simple:

Close the concentration camps.

The protesters were holding signs calling for an end to concentration camps for undocumented immigrants along the southern border of the United States with signs asking, “How does your freedom taste?” and stating that “Families Belong Together” with the hashtag, #ClosetheCamps.

Other signs held the names of children who have died while in the custody of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as eight-year old Felipe Gomez Alonzo or 16 year old Juan de Leon Guttierrez.

“This is a day on which Americans will be celebrating their independence: the birth of a nation that was built on the notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” wrote organizers Lauren Pothier and Julian Trilling. “For Rhode Islanders, this day is marked every year by the oldest July 4th celebration in the nation: The Bristol Fourth of July Parade. For some of us, celebrating this day while there are families being torn apart at the border and children being kept sick in cages seems to be ridiculous. How can we celebrate this holiday while we turn our backs on these innocent people?”

The health and safety of the protesters was in the capable hands of members of the Rhode Island John Brown Gun Club.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza shakes hands with the protesters.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung ignored them.

2b. Channel 6

Although the protesters set up right across the street from the ABC 6 television cameras, the news station seems to have done everything they could to ignore the fact of their existence. In this report, you can catch a quick glimpse of the protesters as a Mariachi band walks by:

Protesters on the left, behind the barricade

2c. Providence Journal

Though there were no other reporters at the Bristol Parade protest, Kevin Andrade from the Providence Journal did pick up on my tweets from the event, writing:

“…blogger Steve Ahlquist tweeted out photos of an immigration-policy protest happening closer to the beginning of the route, near Chestnut Street.

“We just want to keep this conversation going in Rhode Island,” said Lauren Pothier, co-organizer of the protest called Close the Camps.

Her group of around nine people dressed in black and marched in silence with signs holding up the names of young people who recently died in immigrant detention facilities across the southern border.

“For every cheer we got, we also got booed,” Pothier said, adding that the protest’s only goal was to be seen. “I was actually surprised at the number of cheers we got.”

2c. Bristol County Sheriff Department

Both the events I wrote about above, the arrests at the Wyatt and the protests at the Bristol 4th of July Parade, have a common element: The presence of vehicles and personnel from the Bristol County Sheriff Department:

Outside the Wyatt
At the Bristol 4th of July Parade

To be clear, the Sheriff vehicles are from Bristol County in Massachusetts, not the Town of Bristol Rhode Island. At the Wyatt, the van was in the process of dropping off and/or picking up prisoners. At the parade, the Sheriff and K-9 unite were on hand for added security.

Bristol County maintains a 287(g) agreement with ICE, meaning that their officers and deputies are able to question people about their immigration status, detain people on immigration charges and carry out the duty of ICE officers. Their presence at the Bristol 4th of July parade sent a serious message to people who may be undocumented or have questions about their immigration status:

You are not welcome here.

3. Beach Access

Rhode Island has the right to access the beach and the ocean written into our Constitution, but exactly how to enforce that right is a question that has long been unresolved. A month ago Scott Keeley, a resident of Charlestown, was arrested when he wandered onto a private beach in South Kingstown and picked up some seaweed.

The charges were later dropped.

On Saturday morning about 150 people gathered on the Charlestown Town Beach and repeated Keeley’s offense, this time with no police watching and no arrests being made.

Article 17 of the Rhode Island State Constitution spells out in sometimes specific, sometimes difficult to interpret detail the public’s right to access the shoreline:

“The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values…”

In Article 16, the Constitution notes that these rights are to be “liberally construed” and “shall not be deemed to be a public use of private property.”

But where does that line, between the public’s right to the shore, and the private property owner’s right to exclude people from their property, actually reside?

Scott Keeley

“I’m not the only one who’s paid attention to these shoreline rights but I was arrested for exercising them,” said Keeley to the crowd. “The people of Rhode Island are not angry because I was arrested. The people of Rhode Island are angry because on June 9th at 1:00 o’clock we watched our rights taken away and they have not as yet been given back.”

“Lines are being drawn by the very few who can afford to decide where the lines go. Lines are being drawn straight through your Rhode Island constitutional rights to the shoreline. So we’re here to draw the line. We’re here to enjoy our rights of the Rhode Island shoreline, even if someone has decided that sitting equals trespassing.”

See also:

4. Woonsocket City Council Special Election

The primary for Woonsocket’s City Council Special Election was pretty decisive with Alex Kithes getting 52 percent of the vote, more than the three other candidates combined. Kithes and the second highest vote-getter, Roger Jalette Sr, heading to a general election on August 6. There’s a half-century age difference between the two candidates.

“Tuesday was a historic day for Woonsocket,” said Kithis in a statement. “The city desperately wants a new generation of leadership – forward-thinking people who aren’t part of the establishment, who will fight for the working class community and the vibrancy and livability of our future.”

See also:

5. Glocester Ancients and Horribles Parade

Always a somewhat surreal experience, the Glocester Ancients and Horribles Parade prides itself on it political incorrectness and lapses of good taste. It’s my favorite parade, and I’ve been attending it for almost 25 years.

This year it became personally surreal as I joined Burrillville residents celebrating the town’s victory over Invenergy, the Chicago-based company that wanted to build a $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amid the irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island. The company’s bid to build the plant died when the Energy Facilities Siting Board denied the plan a license.

The float featured pictures of those Burrillville feels helped them defeat the power plant, including:

Kathy Martley, listed as “Burillville’s Paul Revere” was the first person to raise concerns about the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in the Town. Long before Invenergy announced their power plant plans, Martley and her group, BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) were raising the alarm about the enlargement of Spectra’s compression stations, a necessary first step towards the building of any power plants in the area.

Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust, did dozens of trainings across the state, explaining exactly what Invenergy intended to do an the dangers the power plant posed to the community.

The float noted the amazing legal skills of Michael McElroy, the lawyer for the Town of Burrillville, and Jerry Elmer, Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). Their efforts won the day.

Finally, the float noted the contributions of the three members of the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), Janet Coit, Meredith Brady and Chair Margaret Curran, who unanimously decided against licensing the power plant.

Also included was me, Steve Ahlquist.

So as I arrived at the beginning of the parade route, I was greeted by over a dozen people wearing Captain America tee shirts, like those I wear all th time, an holding cutouts of my face:

It was, like I said, surreal, hilarious, and awesome. Thank you, everyone.

See also:

6. The Clinic

Artists from Rhode Island’s incredible theater community are coming together to participate in a Benefit Reading of “The Clinic,” by Will Brumley. The reading will take place Tuesday, July 9, in The Wilbury Group Theatre space located at 40 Sonoma Court, in Providence. Doors open at 6:30pm; the benefit will begin at 7pm.

Rhode Island has recently shown its support for women by passing the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA), but there remains much work to do.

This staged reading supports Rhode Island’s move to enshrine women’s reproductive rights into state law, and is part of a nationwide action to fight the abortion bans. Readings of the play have already taken place this month in Atlanta, St Louis, Kansas City, and Cincinnati–and more are scheduled in New York City and Los Angeles this summer.

7. UpriseRI Contributors

8. ACLU of Rhode Island

ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown on The Public’s Radio:

9. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

10. Burrillville Now

11. eco_RI

12. Picture of the Week:

Lilian Calderon and family

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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.

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