“It is disgraceful for you to talk about the future of Rhode Island and to not mention climate change,” said Sunrise Movement member Rachael Baker. “As young people, we are afraid of the future in this state. The climate crisis is threatening our homes and our health. And the institutions that we have in place are failing us. We need every sector of society, from universities to hospitals to mobilize on this crisis.”
Over 30 young people from the Sunrise Movement disrupted “Rhode Map Live,” a Boston Globe hosted panel discussion about the future of Rhode Island moderated by reporter Dan McGowan. The panelists for the event included Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, Lifespan president and CEO Timothy Babineau, Brown University President Christina Paxson and Rhode Island College President Frank Sanchez. The panel was intended to explore “big ideas” on transit, health care and higher education, but, as Sunrise member Rachael Baker said during the disruption, “How can you talk about the future when it’s not obvious that we have one?”
As the Sunrise Movement said in their press release, “Climate change is threatening Rhode Island residents’ futures, and yet Governor Raimondo continues to take money from the fossil fuel industry and refuses to support the Green New Deal.”
The forum had been underway for almost ten minutes when the Sunrise Movement members began singing “Which Side Are You On?” and gathered at the front of the room, unfurling banners and holding signs. Dan McGowan, a reporter for the Boston Globe and moderator of the event, initially attempted to ignore the protest and continue the forum.
“As the young people in Rhode Island we are afraid for our future in this state,” said Rachael Baker. “Governor Raimondo, what will you do to fight for a Green New Deal?”
Instead of acknowledging the protester, the forum continued, and a man in a suit gave the young people from the Sunrise Movement a stern talking to.
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After about a minute of this, the Sunrise Movement protesters began to sing again. President Paxson did her best to speak over the protesters, many of whom are students at her university.
“How about we do this, how about we do this,” said Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory. “How about we do this guys, I’m the editor of the Globe. We respect your viewpoint, we respect what you’re trying to accomplish. We do have a lot of people who came out tonight to listen to our speakers. What if we give you time at the end to ask a question, hopefully for your silence right now? Okay? Great. Thank you.”
“What we need is for you to respect our futures,” said A protester. “Governor Raimondo took over half a million dollars from fossil fuel companies.”
“Sir, Sir, Sir, Sir, Sir,” said McGrory, “Again, we have a room full of people who came out to hear our speakers. We do respect your viewpoint…”
“But not our futures,” interrupted the protester.
“We’re not saying we don’t respect your futures,” countered McGrory. “How about you allow the program to proceed and we’ll give you time at the end to ask a question?”
“If things proceed as normal, we will all die,” said another protester.
“Thank you,” said McGrory.
McGowan went back to his question for President Paxson.
Ten minutes or so passed.
Then the Sunrise Movement protesters began singing again, and moved to line the wall, center stage, behind the panelists. At this point, the forum was effectively scuttled. Raimondo and McGowan spoke, and then McGowan rose with a new offer for the protesters.
“So,” said McGowan. “Why don’t we do this: We’re more than happy. I just spoke to the Governor. She’s glad to take a question. I think you guys said. You’d be more than happy to respect the audience, as long as we give you a question. We’re more than happy to do a question right now. I would ask, all of you, I’d be happy to have you ask a question. We can hand the mic to whoever wants to do it. But once we do that, can we continue on with the conversation we’re having? Okay? Fair?”
The mic was handed to Rachael Baker.
“We’re going to do one question,” said McGowan. “All right?”
“It is disgraceful for you to talk about the future of Rhode Island and to not mention climate change,” said Baker. “As young people, we are afraid of the future in this state. The climate crisis is threatening our homes and our health. And the institutions that we have in place are failing us. We need every sector of society, from universities to hospitals to mobilize on this crisis.
“Governor Raimondo, what will you do? Will you sign the Green New Deal?”
“What’s your name?” asked Raimondo.
“Will you sign the Green New Deal?” asked Baker again.
“What’s your name?” repeated Raimondo.
“Will you sign the Green New Deal?” asked another member of Sunrise, then another, and another, turning the question into a chant.
McGowan took the microphone from Baker. That did not stop her.
“I’ve lived in Rhode Island my whole life,” said Baker. “And since I was a baby I noticed so much change in our climate. And – How can you talk about the future, when it’s not obvious that we have one?”
“So Rachel,” said Raimondo, “I agree with pretty much everything you said…”
“Then sign the Green New Deal,” said another member of Sunrise.
“I’m the Governor,” said Raimondo. “I have nothing to do with the New Green Deal. It’s a federal…”
“You can pass a statewide one here in Rhode Island,” countered the Sunrise member.
“Well we can talk about that legislation,” said Raimondo. “I have had…”
“It already exists, it was in the House and the Senate in Rhode Island…”
“I have supported…” began Raimondo.
“We tried talking about it and you ran away from us,” said a Sunrise member, referring to a visit to the State House last September where Raimondo refused to meet with the Sunrise Movement and instead left through a side door.
“Okay guys,” said Raimondo, “If you want a discussion to make progress, I’ll do it all day long. I will talk to you all day long. I’m as worried about climate change as you are.”
“Why do you continue to take money from fossil fuel companies?”
“I don’t. I haven’t and I don’t,” said Raimondo.
“Yes you do!”
McGowan interrupted at this point. More cross talk.
“Guys, I don’t take any corporate money,” said Raimondo.
“She’s lying! She’s obviously lying!” said the Sunrise member.
“I have a No Fossil Fuel pledge right here in my backpack that you can sign…”
“I’m not sure that this is working,” said Raimondo to McGowan.
“We’re going to move on,” said McGowan. “Thank you guys, thank you.”
The Sunrise Movement protesters began chanting “Who’s side are you on?”
“Okay, thank you,” said McGowan.
Then Brown University President Christina Paxson began answering a question asked minutes ago, as if nothing unusual had happened. The Sunrise Movement protesters began singing and left the room.
After the room emptied of protesters, McGowan quipped, “The good news is, if you need a seat, there’s a couple of seats here now.”
Later, McGowan began to ask Paxson a question, noting that there were not a lot of young people in the room. “They all left!” said a man in the audience.
In the lobby downstairs, I spoke to some members of Sunrise.
“It’s really ironic that the moderator introduced Rhode Island as a really engaged place, and then they ignored us when we were being an engaged community,” said Mycala McKay, a junior at New England Institute of Technology. “It was very cold, the way they reacted to us. Almost as if we were a bunch of annoying kids, rather than the future of Rhode Island.”
“When people speak about a Democrat they think of being there for the people, the working class and the opportunity to close those gaps, to give us the opportunity to look forward towards a livable future,” said Susnna a member of Sunrise. “Governor Raimondo has clearly shown us that she is a corporate Democrat. Her talking points are tailored towards those who work for a future that continues to isolate the working class.”
In a press release, Sunrise backed up their claim that Governor Raimondo has accepted fossil fuel money, writing that the Governor “has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests, including from billionaire Stacy Schusterman, the chairwoman of Samson Energy Company – a company that operates more than 4,000 oil and gas wells and owns interests in another 11,000.”
“Raimondo is clearly prioritizing campaign contributions from fossil fuel billionaires like Schusterman over the health and well-being of Rhode Island’s residents,” said Emma Bouton, one of the Actions Leads for Sunrise Providence.
Before the forum got under way, Boston Globe editor McGrary told the audience what the Globe’s Rhode Island staff had learned about Rhode Island. “You’re a deeply engaged people. You take news seriously, and you take community personally. You think hard about issues, and the people who drive them, and you’re ingrained with a deep sense of self and a strong pride of place. We admire that greatly, and have made every effort to honor that journalistically.”
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