Two of the four Rhode Island members of the DNC pledge to support an official presidential climate debate in San Francisco next month…

The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) held a reception in honor of Edna O’Neill Mattson at the Quonset O Club in North Kingstown Tuesday evening. O’Neill Mattson is one of four voting members from Rhode Island on the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The DNC will be meeting in San Francisco next month, and among the many issues to be debated and voted on is whether or not to hold an official DNC sanctioned debate on climate change.

This is why activists with the newly constituted South County Sunrise group gathered outside the entrance of the Quonset O Club. They hoped to meet O’Neill Mattson and the other three voting members of the DNC and convince them to vote yes on a climate debate. The other three members are RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara (who is also a State Representative for District 19 in Warwick), former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, and State Representative Grace Diaz (District 11, Providence).

According to McNamara, O’Neill Mattson was the first woman elected to the North Kingstown Town Committee. She worked on the campaign for JFK. She was the founder of the Rhode Island Committee of Democratic Chairs.

As South County Sunrise activists sang and spoke outside the Quonset O Club, RIDP members such as State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (District 15, Cranston) and Representatives Arthur Corvese (District 55, North Providence), Edith Ajello (District 1, Providence), Julie Casimiro (District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Robert Craven (District 32, North Kingstown) and others walked past. Some engaged with the activists and encouraged them, others ignored them.

United States Representative James Langevin and the people escorting him into the event “slammed the door” in the faces of students who approached him to ask that he sign a pledge to not accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.

The activists had their first success when Alex Duryea, a 24 year old activist with the Sunrise Movement, introduced herself to McNamara as he approached the entrance to the club.

“Will you stand with our generation and vote in favor of the resolution for a DNC sanctioned climate debate August 22-24 in San Francisco?” asked Duryea.

“I support any debate our excellent candidates would like to participate in,” said McNamara. “I have supported and voted for ten debates and I have no objection to any of the candidates participating in any debate especially with an important issue like climate change.”

McNamara had an odd caveat, however. He said he would vote yes on ALL proposed debates. Including a debate on a proposed, federal $15 minimum wage, free college, fair labor debate and more. Ultimately, McNamara signed the pledged, amending it to say that he will support “all debates,” including the climate debate.

Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino was much easier. Based on an email he received from Sunrise two weeks ago, Paolino said he communicated his support fro a climate debate to the DNC. “So if you want me to sign something, I’d be happy to,” said Paolino.

Eventually the activists learned that Edna O’Neill Mattson wasn’t feeling well and would be missing the reception in her honor, so they never got her promise. They also never saw Representative Diaz, so they did not get her signature either. But the group was very happy to have gotten the pledges of support they did receive.

Paolino with South County Sunrise

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A climate debate is worthwhile, (even though it doesn’t actually reduce consumption by a single barrel of oil) as is health care, minimum wage, college costs, labor, as mentioned. But not mentioned, and what I most want to see is a debate on foreign and military policy as our endless wars and vast weapons spending saps our resources (and adds much carbon emissions) plus the danger of a new war with Iran, new sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, and new nuclear arms race with Russia all loom. Those things way more under the control of a President than climate, health care, minimum wage etc that is also up to Congress and the states. The foreign policy is also potentially more deadly, yet it is covered very superficially. So that is my priority.


Climate change is the biggest threat to our future, and should be our number one priority. Without a livable future, we quite literally have nothing else. We understand that there are a lot of issues that could be debated individually because they are so important to many people, but having a climate debate is imperative to understand which candidate will be able to create the US as a climate leader. The climate crisis is a national security threat and we need a Green New Deal to steer us forward.