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Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidates declare a bold agenda at their coming out party



“When did we become so afraid? When did we decide to be complicit with the system set in place that doesn’t benefit the majority of Rhode Islanders?”

Over 150 people crowded the venue for the Rhode Island Political Cooperative (RIPC)’s kickoff party. They were there to mingle with, and financially support, a slate of progressive candidates who plan to do no less than change the political landscape of the Rhode Island General Assembly, and perhaps a few city and town councils as well.

The RIPC plans to run 25 candidates during the 2020 elections. Right now they have 15 candidates, and 13 were at the kickoff party last night.

For more information on the RIPC and the candidates, see:

“we were not expecting this many people,” said co-chair Jennifer Rourke, who is also a candidate challenging challenging Senator Michael McCaffrey in District 29. “It’s nice to have people that believe in what we believe in…”

RIPC co-chair Jeanine Calkin, who is running to reclaim her seat in Senate District 30, introduced the candidates on stage:

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The first of the candidates to speak was Jessica Vega, who is running for re-election to the Central Falls City Council, Ward 5:

“It’s always very challenging for me to talk about, or put into words the reason why I decided to run for office because I really don’t like talking about myself to begin – with, but, here you go: It’s simple. I decided to run for office because I want to minimize human suffering,” said Vega.

Jessica Vega

“I cannot prevent you from getting cancer, but I can set policies in place to make sure that corporations are not polluting our air and our water.

“I cannot control whether or not an unexpected death occurs in your family, however I could fight to make sure developers don’t come into my community and displace the families that live there by making sure we pass an affordable housing fund.

“I can’t change my childhood trauma and my experiences, but I could develop a program that will give the opportunity to young people to identify and name institutional racism and oppression and give them the tools that they need to utilize their voice so they could reclaim their identity and their humanity.

“So earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone and they said to me, ‘You know, I really like what you’re doing with this whole cooperative thing. It’s really cool what you guys stands for, but you shot yourself in the foot. The establishment isn’t the establishment for no reason. They have the money, they have the power and they have the connection.’

“When did we become so afraid? When did we decide to be complicit with the system set in place that don’t benefit the majority of Rhode Islanders?

“I decided to join this cooperative because of what they stand for. It’s not because I’m perfect. It’s not because I’m fearless, but because I have courage, and the people that you see standing behind me have courage too. They’re here because they are willing to fight for the people of Central Falls, of Pawtucket, of East Providence, of Coventry – of the people in all the communities in the state of Rhode Island.

“They’re willing to put themselves on the line to fight against a ruthless establishment because of their love for humanity. And all that we are asking for from you is to fight with us. To join us. To volunteer and to hold us up when it gets tough, when it gets hard for us.

“That’s the only thing that we need from you. We are here to fight for Rhode Island and we need you to sing with us, to fight for us. My name is Jessica, and I thank you all for your support tonight and for the privilege to be able to talk to you.”

Melanie DuPont is the treasurer of the RIPC, secretary of the executive committee of the Women’s Caucus of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, and candidate for State Senate in District 22.

“I want you to know this: That we’re transforming our government together,” said DuPont. “Everyone here tonight feels that it’s time for change. We’ve been suffering from corrupt Rhode Island government our entire lives and we each have someone in our lives who has replaced their hope of a just, fair and responsible government with fear and disgust and contempt.

Melanie DuPont

“But not us. We not only hope for a government that serves the people well, we’re working for it. We fall asleep thinking about it. We dream about it, and when we wake up and get to work we’re ready to transform Rhode Island government together.

“Some people ask, ‘Why not work with the hand you’ve been dealt. We’ve been trying – for years we’ve been talking with the establishment, pleading with them, protesting against them, post carding, rallying, marching, testifying, pouring out our hearts and souls – just to move them to action – and they don’t budge.

“Well, we’re here to budge them right out of office.

“The opponents that we’ve chosen were not chosen by accident. Our opponents dismiss us. Our opponents ignore us. Our opponents shout us down and have the gall to tell US to leave OUR Democratic Party.

“We’re not leaving. We’re moving in and we’re renovating until the system works for the benefit of the people…”

Alex Hoffman is running for Senate District 1. He ran the successful re-election campaign for Representative Moira Walsh in House District 3.

“For as long as I’ve been alive I’ve never seen anyone who looks like me, and has the same experiences get a seat at the table. As a trans person, society tells me I’m lucky to be alive, never thrive. All of society is set up for trans people to fail, unless we fit cis, hetero norms, and live stealth lives. No one can know you’re trans. I’m paraphrasing, but this is what people tell me, usually under the guise of keeping me safe, keeping me alive.

Alex Hoffman

“‘Alex, don’t be a poster child .’ ‘Alex don’t put a target on your back.’

“What I hear is, ‘Alex, you don’t get a seat at the table.’

“But you know, I’m tired of shouting from the wings. I want that seat at the table. I want a trans kid in Chariho, fighting their school district for basic accommodations, to know they have a voice at the table, a voice that won’t forget them or sell them out, a voice that knows how hard it is to learn, when you’re not treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else…”

Tiara Mack is running for State Senate in District 6.

“For too long friends and activists have been advocating for change, for progress and for justice,” said Mack. “We go to the State House, we call our Reps, then it takes 20 years or more to pass legislation that our surrounding states already have. Our system has failed us. It has ignored us and it doesn’t provide us the justice that we seek. Our system tells us to continue to wait for justice. For too long we have allowed our system to dictate how long it will take for our communities to get a livable wage, clean air, clean energy, affordable housing, quality schools that set our children children up for careers and college, criminal justice reform, common-sense gun control…

Tiara Mack

“We don’t just want change. We want systemic change. We cannot afford a Rhode Island where violence on Black and Brown bodies, communities and livelihoods is woven into policy and practices.

“We cannot afford a Rhode Island where schools consistently fail to serve our kids, where polluted air, water and soil leaves our families with chronic disease, some of the highest in the nation. We must have bold leadership that knows Rhode Islanders will benefit from justice and reform and that understands we must end oppressive systems that maintain abuses of power, money and connections.

“We must have leadership that hears and shares the stories of marginalized and oppressed communities and knows that oppression does not happen by chance but by design. Whole generations, and communities are not impoverished by chance. Disabled communities, immigrant communities, indigenous communities, queer and trans communities, are not oppressed
because they exist but because of the systematic erasure of their existence in our policies. We must have a leadership bold and brave enough to name white supremacy and our policies as the root of our shared oppression.”

Jonathan Acosta is running for State Senate, District 16.

“If you’d met me when I was younger, you would have assuredly bet against my chances of success,” said Acosta. “I was born to two undocumented parents who have no more than a high school education and I stand before you today a proud father, a three degree Ivy League graduate, an Eagle Scout, a youth wrestling coach, and a proud homeowner. But, as an academic and a social scientist, I know that I did not get here based on talent or skill. I got here based on luck, because in the United States, more often than not, demography is destiny.

Jonathan Acosta

“I was lucky that a man saw the desperation on a woman’s face and instead of letting her sleep another night in the car with her five-year-old son, he took us in and allowed us to live in his efficiency until my mom could find a job and find a way to pay the rent.

“I was lucky because as my mom went through vocational school and wondered how to navigate a bureaucracy, she was able to get me signed up for state subsidized health insurance so that I could have heart surgery just two weeks after they discovered my heart problem.

“I was lucky that when my school refused to test me for gifted because I was living in Colombia with my grandmother during the years that they usually do so, a teacher snuck me into her room every day for three months and stormed the office, slamming my file on the table, saying you either test him so that he can access this curriculum, or fire me for doing something illegal.

“But luck for people like me is always bitter sweet, because just weeks after walking across the stage at Brown with my first bachelor’s degree, I went home and help my mom pack everything she owned into a truck and drive away from the home that was taken from her due to the subprime mortgage crisis. I looked around and saw that I was one of very few who had made it out of my situation. It wasn’t just my family and friends – it was also my brothers and sisters around me –

“So I stand before you today demanding that we remove luck out of the equation that we make sure that we have affordable housing so that people don’t have to rely on the benevolence of their neighbors. That we make sure that we have good schools in every single neighborhood, so we don’t have to rely on the teacher who’s gonna sneak a kid into her room every day. That we make sure that we have jobs that pay people a living wage so that they don’t have to sleep in their car with their child. That we make sure we have sensible gun control, that keeps us safe. That we stop giving corporations corporate welfare when they give us nothing in return…”

Matt Brown, former Rhode Island State Secretary and gubernatorial candidate, is a co-chair of the RIDP.

“I’m wondering increasingly, why in a democracy – not a dictatorship – a democracy, we’re having to protest our own government for basic rights and basic needs. We’re running out of time with a lot of issues,” said Brown. “All these candidates here are not talking about stuff that people want – They’re talking about stuff people need.

Matt Brown

“Everyone needs a roof over their heads and a roof over their children’s heads but we have a government that refuses to do anything about the affordable housing crisis while doling out massive tax breaks to luxury condo developers. Everyone needs enough money in their pocket to buy groceries and to put clothes on themselves and on their children but we have a government that refuses to pass a basic living wage of $15 an hour, which is just $30K a year. Everyone needs a good education but we have a government that is just about the worst in the country for the equitability of the state funding, so there are a lot of kids in a lot of communities in this state that do not get an equal, quality education.

“And we all need to live on a planet that is not destroyed by the heat and the hurricanes and rising seas, but we have a government that refuses to an enact a Green New Deal and allows the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

“So when these candidates get elected and win, and form government, a new government, it will be the policy of our government of your government that everyone has a roof over their heads and over their children’s heads and no one lives outside anymore. It will be the policy of our government that every child, wherever they live in our state, gets an equal, quality education, that every person has a living wage that no one dies because they’re sick and they can’t afford health insurance.

“It will be the policy of our government to enact a Green New Deal to end the fossil fuel infrastructure and get 100 percent clean energy by 2030. That will be the policy of your government.

“And when these candidates form this government, in Rhode Island and cities and towns across the state, it will be a government driven not by ignorance, arrogance and corruption, but driven by community, justice and love of neighbor…

“I think you’ve heard that tonight.

“When they form this new government, I say at that point let the executives and the financiers of the fossil fuel industry and the drug companies and the health insurance companies and the NRA, that have been running the state for a long time, let them protest for a while. Let them march in the streets from Kennedy Plaza. Let them stand outside the State House screaming at the top of their lungs. Let them dress up like hand maidens to beg their government to treat them like human beings. Let’s let them protest for a while and let’s let these people govern.”

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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.