“The system is not made for big change. You go up to the State House and you immediately are in this bubble where the only people that the electeds are hearing are paid lobbyists. Those are the people walking the halls, those are the people testifying in committee, those are the people going to fundraisers, and when you think about who can afford to hire full time lobbyists and attorneys, it’s not your average working family…”


Over 50 young people crammed into a small room on the second floor of AS220 to hear from young, politically active Rhode Islanders who are working to effect positive change by either running for office or running campaigns for their peers. After a short presentation from Georgia Hollister-Isman, the State Director of the Working Families Party and Emma Bouton, an organizer from Sunrise, Sunrise organizer Mara Dolan introduced the five featured guests.

The guests were Tiara Mack, candidate for Rhode Island State Senate District 6, Kat Kerwin, Providence City Councilor Ward 12, Jonathan Acosta, Central Falls City Councilor Ward 1 and candidate for Rhode Island State Senate District 16, Keith Jillette, campaign manager for Woonsocket City Councilor Alex Kithes, and former State Representative Aaron Regunberg. Each guest answered three questions before breaking up into smaller groups to directly answer questions from those in attendance.

Here’s the video of the presentations from the Working Families Party and Sunrise. The presentation was about taking political power in Rhode Island, to effect the change needed to make the world a better place, and maybe even save the world, from runaway climate change.

Sunrise is going to be organized around the idea of Organize, Vote, and Strike,'” said Emma Bouton. “We’re in the organizing period right now, and striking with the large student climate strike that happened back in September, and we’re gearing up for another massive [strike] on December 6. Then we’re going to be oriented around the 2020 elections. We know that young people are the largest voting block in the country, and we need to turn out in massive numbers…”

“As we’re gearing up for 2020,” said Hollister-Isman, “First, organize and build the base for Working Families values in government… Train campaign leaders… [and] building smart campaigns from the ground up.”

Mara Dolan then introduced the five guests:


Each candidate then answered questions:

Question 1: How did you get involved with campaigns and elections?

Keith Jillette:

“I was an intern on Matt Brown‘s campaign last year, he was the progressive primary challenger to [Governor] Gina Raimondo, putting out ideas that otherwise would not have been part of the political discourse here in the state at all.”

Tiara Mack:

“After being a student in Providence, you’re just kind of surrounded by this bubble of liberal ideas and you just assume, off the bat, that everyone living in this area that you are calling home for four or more years is also in this liberal bubble. Leaving College Hill and going to work on campaigns, [I learned] it was actually not every Democrat having progressive ideals, not being pro-choice.

“And that got me fired up…”

Aaron Regunberg:

“The system is not made for big change. You go up to the State House and you immediately are in this bubble where the only people that the electeds are hearing are paid lobbyists. Those are the people walking the halls, those are the people testifying in committee, those are the people going to fundraisers, and when you think about who can afford to hire full time lobbyists and attorneys, it’s not your average working family…”

Jonathan Acosta:

“What I liked most about the 2016 races is that the elections in Central Falls, technically, are non-partisan. I was pissed at the Democratic Party because Bernie won in Rhode Island, and he got screwed in most other places. And he got systematically screwed. So wanted to disaffiliate from the Democratic Party, but I felt like now, I can really represent the interests of the community by living in it, working in it and being an elected official in it…”

Kat Kerwin:

“I decided to run for office against kind of the archetype of a baby boomer. My opponent was a man that had been in office since the year I was born…”


Question 2: Were their people who told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t run, and how did you find the confidence to overcome that?

Kat Kerwin:

“Everyone told me not to run for office. Everyone in the establishment was like, this is a bad idea, you need to wait your turn, you’re not old enough, everyone. It was disheartening. It was people who worked for the Mayor’s staff, people that we in politics, and they were people that I looked up to. they were people that I had supported when they had pursued these political ambitions…”

Jonathan Acosta:

“When the opportunity came up… people were really excited. When someone introduced me they said, ‘Well, we’ve had our first Latino mayor, we’ve had our first Puerto Rican council person, Cape Verdean council person, now we’ll have our fist councilman with a grill.'”

Aaron Regunberg:

“When you’re running for local office, youth is an asset. You should use that. There are going to be some people who are like, ‘How old are you?’… but for every one of those people there are a lot who are super excited… I found it was a little more challenging running for statewide office as a 27/28 year-old. There’s a bit more of a ‘How old are you?’…”

Tiara Mack:

“I haven’t heard anyone say you shouldn’t run, but I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘Oh yeah, you young, black, queer person with colored hair and tattoos should be the poster child of the City of Providence. Nationally, there are very few people who are black and queer in local elections. And I’ve seen people like AOC and Ilhan. I’ve seen people who look like me stepping up and being that first wave of strong women of color, people of color, who are taking charge…”

Keith Jillette:

“How were we able to win, even though we had no name recognition? It was because we identified those issues in the community that allowed us to build solidarity and build real connections between parts of the community that had no real connection and had not been working together, discoursing together about what we all need.”


Question 3: How did choosing to run for office move the ball forward on the issues you care about? How did your involvement move the ball forward?

Aaron Regunberg:

“My operating philosophy is ‘real change for real people.’ We need to think big. We need to move the narrative if we want to change what is possible to win, but also, people are being hurt right now, and we need to be smart and strategic and get some good stuff done.”

Tiara Mack:

“There is a growing group of people who are all moved by progressive ideals, who are willing to fight for $15, who are willing to work on common sense gun control, who are willing to make sure that health care is not just an option but is accessible to every single person in our state, in our country…”

Keith Jillette:

“Building a real conversation about what the people actually want to do, and what we actually need to achieve… We’ve created, for the first time, real political rivalries based on ideologies in Woonsocket. That’s a fascinating development. Next election we’re going to have a slate of progressives. Maybe we’ll get more than just a few on. Maybe we’ll take control of the city council. In the election after that, run a mayor. In the election after that, maybe one of those people can run for higher office…”

Kat Kerwin:

“Most things that are good in the Rhode Island legislature, the General Assembly, die. That’s why we need more people running for office. That’s why we need more support for the people up here in elected positions…”

Jonathan Acosta:

“I know that I’m not alone, and I also know that this is way bigger than me. I shouldn’t really matter, and in the long run I won’t…

“The presidential election in ’08 was the first election I could vote in, and I was super-excited. And like everyone else that was 18 and supported Obama, I was dunk on ‘Hope and Change.’ And then when I started eating the Hope and Change sandwich, I realized there was nothing in it. It was just bread…”


The guests then broke up into smaller groups to talk directly with attendees.


Tiara Mack
Kat Kerwin
Jonathan Acosta
Keith Jillette
Aaron Regunberg

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