“Gina Raimondo, I am asking you to stand with your constituents instead of taking half a million dollars from fossil fuel industries, and standing against the health and safety of people that you apparently are supposed to serve…”
More than 200 young people from the Sunrise Movement gathered in Burnside Park in downtown Providence Monday morning to begin a six hour program of marching through the streets and visiting politicians to demand a Green New Deal. They visited the downtown offices of United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat) and the State House Offices of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (Democrat).
The rally and march began with a song:
“I am standing with all of you today because I know the impact a disaster like Huricane Maria can have on people’s lives,” said Sunrise member Estrella Rodriguez. “And I am so happy, so excited, that all of you are joining me in this fight.”
“As we look at the news together… it is scary, and sometimes it makes us feel like we can’t act ,” said Sunrise member Emily. “But the thing that’s been happening here in Rhode Island, is they’ve been holding Whitehouse accountable. This will be the 11th time that we are asking him to sign the New Green Deal…”
“I know that these rolling hills, thousands of acres that are just darkness now are because fossil fuel executives have given money to politicians and bought out/sold out our futures,” said Sunrise member Tonya, reflecting on her childhood home in California being decimated by forest fires. “And I’m feeling this anger but I can’t talk about it with my sister. We’re just in shock. I’m not even crying or saying anything at this point. I hold all of those emotions inside me, for months… I never felt comfortable talking about it with my loved ones…
“I didn’t get a chance to channel that terror and anger I felt until I found this community…”
“We humans are not doing a good job of being in this world,” said Katie Murphy, from Groundwork Rhode Island.
“We have a real solution that tackles the climate crisis on the scale that is needed on science and justice,” said Estrella Rodriguez. “What is it?”
The crowd chanted: “The Green New Deal! The Green New Deal!”
Here’s video of the march from Burnside Park to Senator Whitehouse’s office:
“By signing the New Green Deal pledge, [Whitehouse] would be committed to upholding the Green New Deal, advocating for it among his colleagues and in the public, and he would be committed to not taking any money from fossil fuel, oil, gas or coal, from PACs, from lobbyists, in the interests of benefiting the fossil fuel industry,” said Estrella Rodriguez.
“Sunrise understands that the environmental crisis is health care, is education, is infrastructure,” said Sunrise member Danielle, adding, “is affecting marginalized populations first and the most. It is equity and we need an equitable solution…”
A group of Sunrise members head up to Senator Whitehouse’s office:
We’re asking Whitehouse “to prioritize the health of our families, our planet and our Democracy over fossil fuel industry profits,” said Sunrise member Yesenia Puebla. George Carvalho, Whitehouse’s Rhode Island State Director, entered the lobby from the offices.
Sunrise member Ayanna Rowe, an 11th grader at Classical High School in Providence, spoke about the lessons she learned from the Providence Student Union.
“Rhode Island has the 9th highest rate of asthma in the United States. By far, the highest rates of asthma and the worst air quality is found in low-income, Black and brown neighborhoods,” said Rowe. “I’m here today and not at school because there’s no time to wait.”
After learning about climate change, “I felt so anxious,” said Evan, a 14 year old Sunrise member from North Kingstown. “I couldn’t do anything any more. I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I did not know what to do about my future and how I was going to be able to survive.
When his father told Evan about the Global Climate Strike last March, “I was like, Yes! This is something I need to do. I hadn’t been able to do anything that felt like I was contributing at all for an entire year…”
At the climate strike Evan “learned more in two hours than he had in his entire life about the roots of climate change…”
With some last words from Puebla, the group left Whitehouse’s office, and reported the visit out to the rest of the crowd.
“I would go through periods of time where I felt like I was suffocating,” said Sarah, a member of the Sunrise Boston Hub, describing her climate change anxiety. “The terror I felt about the world getting hotter – I would walk around on hot days and just imagine all of us suffocating and not being able to breathe and things getting so hot that people could not literally function…”
They then marched from Whitehouse’s office to the Rhode Island State House, where they had lunch on the lawn.
A small group entered the State House and headed for Governor Gina Raimondo’s Office of Constituent Services, where they promptly occupied the office.
“I’m here because we have no time to waste,” said Sunrise member Mara. “I’m here because I realized that we see the effects of climate change all around us…”
“Gina Raimondo, I am asking you to stand with your constituents instead of taking half a million dollars from fossil fuel industries, and standing against the health and safety of people that you apparently are supposed to serve,” said Sunrise member Madison.
Sunrise member Lauren Maunus grew up in Florida. “In my time in Florida, most of my representatives in office continued to deny climate change. They were so bought out by the fossil fuel executives that they don’t even believe the science – I don’t believe that they don’t believe the science – I know it’s greed and white supremacy…”
Former Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunburg visited the protesters risking occupying the office.
Reflecting on his four years in the General Assembly, Regunburg told the Sunrise members, “The inside game is not enough to cut it. If it were, we’d already have bold climate action at the State House. I introduced a bunch of it, other people did as well. We didn’t have enough of a movement. We didn’t have enough people who were willing to step up and put their bodies on the line and say, ‘This is our future, we are not going to give it up!'”
Meanwhile, in the State House Rotunda, the rest of the Sunrise members were holding a rally. I don’t have video, but I do have a few pictures.
Capitol Police, State Police and State Marshals eventually arrived. The police debated whether or not to arrest the protesters. I was told that the protesters ultimately decided not to push the police to arrest them because after many hour of occupying the office, the thought they had made their point.
The Sunrise members still in the office leave the room and march outside, where they are reunited with the remaining members on the northern side of the State House.
While occupying the office, and office worker had told the Sunrise members that Gina Raimondo was not in Rhode Island, but out of state. This was not true. A member of the Sunrise Communications team took two photos of Governor Raimondo slipping out the side entrance of the State House, to avoid interacting with the members of the Sunrise Movement who had wished to speak with her.
“Rhode Island is on the front lines of climate change, and addressing this crisis is one of Governor Raimondo’s top priorities,” writes Governor Raimondo’s Press Secretary Josh Block in a statement. “Over the past few years, we have become home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm, created thousands of green jobs, led the nation in energy efficiency, invested in clean transportation, and increased our renewable energy portfolio by 700 percent. Still, we recognize there is more work to do, and we appreciate the continued community engagement on this important issue.”
Sunrise member Emma Bouton wraps it up:
“I took part in the action today both as an active part of Sunrise Providence, and a member of the Woonsocket City Council who is prioritizing the climate crisis,” writes Woonsocket City Councilmember Alex Kithes. “Because we are in crisis.
“We have 11 years to drastically transform and decarbonize our economy if we want to save ourselves from the worst effects of climate change, and we need a federal Green New Deal to do that, and provide a blueprint for states and municipalities to implement these changes.
“Which means we need states and municipalities on board as boots on the ground! They need to figure out what it looks like to build their own green economies on the scale and timeline required by science, and actually doing it in a just and equitable way.
“Because renewable energy installations are local; green jobs are local; protected woodland is local; and adaptation to the climate changes we are already starting to face are local. We need action on every level of government if we hope to pass a livable planet onto future generations. That’s what I’m starting to do in Woonsocket.
“And I firmly believe our state and federal officials need to better prioritize the climate crisis by supporting the Green New Deal, and breaking the fossil fuel billionaires’ influence on our political system by joining me and the other elected officials who have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.
UpriseRI is entirely supported by donations and advertising. Every little bit helps:
Become a Patron!