“The newly revised state party bylaws make it clear that RIDP leadership believe women from our Caucus should only speak when spoken to, show up only when asked, and participate in democracy only when it suits the patriarchy. On behalf of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus executive committee and its membership, we extend this message: we will speak as we want to, we will show up everywhere decisions are being made, and the concerns of the patriarchy will not be attended to by the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.“
The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) has released a proposed revision to their bylaws that many women are seeing as a direct attack on the RIDP Women’s Caucus. The Women’s Caucus was revived and newly invigorated after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, and his efforts to repeal hard won reproductive rights. Over the last three years the Women’s Caucus has grown to include over 500 members. The Women’s Caucus is the most active caucus in the RIDP.
The Women’s Caucus has clashed repeatedly with the leadership of the RIDP, Chair Joseph McNamara and Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello. The Women’s Caucus openly rejected supporting the Party’s endorsed candidate Michael Earnhart, a man who supported Trump for the Presidency before joining the RIDP to run against the Democratic incumbent Moira Walsh in District 3, Providence. That nomination was eventually withdrawn after widespread outrage and international news coverage.
This is presumably why the proposed bylaws have a new provision stating that caucuses “may not endorse, support, or assist unendorsed candidates for office during the pre-primary or primary period. During general and special elections, caucuses may not endorse or support or assist any candidate other than a democratic nominee.”
The Women’s Caucus, in a statement from Chair Liz Gledhill, writes:
“The objective of the caucus is to work for equal representation for women at all levels of government. In 2018, to avoid endorsing a progressive female incumbent, the party chose instead to endorse a conservative Trump supporter, who had only recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. No Democrat should ever be forced to support candidates whose principles run in direct conflict with the Democratic platform, and any state party requiring them to do so should reconsider their affiliation.“
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Another issue of contention is the newly added bylaw mandating that caucuses can no no longer control the money they bring in. “…no money raised by a caucus shall be used to provide direct or indirect benefit to any individual candidate…they must raise all funds into the Rhode Island Democratic Party [account].”
The Women’s Caucus pointed to a report in the Providence Journal showing that the RIDP State Committee has “chewed through $219,193 since this non-election year began. On Jan. 1, the state’s dominant party had $279,632 in its coffers. By Sept. 30: only $60,732.”
“One particularly high spending quarter (April 1-June 30) included a long list of restaurant tabs including $282 at the Capital Grille, $391 at Remingtons, $150 at Riviera Inn Dining,” continues the Providence Journal report. “Other haunts: Angelo’s Civita Farnese, Longhorn Steakhouse, Capriccio, The Old Canteen, Camille’s, Iggy’s Boardwalk, Aleppo Sweets, The District, Maria’s Cucina, Providence Oyster Bar and, of course, Tommy’s Pizza.”
In response, the Women’s Caucus writes:
“Any money raised by the Caucus should be spent in a way that furthers the mission of its membership. Should the State Party wish to spend $219,193.00 on lavish dinners in lieu of training, seminars, and recruitment efforts, they do so on the backs of their own fundraising efforts, and not that of members of our Caucus.“
The newly proposed bylaws also limits the ability of the Women’s Caucus to speak freely about issues that concern them. “Caucuses,” it says in the new bylaws,” may not issue press releases or any external communications related to party activities including caucus activity without express and written approval of the party chair.”
The Women’s Caucus has taken a strong position against the new bylaws.
“The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus shares the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that, ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.’ The newly revised state party bylaws make it clear that RIDP leadership believe women from our Caucus should only speak when spoken to, show up only when asked, and participate in democracy only when it suits the patriarchy. On behalf of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus executive committee and its membership, we extend this message: we will speak as we want to, we will show up everywhere decisions are being made, and the concerns of the patriarchy will not be attended to by the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.“
Others have also spoken out against the newly proposed bylaws. State Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) on Twitter outlined some of the changes to the bylaws, writing, “Sometimes the patriarchy goes ahead and writes out those rules.”
Sometimes the patriarchy goes ahead and writes out those rules. pic.twitter.com/GnIQCmOcxt— Gayle Goldin (@gaylegoldin) November 7, 2019
District 40 State Committeewoman Lauren Niedel released a statement saying that she is “absolutely livid” about the proposed bylaws. Niedel writes:
“The bylaws are an affront to any Democrat who believes the party is headed in the wrong direction. It is an egregious stifling of free speech for the independent caucuses. It stops caucuses from being self funded, and to have a real voice in the direction of the party. Most outrageous is caucuses have to divulge all of their members on a yearly basis to the Executive Committee regardless if individuals want their information shared or not. This is an invasion of [the] right to privacy.”
RIDP Committee members were sent a letter announcing a November 18 meeting to vote on the bylaws, says Niedel. “That letter provided a link to the bylaws which should have been accessible from the website but didn’t work,” writes Niedel. “It took an email to [RIDP] Executive Director Cyd Mckenna to get the PDF file.”
Update, November 7, 2019:
The RIDP responded, via Executive Director Cyd McKenna:
“RIDP caucuses are official arms of the RI Democratic State Party, they use the party logo, share party resources and act as direct lines of communication to the party for advocacy and community building among the constituencies they represent.
“The proposed by-laws are not designed to stifle voices in caucuses, they are designed to align the caucuses with the party to keep consistency and unity across all levels of official party business.
“Many women’s caucuses across the country who engage in the kind of important work done by the current RIDP Women’s Caucus do so outside of the official organization of the state party. This gives them the latitude to form PACs, organize for non-endorsed candidates, and raise and spend money as they choose. These activities are meaningful, but do not fall within the structure of the state party as a whole.
“The RIDP looks forward to continuing to encourage Democratic women across the state to join the RIDP women’s caucus, and to advocate for issues that impact women across Rhode Island.“
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